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Laura San Giacomo,
Based on the real-life dysfunctional family of comedy in Christopher Titus, the show deals with his character, his brother, and their friends dealing with his crude, abusive, sadistic drunken father, and how the guy has twisted and ruined his own life. All in a light-hearted comedy vein. Written by
Final Score (average of several classic cinematic qualities):
9.5 (out of 10)
Click. Fizzling sound. The light goes on. Standing underneath the bare bulb in glorious black and white is Christopher Titus. He's in a bowling shirt and looks like a combination of Jim Carey and that wide-eyed muppet with the wires coming out of the top of his head. He talks directly to us starting with something like "All patents suck" or "My mom is in a mental institute" or maybe "67% of homes are now dysfunctional". This is his life.
"Titus", which Fox abruptly cancelled after 3 seasons for being to "dark", "raw" and "edgy" for their line-up, was a sitcom like no other. It was a nearly exact translation of the award winning comedian's one man stage play "Norman Rockwell is Bleeding". Both are the autobiographical story of his life, the center of which is a dysfunctional family that puts the Bundys, the Simpsons and any other family on TV to an absolute shame. He's got a drunken, abusive womanizing father Ken (played brilliantly by Stacey Keach) and an alcoholic schizophrenic mother with a tendency to kill people (played by multiple actors, but best by Frances Fisher). Strong Cynthia Watros is a perfect co-lead with Titus in a female role that usually goes underwritten on shows like "Home Improvement" and "Everybody Loves Raymond". Extra props to David Shatraw' shamelessly hysterical portrait of Tommy Shafter- the flamboyantly "normal one".
Titus tells his story from the black and white neutral space- a metaphorical playground of the mind, which in a favorite episode allowed him to regress and talk to his 5-year old self. He often uses this space to explain to us the difference between normal people and "screwed up" people. Most of the action used the standard one-stage sitcom format mixed with lightening fast flashbacks and fantasy sequences. All of these characters somehow come together in each episode in "wacky adventures" that force them to face one social atrocity after another. "Titus" walked a line that no show before or after has dared to with entire episodes dealing with suicide, spousal abuse, homophobia, murder, drugs, guns and in a particularly raw episode that was initially banned, child molestation. For years sitcoms like "Roseanne" and "Grace Under Fire" have dealt with similar topics but in "very special" dramatic episodes. Titus was always a comedy and did it better. It utilized a fresh new form of comedy I'd never before seen on TV- cathartic humor. It was a show that laughed through pain and because of that many people didn't get it. And boy was it funny. The writing was sharp and swift, real next-level thinking with some good old fashioned "I Love Lucy" style slapstick. Sure, there were mis-fires and bombs but the show was so quickly paced you'd quickly forgive it.
Then while your trying to catch your breath laughing something shocking or serious would happen and swing the pendulum the other direction. It's perfect comic timing and sense of humor (and mostly because it was a true story) allowed it to swing in and out of the comedy and tragedy with the ease of a talented acrobat. There were episodes that I remember being completely floored by. You would just sit there on the couch in silence minutes after the show was over, shaken but yet also invigorated that TV could still be that good. It was a thrilling place to be. In it's to short run it dealt with multiple plot lines, involving Ken, Erin and Titus, but the most memorable episodes all involved his mother, Juanita. Her journey in and out of the "wacko basket" and attempts to kill Ken were always the best. The biggest triumph was the final few episode (which Fox postponed due to it's dealing with terrorism and airline security) when it all culminates in Juanita suicide. Christopher's monologue, at us, but to his dead mother at the end of that episode is THE most heartbreaking thing I've ever seen in a sitcom.
"Titus" like "Seinfeld" seems to be the work of non-TV people. People who don't know that a sitcom "is not supposed to do that" and kept pushing. It was brilliant and revolutionary. It broke the mold and re-set the standard. It's methods including breaking down the fourth wall and the flashbacks were stolen, recycled and used today in cheap, mainstream rip-off shows like "Grounded for Life" and "The Bernie Mac Show". To date, `Titus' ranks one of the best TV shows of all time. Fox may not have gotten it, but millions of us did. Thanks Titus! Click. Fizzling sound.
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