HAVANA TIMES — “Aren’t you going to watch Panfilo?” This is what someone in my family always says to get us together to watch the sitcom Vivir del cuento, the only Cuban comedy show aired by Cubavision these days. Everyone settles into their armchairs to get a glimpse at Cuban reality, or at least feel that they are seeing a social critique that touches issues very close to home.
The show deals with the lives of two elderly men in precarious financial conditions who must resort to “living by their wits” in order to make ends meet. The show addresses current issues and two or three episodes were never aired (such as one dealing with a traditional New Year’s sweet that Panfilo hopes to sell to make a little extra money, now going around as part of the “weekly package”), but I don’t believe they’re actually that scathing, what with the many things one could be critical of today.
Some scripts are not that humorous and rely on improvisations by the actors far too much. Though they address a broad range of issues, they tend to stretch out the joke too much as well. They also rely on hackneyed formulas and there are many uninteresting characters that do not add anything to the story and serve only to fill up gaps in the scenes. Some of the actors who portray these secondary characters aren’t very good.
Aida, a Spanish sitcom, has solid scripts that address such thorny issues as racism, sexism, politics and social problems. These are expertly embedded in the sub-plots, where the secondary characters play an essential role, to the point that the story would fall apart without them. People speak colloquially and even curse. It’s almost like seeing real life reflected in a mirror: full of anti-heroes and losers, and both the main and sub-plots have creative endings.
The IT Crowd is a 2006 English comedy series that only had six seasons, but struck me as one of the most original I’ve enjoyed in recent times. Its picturesque and ridiculous characters interact in a workplace where abuses of power and sexism abound. I recall one episode in particular, full of clever dark humor, which takes place during a religious ceremony in honor of the former president of the company who committed suicide. The deceased boss gives his employees instructions from a TV screen. When writers give their all and actors unfold their skills, everything tends to work well.