So You Think You Can Be a Television Critic?

With another sure-to-be fantastic season of network television descending upon us, it’s time to share my proprietary methodology for judging the quality of this year’s new shows. Now, please bear in mind that I am generally not a fan of television dramas (unless they feature sexy vampires) because: a) they run so very late at night, b) they require a long attention span and c) they make me sad. As a result, my secret system is primarily intended for evaluating sitcoms and/or cartoons.

Similar to my Hugh Grant-inspired movie rating system, I have created a scientifically valid assessment technique for determining the true quality of sitcoms. I call it the “L.P.E. Scale”. And while the LPE is based on some pretty heavy quantum mathematics, I’ve simplified it so the average layperson can play along.

The L.P.E. (or Laughs per Episode) Scale is a system where one tallies up the number of out-loud laughs (audible chuckles count but smiles do not) per each 22 minute episode. At the conclusion of the episode you simply compare your total LPE score to the following handy-dandy results chart (clip and save!) to find out if you really enjoyed the show you just watched.

Level 1 (Angry): Any show that averages under 3 LPEs is an awful show that should never be watched again. It’s referred to as the ‘angry’ level because the fact that you wasted your time watching the show quite literally makes you angry. It’s all about the opportunity cost. Unfortunately, most sitcoms fall into Level 1. The only exception to this rule is if the star of the show is extremely attractive – then you can still watch it. A good example of this phenomenon is Christina Applegate’s 1998-2000 NBC sitcom “Jesse,” where Christina portrayed a single mom who struggled to make ends meet by bartending at day (and vampiring at night).

Level 2 (Meh): Any show that scores between 4 and 8 LPEs is not something that you’d go out of your way to watch. You’d never set the DVR for an episode. You might not even admit to friends that you watched the show. But if you’re too “lazy” (aka drunk) to change the channel or if there’s literally nothing else on, you might watch it. Shows like “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Home Improvement” fall into this category. They’re not bad but they’re not particularly good, either. You might laugh a few times, largely dependent on the plot, the performances and the theme song.

Level 3 (Good): Any show that scores between 9 and 21 LPEs is a good show. Actually, it’s a very good show. At one time “The Office” was in this category (no, really, “The Office” didn’t always suck all fun out of the known universe) – a show where you’d laugh out loud consistently throughout the episode. Sitcoms often have difficulty maintaining this level of quality for a long time, but the ones that do are the classics: Cheers, Friends, Frasier, What’s Happening!!, The Jeffersons, The Odd Couple, etc. These shows are appointment viewing, they’re saved on your DVR and you talk about them with your friends. You might even buy the DVDs of the best seasons. Unfortunately, these are also the shows that typically go on for a few seasons too many and go horribly awry. It’s always tragic when a once-great show goes bad.

Level 4 (Hall of Fame): Few shows reach the rarified air of Level 4. To do so you must hit at least 22 LPEs, meaning an average of at least one laugh per minute for the length of the episode. The show is so consistently funny that you actually miss jokes because you’re still laughing from the previous jokes. Few shows perform at this level. The Simpsons is obviously the gold standard as the funniest show in TV history (although now it’s a Level 3 show). The only show that’s even close to hitting this level currently is “30 Rock” (if they can keep it going strong in season 4). That’s it.

Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Why do I need to do all this work? Can’t I just decide whether I like a show or not without all the math?” And the answer is: “Sure.” But is it really worth the risk? Not putting in the extra effort is precisely how people end up accidentally buying the entire “Perfect Strangers” collection on limited-edition DVD, watching each and every one of the 150 episodes, starting a blog devoted to the show, sending unsolicited gifts to Mark Linn-Baker, ignoring the restraining order and getting sent to prison, all before realizing that Balki wasn’t really a sexy vampire after all.

Just do the math.

And enjoy the new season. TV…it’s always there!

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