A comic’s look at dramedy

I am admittedly finding less and less to write about in regard to this show. Although the blog will remain open for a while longer because the time I paid for isn’t up until several more months have passed, I am straining to find anything of value to write about. As you know this blog is not a recap sort of site, nor is it a fan site for any of the actors. I have always written posts that have been inspired by ideas that arose from the show, and I think they have found ways to address a myriad of worthwhile subjects over the years. However, this last series has not introduced much in the way of new topics for discussion, and those I found, I’ve already written about.

One of the subjects we have had some moderate dispute over is whether this show was meant to be a drama or a comedy — or a combination of both, a dramedy. After listening to the most recent interview with Philippa Braithwaite, I feel assured that they consider the show a combination of comedy and drama and they try hard to find the right balance. That balance is essentially where they have at times gone off track, IMO. In S6, the show went too heavily for the dramatic and lost too much of the humor; in S7, they became farcical and neglected the drama to a great extent. They attempted to use the therapy as their dramatic vehicle, but even that became farcical, and determining the plot of each episode based on the actions recommended by the therapist became too forced. Plus the fact that it was obvious that they planned to put off any reconciliation between Martin and Louisa until the final episode made much of the action less compelling, and less convincing.

Then the final episode was so cartoonish and hard to swallow that the anticipated and presumed resolution was anticlimactic to a great extent. If anyone was going to have to make concessions this time, it would have to be Louisa. And it was her turn to both admit she was also at fault and ask for forgiveness. Throughout this series there were foreshadowings during the therapy sessions that Louisa was discovering her own role in their marital woes. Martin had admitted being wrong several other times. (That is not to say that their reconciliation wasn’t welcomed; only that its arrival was too long in the making.)

Now we’ve had S8. This series ended up toning down the interaction between Martin and Louisa to such an extent that there was very little humor between them, or even in their lives. The humor derived primarily from the other members of the ensemble and was relatively humdrum. The moments that elicited a laugh were few and far between, at least for me.

I did see a good cartoon in The New Yorker magazine that illustrates the mixture of comedy and drama in a dramedy, and thought it was worth sharing with you:

What this cartoonist has depicted, much as I argued in previous posts, is that basically dramedy revolves around relationships that often lead to some injury that is more likely to hurt someone’s pride than their body. And we laugh because they deserve the injury and because we’re human. In this case it’s the man who has decided to leave and the woman looking nonplussed. It’s left to our imagination how she might react when he steps on the banana peel, but most of us would expect her to get at least a little sense of schadenfreude from it. (I love the use of the banana peel again too.) And the man might find himself feeling foolish and undignified as he carries his luggage in a self-important manner. Like this cartoon, Doc Martin is a television series that uses both serious and comic subjects that they try to offset in as close to equal parts as possible but sometimes have overshot in one direction or the other.

6 thoughts on “A comic’s look at dramedy

  1. ED

    Just a quick question; why did the writers depart from the basic formula that made Doc Martin an above comedy/drama series? I’m referring to the relationship between Martin and Louisa. The show has been built around their relationship and has been the clue that kept it going for these many seasons. Series 8 has Martin & Louisa as inconsequential. Maybe someone could enlighten me.

  2. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    The way I would try to explain it is that there have been two major issues that have been at stake from the beginning of this show: the relationship between Martin and Louisa and the blood phobia. Since the relationship between Martin and Louisa has been somewhat settled, they have turned back to the blood phobia as a theme to be reckoned with.

    In my mind they took Martin and Louisa’s relationship too much out of the main story in S8. For many viewers, simply that they have now agreed that they want to be together is not the end of the story. When they heard there are to be more series, viewers wanted to see how this couple would cope without the specter of whether they will stay together hanging over them. I imagine most viewers would expect continuing problems between them, both humorous and serious, just as their interactions have been all along. There would be little expectation that they are now spending their days in quiet communion, but that is what we got.

    With the prospect of two series, they had to find something for an overall arc. They decided on the blood phobia’s return, which has also been used in S4 and S6, and periodically in every series. But even they have made it clear that ME is capable of treating patients at a very high level despite his phobia, so where this will go is hard to predict. There’s little chance that the writers and producers are not aware that viewers want more affection as well as contretemps between Martin and Louisa that leads to a clearer sense of where they stand as a couple. The fact that Martin finds Louisa’s presence calming when he’s struggling with his phobia in one of the last scenes of S8, and the fact that he very obviously glances at Louisa when he asks what it will take to stay in Portwenn, leads us to believe that he both wants to please Louisa and he thinks staying in Portwenn continues to be important to her. What they do with that is what they want us to wonder for the next two years.

  3. Amy

    I agree that they have reduced the importance of the Martin and Louisa story in S8 in terms of both drama and comedy, making the series overall less compelling until at least the 7th episode. It seems like a stupid direction to take the show, but there it is.

    I am not even sure the blood phobia issue is really an arc in the series. Sure, it pops up here and again—on the boat, with the vet a bit, and on the cliff, and the finally in the last two episodes it is central. But there is really nothing about the earlier episodes that makes one think that the blood phobia has become the central issue. And the blood phobia has often been used in occasional episodes in earlier series to remind us that it is still there without it become a point of real dramatic tension. Just a bit that some still find humorous even after eight seasons….

    In S8, the blood phobia was used to create tension and suspense only in the last two episodes. If they had started that story with Martin fainting on the obnoxious lawyer (of course, they had to make her a lawyer) in an earlier episode leading to the conflict and then building to the resolution in the last episode, it would have made for a more interesting series overall.

    (I continue to think the theme of S8 was the struggle to balance family needs and personal needs, but I’ve beat that drum often enough so I give up. To me that is where the drama ( and some of the comedy) was supposed to be this season. It also just wasn’t done with enough tension or humor to create a dramatic arc. )

  4. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    While I agree with much of what you write, I think I have finally reached a way to satisfy both of our positions on the subject of how S8 was constructed. Your last line kind of says it all — there wasn’t enough substance to the “theme” of how to balance family and personal needs to qualify it as a story arc. The nub of this matter is that a story arc is supposed to effect change in some way, and often it takes the form of a tragic fall from grace. What I am arguing when I say that the blood phobia was what they decided to employ as their narrative arc, is that due to his blood phobia, ME has arrived at a potential fall from grace. His blood phobia has been positioned as the potential reason why he could lose his practice in Portwenn. I don’t expect that to happen, but I suspect that they are trying to create some sort of suspense as to the possibility that this extremely capable physician could be brought down by a phobia that he has been struggling with for years. It’s the one thing besides his yearning for Louisa that has been a constant in this show. I can imagine that they took a step back, looked at a two series future, and decided that they could put the blood phobia to use as an overarching plot line.

    Throughout the 8 series the blood phobia has played an important role. Now they might try to find a way to deal with it and in that process bring Martin and Louisa closer together for a grand finale. I know, it sounds a little corny, but that’s what many viewers seem to be looking for and maybe this time they plan to give it to them.

  5. Amy

    Well, it that was their arc and their story, they didn’t do a very good job of constructing it as a theme throughout the series. Until E7, it was just an occasional tidbit thrown into stories about other things. We saw no anxiety about it, we saw no continuing or growing occurrences or concern. I think they wrote the first six episodes as they pleased and then in the last two created a conflict with a partial resolution, leaving the issue to be addressed in two years.

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