What’s Going On With IFC’s Comedy Brand?

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IFC’s comedy programming is, overall, a mix of delightfully strange and bravely unique. There’s no other network I could picture housing Portlandia, Comedy Bang! Bang!, or even The Spoils of Babylon/The Spoils Before Dying. IFC celebrates the bizarre and the funny, which is why it’s so odd that it took a chance on Gigi Does It and Benders.

The two new comedies, both premiering tonight, are at odds with the rest of IFC’s comedy brand. Gigi Does It makes a little sense, I suppose, considering it’s definitely weird as hell: an almost unrecognizable David Krumholtz portrays Gigi, a fiery 76-year-old grandmother who is left a hefty inheritance of $6.2 million and decides to have a little fun. Bizarre? Yes. Funny? Not really. The bland series relies on the ol’ Betty White approach: Gigi is crass and candid, often saying and doing things that are at odds with her old age. You know how, during a Comedy Central Roast, Betty White will make a joke about sex and it’s kind of funny (because, haha, she’s old but still has sex!)? But then she keeps going on and on and it becomes less humorous and more, “OK, we get it”? That is Gigi Does It, but for an entire half-hour each week.

Gigi is crass, loves saying “vagina” and “pussy” as if it’s truly groundbreaking humor. She hires a young male companion (Ricky Mabe), who helps out with her things like buying a gun. Because isn’t it funny that a 76-year-old woman would want to buy a gun? And wouldn’t you be oh-so-surprised if there was a shooting mishap? In another episode, she writes an unmarketable book about calling your grandmother in response to her own grandson never picking up her calls — one of the “jokes” is that her grandson, according to his voicemail, is a 9/11 truther. So, that’s something, I guess. The third episode is about Gigi wanting to pose nude for a portrait because, again, she’s old so that makes it funny. Sure.

While Gigi Does It is aggressively unfunny, I can at least partially understand why IFC thought it would be a good sitcom to add to its roster. Benders, on the other hand, completely boggles the mind. From Denis Leary (perhaps the name recognition is what made IFC hand out money), Benders is about a group of men who play on a hockey team, where they mostly just dick around to shoot the shit with each other. It’s most comparable to The League, minus fantasy football but plus hockey; minus the good jokes but plus an off-putting desperation to be edgy. The episodes are utterly boring and charmless: the pilot opens with Paul (Andrew Schulz) and his wife Karen (Lindsey Broad) attempting to have sex but getting interrupted, resulting in Paul jerking off in the bathroom. Original!

From there, we get plots about men’s drunken antics, or the team openly lusting after a hot woman goalie. If you were feeling extra generous, you could argue that Benders is about friendship between men, but a) television doesn’t need another show about male friendship and masculinity, and especially not another one from Denis Leary; and b) it puts aside any actual interesting investigation into friendship in favor of jokes about drunkenly pissing in odd places or a super-Christian hockey team ripe with religious stereotypes. The women are nonexistent, except when Karen guzzles wine and gossips about other women or when the new goalie takes off her clothes in the men’s locker room while they all stare at her bra like pathetic junior high schoolers.

I will concede that I am not the target audience for a show like Benders, and or even Gigi Does It (despite my somewhat strange obsession with Johnny Knoxville’s Bad Grandpa), but I have always been the audience for IFC. I like shows that are brave, weird, and almost inexplicably hilarious. I like daring programs and big risks — the inclusive nature of Documentary Now was a risk, as was the absurdity of the Spoils installments. But these two new sitcoms make me question what’s going on with IFC’s comedy brand. Even with the understanding that the network wants to reach more viewers while still promoting “niche” programming, the decision to pick up and promote these shows is simply baffling. IFC is one of the best, most intriguing networks out there, so it’s disheartening to see it take a step back from bold programming and fall into step with the mundane and overdone.