Now, last season, a much, much better comedy—Community—had a similar running gag, where Abed (Danny Pudi) would crack wise about how the things he and his friends were doing bore some relation to a classic sitcom, riffing on shows like Cheers and Friends and M*A*S*H within the show's normal universe. The show made this safe by edging up closely to breaking the fourth wall but never going so far as to actually break it. The Abed character is one of the better ones on Community and, indeed, on TV right now, but the show would never really have him acknowledge his fictional existence. That would be cheating, more or less. (Similarly, a commenter on one of my reviews this year said that Britta on the same show is a sitcom character who's realized she's bad at being a sitcom character, an observation I've always enjoyed.)


But if you compare what Community did to what 'Til Death did, they're not even in the same universe of gutsy. Community pulled its trick off, and 'Til Death mostly didn't, but Community wasn't attempting anything quite as potentially off-putting as 'Til Death was. The Doug story arc was one of the more unexpected things on TV last year, including the character riffing on the generic brands the other characters were using (and tossing in a tie-in to another storyline, no less), the other characters joking about how if they were a sitcom they'd be in a timeslot where no one would watch them, Doug slowly coming to realize he could neither swear nor have actual sex, and a whole episode where Ally was recast yet again and Doug had to come to terms with it before realizing the actress playing his new wife was much friskier in the bedroom (even as he realized that the camera would cut away before anything would happen).

But wait! There's more! Doug went to therapy with a therapist played by Mayim Bialik, who was gradually revealed to be the actress Mayim Bialik, who was filming a reality show based on her practice, all the better to further disorient Doug. And there were suggestions that she might actually have been the character Blossom, as well as a long, startlingly unfunny scene full of "Yeah, your career's dead, but so is mine!" jokes from some number of former Blossom stars and a fat man who thinks he's Joey Lawrence.

And here's the thing: I haven't even seen every episode of the fourth season of 'Til Death, just the highlights of Doug's arc. It's possible that even weirder stuff crept in around the edges in other episodes. After all, Reo, his cast, and crew could be pretty certain no one was watching this. Why not just do something completely nuts? Further compounding problems and making the show seem even more hallucinatory was Fox's decision to screen the 15 episodes they never aired from season three along with the season four episodes, so the show would ping-pong randomly between a series about a bitter married couple having strained fights and living with JB Smoove to a weird, hallucinatory nightmare of suburban life filtered through the perception of a stoned, possibly mentally ill manchild. Ally would be played by a blonde in one episode (from season three), then a brunette in another, then another brunette in yet another. Plus, Fox aired the episodes all out of order. Doug and Ally's wedding aired before their engagement, and the birth of their first child—intended to be the series finale—was followed by three more rejected third season episodes. The show itself seemed to give up as well, tossing weird, random sound effects and obnoxiously loud music over the top of establishing shots or having a recurring plot where guest star Martin Mull is in a dom-sub relationship with a woman who may or may not be a psychopath.


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.