With the recent release and immediate box office belly flop of the comedy movie adaptation of the ‘90s popular TV show Baywatch (which consisted of 80% slow-motion boobs and 20% David Hasselhoff awesomeness), the recent trend of turning drama shows into comedy movies got one more notch on the belt. After the back-to-back box office and critical successes of 21 and 22 Jump Street, Dax Shepard tried his hand at a similar R-rated borderline self-parody approach with his comedy feature take on Chips.
Granted, that one crashed and burned as well, but I doubt that the success of the 21 Jump Street movies will stop Hollywood from taking a crack at this genre experiment for a while. Although, this approach didn’t even begin with 21 Jump Street, and has been with us for a while. Who can forget, as hard as we may try, the 1987 comedy version of the super self-serious police procedural Dragnet? McG’s gaudy and cringe-inducing Charlie’s Angels movies were also cheekier and more self-referential than the TV show.
Now it’s true that the original shows these movies are adapted from are far from bastions of dramatic heft and self-seriousness. 21 Jump Street certainly had its share of comedy, Chips was an inherently goofy ‘70s cop show, intentionally or not, and Baywatch was certainly a heaping helping of intentional camp. That being said, technically, they were one-hour drama shows and certainly weren’t as invested in the joke-a-minute structure of their movie counterparts.
This led us to imagine an alternate universe, where drama adaptations of popular comedy shows were made, and instigated a new trend? Here’s a list of popular comedy shows that could turn into somber, heartbreaking, self-reflective, prime Oscar-bait dramas.
The Premise: Al Bundy (Michael Shannon) is a washed-up shoe salesman trying desperately to cling on to his glory days as a high school football hero. He hates his job, his family, and his life. He contemplates suicide every day, and the only thing that stops him is the reassuring thought that he’s as much of a source of grief for his family as his family is for him. His alcoholic wife Margaret (Sandra Bullock) is a shrill, backstabbing, abusive mess, who also lives in the past when she was the most popular girl in high school.
Margaret begins to realize more and more that her popularity was tied directly with her being the “school slut” who “always put out,” and her advancing age and fading looks makes her feel as if she has nothing else to give to the world. This makes her build an intense resentment towards Al, whom she blames for ruining her fun-loving spirit, regardless of the fact that she never got the respect she always believed she deserved. To make matters worse, she sees a version of herself in her daughter Kelly (Elle Fanning), who sleeps around with big, burly men in a desperate attempt to get her father to at least acknowledge her presence. When Al and Margaret’s troubled son Bud (Miles Teller) goes to jail for lewd acts with a minor, the already crumbling family unit goes down a road of inevitable self-destruction.
Director: Alexander Payne
The Premise: Dr. Frasier Crane (Michael Fassbender) is a reserved, borderline anti-social Psychiatrist who hosts a morning radio show. The use of this media allows him to pretend to be an effective professional without actually talking to anyone face-to-face, as he faux-eases listeners’ deep-seated neuroses through inefficient five-minute conversations. His fear of social interaction stems from the fact that he’s a closeted gay man, who felt that he had to be married to a woman he barely liked in order to keep up appearances. Even though he’s divorced and is living thousands of miles away from his off-putting ex, his love life is non-existent, since he can’t express his real feelings to any man, and lacks the courage and fortitude to sneak around.
The only semblance of a relationship Frasier has is a co-dependent one with his brother Niles (Ewan McGregor), who suffers from chronic depression stemmed from the fact that his wife Maris is a narcissist who sleeps around and takes great pleasure in reminding Niles how much of a pathetic cuckhold he really is. One day, Frasier’s solitary existence is torn to pieces when his father Martin (Anthony Hopkins), a racist and homophobic ex-police officer with serious anger management issues, moves in with him after being forced into retirement without pension, due to being accused of an anti-gay hate crime. Martin’s hatred towards gay people causes Frasier’s secret identity to repress further, as he feels more and more tormented by his true self.
Director: Steve McQueen
The Premise: Jerry Seinfeld (Ben Stiller) is a semi-successful comedian living as a bachelor in New York City. Dating a different woman every week and dumping them for frivolous reasons, all because he’s deathly afraid of commitment, used to be fun when he was in his 30s, but now that he’s nearing his mid-40s, he begins to realize that this lifestyle is rather pathetic and hollow. It also doesn’t help that his best friends aren’t doing much better in the adulthood department. George (Let’s happily pretend Philip Seymour Hoffman is still alive) is a neurotic mess who suffers from severe arrested development thanks to his overbearing parents. Elaine (Greta Gerwig) is Jerry’s ex and a high-strung poster child of type one personality.
Jerry and Elaine can’t help but occasionally hook up, making them constantly feel confused and dissatisfied with the nature of their relationship. Jerry’s miserable existence is compounded by his careless and crude neighbor Kramer (John Turturro), who constantly humiliates him in front of his friends by force feeding him cantaloupe and making him wear an ugly puffy shirt. Instead of working towards a concrete plan that could better their lives, these adult children do nothing but whine and moan about their station in life as well-to-do metropolitan Caucasian intellectuals.
Director: Noah Baumbach
The Premise: In this raw and in-your-face drama, six New York City friends struggle to merely exist and perhaps find a modicum of happiness within this unforgiving and cold city. Ross (Miles Teller) is a homophobic paleontologist whose life is shattered after he finds out that his wife of seven years is gay. His sister Monica (Shailene Woodley) can’t hold onto a job or an active social life due to her crippling OCD. His best friend Chandler (Jonah Hill) annoys everyone as he uses lame jokes and catchphrases to cover for the fact that he’s suicidal, his depression brought on by his abusive parents.
Chandler’s roommate Joey (Channing Tatum) is a struggling actor who turns to prostitution in order to make ends meet. The gang’s mutual friend Phoebe (Brie Larson) is a terrible singer/songwriter who clings to a self-destructive addiction to opioids as a last-ditch attempt to forget about her mother’s suicide. Ross has a crush on Monica’s best friend Rachel (Jennifer Lawrence), and sees a potential relationship with her as his salvation out of his miserable existence. However, Rachel’s self-obsessed, shallow and materialistic behavior pretty much guarantees that she barely notices Ross’ presence, pushing Ross deeper and deeper into self-hatred.
Director: John Cassavetes’ reanimated corpse
The Premise: In this taut and nail-biting psychological thriller, Ted Mosby (Jared Leto) is a mediocre architect who loses his mind after his wife succumbs to cancer. As a desperate attempt to process his emotions, Ted locks his teenage son and daughter into a panic room and vows to keep them there, without food or water, until he finishes telling them the story of how he met their mother. At first, the kids think this won’t take long, but as Ted keeps meandering about unnecessary details, and gets side-tracked by an endless arrays of unrelated stories, the children begin to fear for their lives as dehydration rears its ugly head.
Eventually, the kids realize that Ted’s truly lost his mind, as his stories sound more like an overrated sitcom than anything that could be found in day-to-day reality. On top of that, Ted keeps talking about Uncle Marshall, Aunt Lily and Uncle Barney, whom he says are his best friends, regardless of the fact that the kids have never even heard of them before. Ted eventually shows the kids pictures of Marshall, Lily and Barney, who look exactly like famous actors (The “sad sack” from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the “band camp chick” from American Pie, and Doogie Howser’s jacked cousin, respectively). On top of that, Ted keeps calling their mother “Auntie Robin,” and concocts a story where he never married her in the first place. This forces the kids to find a way to get out of the room at whatever cost in order to survive.
Director: Darren Aronofsky
The Premise: In this intensely raw, documentary-style indie drama that explores the inescapable vortex of teenage existential ennui found in every high school in USA, Zack Morris (The cast is made up of unknowns, most likely non-professional students picked out of whatever high school the film shoots in) is a popular, good-looking, and charismatic senior, who gradually realizes that he’s the big fish in the small pond, and is looking down the barrel of insignificance once he graduates.
This leads him to treat Samuel “Screech” Powers, a nerd he pretends to be best friends with so he can constantly feel superior to everyone around him, even worse than he did before, embarrassing him at every turn with his highly sophisticated but increasingly mean pranks. This pushes Screech to the edge, as he shows up to school one day wearing a long black trench coat, armed to the teeth with assault rifles, ready to take revenge on a school that brought him so much pain. As Zack hides from Screech in a locker, he contemplates for twenty minutes, in a single take without any dialogue, about the choices that brought him to this place.
Director: Gus Van Sant
The Premise: In this dry procedural drama, a group of Silicon Valley nerds try to top one other by coming up with a billion-dollar app, all to impress and hopefully sleep with the attractive girl who inexplicably becomes their roommate. After one of the apps’ immediate success, the tension between them rises as they battle in court over who is responsible for the bulk of its creation. And even though this wouldn’t fit the tone of the film, all of the characters die horribly at the end, in order to satisfy hordes of people who rightfully hate the original show with the fury of a thousand suns.
Director: David Fincher
The Premise: In this hard but honest look at modern race relations in the USA, The Jeffersons tells the tragic story of George and Louise Jefferson (Jeffrey Wright and Viola Davis), an African-American couple that moves to an affluent, conservative, white suburb after their dry cleaning business takes off. At first, The Jeffersons feel welcome, but they gradually pick up on subtle racism (like being called “one of the good ones”) which bothers them more and more every day. The strong-willed George decides to fight back against the neighbors’ offensive remarks by making fun of an interracial couple that live next door. This strategy backfires, as the community inundates George with accusations of “reverse racism.” The Jeffersons will prove that America is far from being in a post-racial state, and that society still has a ways to go before a black couple can truly move on up.
Director: Ramin Bahrani
The Premise: Dorothy (Helen Mirren) is a fun-loving woman whose advancing age doesn’t stop her from going out to party pretty much every night with her best friends Blanche (Vanessa Redgrave) and Rose (Charlotte Gainsbourg), as the three of them have the time of their lives having casual sex with an array of middle-aged men. However, Dorothy’s breezy existence comes to a halt when her mother Sophia (Let’s say Emmanuelle Riva is still alive) is diagnosed with Alzheimer Disease, causing her to randomly make bad puns related to ‘70s pop culture. Tired of her mother’s annoying jokes and her inability to go out anymore, Dorothy begins to scheme with her friends about killing Sophia in her sleep.
Directed by: Michael Haneke
The Premise: You know exactly where this one’s going.
Director: Roman Polanski