Question: I have to say, Matt, in the past, you've never led me astray. But your review of The Winner is a real puzzler to me. In this day and age of excellent comedies like Scrubs, The Office and the late, great Arrested Development, how could you possibly enjoy one of the lamest half hours on television? The laugh track is right out of the '50s: loud, intrusive and completely off base. (For instance, in the pilot, why would anyone laugh at his unfunny parents during the scene at the breakfast table? And there were not only laughs but actual guffaws!) I'm a huge fan of The Daily Show, and I love Rob Corddry. But his personality goes too far and needs to be toned down. The obnoxious laugh track does not make this show funny, only silly and stupid.
Answer: I've never led you astray before? Nice to know, but hard to believe. I've been doing this a while. You won't find me defending the laugh track here, although I'll admit I'm mostly immune to it, and wonder about those who rail against it like it's something new to TV. Any show filmed in front of an audience tweaks its laugh track, although not to the degree of The Winner, for sure. I was also put off by the opening scene with the parents in the pilot. In fact, I was sure I was going to hate the show based on how overplayed that scene was, matched by the laugh track. But then, the show and its main character unexpectedly charmed me, despite the inherent creepiness of it all. Look, The Winner isn't going on my top-10 list, or even my top 40. But given what Fox has shown us lately in live-action comedy (The War at Home, 'Til Death), this one disarmed me, and I treated it generously. Maybe more than it deserved, but ultimately in my view, a laugh track does not a show make, or unmake. Look at how successful CBS is with its traditionally produced Monday sitcoms, which all clearly make use of sweetened laugh tracks. It's not necessarily a deal breaker.

A similar gripe, about shaky camerawork, is voiced by Kathy L.: "What is it with the camerawork on Boston Legal? While it's not a must-see for me, I enjoy it occasionally as the "New Ally McBeal with Boys" that it is (mostly just to see Julie Bowen and Mark Valley) — but unless I just listen and occasionally glance at it, it's almost impossible to watch without a full load of Dramamine. The camera whips and swoops and spins around to the point of nausea! I know I miss a lot by not watching the characters and just listening, but it's the only way I can stand it for an hour. I see it a lot on shows that try to be 'edgy,' whereas I only find it distracting. Will this trend ever end, or do I just give up on BL and other shows that make me seasick?"

This complaint dogged Friday Night Lights for much of this season as well, and I'm happy to note that the UnSteadyCam has been toned down a bit (though not entirely abandoned), or maybe I just don't notice it anymore. As with laugh tracks, this camera movement is something that rarely bothers me, going back all the way to NYPD Blue and Homicide: Life on the Street, both of which employed whipsawing handheld cameras, sometimes to their disadvantage. It has become a signature of shows that want to evoke a quasidocumentary realism, and sometimes it does come off like a gimmick, especially when David E. Kelley uses zooms to hammer home every innuendo and joke. My problem with Boston Legal, and it extends to the acting and writing as well as the camerawork and cutesy editing, is that it's all so heavy-handed.