• Chris O’Dowd and the progenitor of the modern mockumentary

These are confusing times for TV viewers. Fewer and fewer sitcoms are being filmed in front of live studio audiences, thus fewer pratfalls and funny booby jokes are being accompanied by a laugh track. Millions of people are sitting at home staring at their TVs with stupid looks on their faces, waiting for cues from their viewing companions, growing tenser by the minute because they have no idea when to laugh if TV isn’t telling them when to laugh.

Of course this isn’t the case. Not because we aren’t stupid, but because modern sitcoms—documentary and mockumentary-style sitcoms, in particular—came up with a new way to cue laughter in the living rooms of dullards nationwide: the furtive glance at the camera. Someone’s being laughably goofy on The Office. How do I know? Jim just stared right through time and space and told me with his eyes. Isn’t that weird? No, it’s OK because the camera’s supposed to be there. Why? WHO KNOWS AND STOP ASKING SO MANY FUCKING QUESTIONS.

(PS: There’s a video of a scene from the Big Bang Theory without a laugh track, and it’s a must-watch for anyone interested in what deeply, deeply unfunny looks like.)

The documentary-style sitcom is wearing out its welcome. I was very on board for Reno 911; I was a lot less on board by the time Parks and Rec came around (which isn’t to say I didn’t end up liking it). Practically the only person who could get away with a new doc/mock-style sitcom at this point is Christopher Guest, which works out great for him because he has a new doc/mock-style sitcom on HBO called Family Tree.