Monday, February 13, 2006

"Once You've Driven Your Drunk Father To Your Mom's Parole Hearing, What Else Is There?"

The third and final season of the show "Titus" recently came out on DVD. The DVD sets are good packages -- commentaries, interviews, rehearsal footage, all the bells n' whistles -- and the show is well worth a look. Even by the standards of short-lived Fox Network shows, this one is very strange: based on comedian Christopher Titus's autobiographical one-man show "Norman Rockwell is Bleeding," it's a three-camera, studio-audience sitcom about Titus's attempts to lead a semi-normal life despite his alcoholic, emotionally and physically abusive, frankly evil father (Stacy Keach) and his fear that he will end up succumbing to mental illness like his mother. The show attempts to find comedy in such subjects as murder, suicide, insanity and child molestation; lighter plots include the episode where Titus and his friends stage an intervention to get his dad to start drinking again ("Without the sweet haze of alcohol, you're seeing your life for what it is").

Because it's based on the star's real life, "Titus" goes beyond the usual "dysfunctional family" sitcom: while it has its share of South Park-style bad-taste jokes that call attention to their own taboo breaking, it also has a lot of raw, realistic moments that get humour from genuine pain or hurt. Sometimes it even stops going for laughs and just goes for pure pain, as in an angry, bitter argument between Titus and his girlfriend Erin (Cynthia Watros) in the episode "The Breakup." The fact that the show maintains a certain level of realism and truth to its humour gives it a genuine edge that most "edgy" shows don't really have; unlike most "bad taste" comedy, the subjects it deals with really seem to matter to the characters on some level.

Another interesting thing about the show is the mix of styles: every episode includes black-and-white stand-up sequences with Titus talking to the camera (on a set similar to the set he used for his one-man show) as well as sudden cutaways to flashbacks and fantasy sequences. But the stories themselves are done in a very old-school sitcom style, shot on one or two sets like plays, with long scenes and no subplots. It's like "All in the Family" on acid, and it works quite well.

Like I said, it's worth a look if you enjoy a line like "You come into this world defenseless. That's why God gave us baseball bats. Well, he gave us trees. But we knew what he meant."

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