The Strange Genius of ‘Til Death’s Fourth Season

The fourth season was something else entirely. I don’t know how much of this is attributable to Reo (I suspect a lot), but the domestic squabble stuff grew much, much loopier, right from the first. Fisher and Garrett, perhaps emboldened by the fact that nobody was watching, pushed their characters so far into unpleasantness that it looped back around and became fascinating to watch. Their marriage suddenly made so much more sense. The reason Joy and Eddie Stark had stayed together so long was almost entirely because absolutely no one else on Earth would want to put up with them. Perversely, this made the episode-closing scenes every sitcom like this is required to have where the characters say they love each other feel more genuine. When Eddie and Joy nearly drive each other toward bankruptcy because they want an HDTV and also can’t stand carpooling together, it seems stupid on its face, but it becomes something much bleaker and despairing in practice. Someone somewhere in the production team was using the season to deliberately skewer this kind of show and this kind of storytelling, and Fisher and Garrett were surprisingly game.

But if that were it, that wouldn’t qualify the fourth season of ‘Til Death as some sort of weird, outre comedy. It would certainly be more interesting than what the show had been before, but not necessarily worth seeking out. Perhaps realizing that the role of Ally (Joy and Eddie’s daughter) had been played by four actresses over the course of the series (including Krysten Ritter!) while the role of boyfriend/fiancee/husband Doug had been played by only Sharp, the series embarked on an astoundingly bizarre story arc: It had Doug realize he was a character in a sitcom whose wife kept getting recast, then sent him to psychotherapy to make peace with this fact.

Still trying to wrap my head around this essay from the AV Club, which insists the painfully awful sitcom, ‘Til Death, somehow reached Keith Hernandez status in its fourth season and became something of loose canon.

I don’t want to make this sound more interesting than it actually is. There is a fair chance that if you seek the fourth season of ‘Til Death out (and it’s highly unlikely any of these episodes will ever air again after this summer), you will be disappointed because half the fun was happening upon these episodes in the moment and wondering what world you’d wandered into. By the time Doug and Ally’s wedding rolled around, the show had finally lost it completely, tossing in lengthy animated sequences done in styles ranging from Disney to Edward Gorey, letting Fisher sing at length, and having Garrett do Rodney Dangerfield impressions for no apparent reason. You wanted to stop watching; you couldn’t look away. This was television made by consummate professionals who were pretty sure no one was ever going to see it, and it was somehow gloriously awful and compellingly watchable all at once.

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