From Deadline Hollywood (the inspiration for so many blog posts):
After exploring 1960s New York City with Mad Men and the Nebraska territory circa 1865 with Hell On Wheels, AMC is heading to Colonial Boston for a comedy project, now in development. Titled We Hate Paul Revere, it is written and executive produced by writer-actors Ethan Sandler and Adrian Wenner (Whitney). It centers on two brothers living in Colonial Boston who are not fans of local industrialist and activist Paul Revere.
That's a fine idea. Sounds funny. And I bet the script will be hilarious. But when it is filmed and put on TV, it will not work. Because period comedies do not work.
Well, usually they don't.
To be clear, I would not include stuff like Happy Days or Laverne & Shirley in this. That's not the period I'm talking about. When you watch those shows you barely remember that they're in a different time. I'm talking about anything set in a time that does not resemble our own.
Like, for example, Year One or Your Highness.
Here are two theories/reasons for this:
1) A huge part of comedy is the ability to relate to the situations. There's a reason Jerry Seinfeld begins every joke with "Have you ever noticed...". That's huge. No one has ever noticed that George Washington doesn't pluck his nose hair. We can't identify with that the way we can relate to a close talker.
2) From a production stand point, comedies can't pull off historical shit like dramas can. Daniel Day Lewis isn't playing a wacky Abraham Lincoln, he is Lincoln. And Spielberg isn't worrying about the jokes in Gettysberg, he's making that shit look like Gettysberg.
Historical comedies always seems like a great idea. There are so many possibilities. Especially the notion of throwing modern types into well known historical events (Black Knight, Almost Heroes).
It's funny on the page. Cause you get to think of things like, "remember Paul Revere, American hero? Yeah, well what if he was a huge dick and a glory hog? So our main character is all pissed off at Revere, and while he's running around yelling The British Are Coming!, our guy is back at Revere's house fucking his wife!"
It sounds interesting. But it does not translate to the eyes. We know that's not Paul Revere. We know that's not how it went. We can't relate to how stuff was back then. There's no investment in it whatsoever. It's just goofy for goofy sake.
I guess the only exception to this rule is if you go completely absurd with it, ie Monty Python or Mel Brooks or sketch shows. Just admit you're in crazy land and go super big.
On a side note, it should be fun watching AMC get into the comedy game. It will remind us all how much harder comedy is than drama. But I'm very happy about it - I always love having more networks to pitch to and be rejected by. So AMC execs, I'll see ya soon with my show, "Benjamin Franklin Totally Loves Dudes".