Titus: The Man, The Myth, The Sitcom

An analysis of Christopher Titus' criminally underwatched early-aughts sitcom.

Sax Carrby Sax Carr

To understand Christopher Titus, you first have to accept that he has an honest to god super power. The more depressing something is in reality, the funnier he can make it. It's like he can take all that momentum of horror and tragedy and reverse it, with equal momentum, in the other direction. For an example, you need only look at the pilot episode of his Fox TV show, Titus.

The episode, entitled Dad's Dead, begins with exactly what you'd expect. Christopher Titus' brother tells him that their dad is dead. Now, he isn't, mind you, but this is how Titus started his allegedly family friendly sitcom. He actively decided that the best way to introduce the characters he created was their reactions to a) finding out that Papa Titus is dead, and b) finding out that he might not actually be. I don't think anything I write could say more about him, and his show, than that.

As you can guess from this picture, his alleged death was not followed by a lot of crying.

Titus, in reality, was an incredibly funny sitcom that never seemed to find it's niche. It's about a dysfunctional family, but not the "Bobby stole my dolly" TV dysfunctional. More like psychological and physical abuse leaving lifelong scars dysfunctional. But because that's exactly where Titus thrives. Instead of these familial war crimes viewing like a white trash Requiem For A Dream, it becomes a charming and insightful tornado of emotionally broken hilarity. My Name Is Earl with a brain and balls. Wings as a no-holds-barred UFC match. The Dick Van Dyke Show in a post-apocalyptic wasteland of hot rods and terrible relationships.

It works because Titus, both the individual and the show, are vicious. Absolutely unabashedly honest and brutal at every turn. But it's always funny, rather than mean. Even when you're being made fun of, you laugh out loud while he breaks you down so hard that all the kings horses and all the kings men stare at the shattered remains that used to be your ego on the floor and scratch their heads, baffled. And you just keep on laughing. Cause not only is Titus smart, but he's also always right. Through all the hyperbole, through all the self-deprecation, through all the half-true stories he has to laugh at to keep from crying, he has found some real, profound wisdom.

I would love to try and impart some of this wisdom, but the magic of Titus, in his show and his stand-up comedy, is it can't be duplicated. When most people tell you what you're doing to make yourself miserable, you don't listen. Nobody does. But for some reason, Titus sounds almost exactly like our collective subconscious. The way he acknowledges all of his flaws, but also accepts the consequences of having them. The way he takes adversity with stride, but still feels the harsh sting of failure.

The way he abuses stupid people like he's an idiot trainer for the circus.

Come to think of it, I was wrong. He's not the voice we all have, he's the voice we all wish we had. I strive every day for the kind of savage honesty that he has. And he does it all without cynicism. A lot of what he says seems to be defeatist, but you realize that throughout all of it, there is hope. He always has something he deeply desires and views as attainable. Based on the stories that he's told, if half of them are true, he has no place being nearly as brilliant or well adjusted as he is.

So I suppose what I'm saying is that despite the fact that, at it's core, it's another Fox sitcom that couldn't totally find it's audience, Titus is a show worth checking out, even all these years later. Watch it to see what Titus managed to get past the executives at Fox. Watch it to see Stacy Keach's nefarious comic timing that always makes you feel like you got punched in the gut. Watch it for complex psychological principals being boiled down into screaming and baby voices, but still totally making sense. If you watched it when it was on, watch it to see how little it's been dated. And, if you've never seen it before, watch it because it's cheaper and more effective than any therapist.

And that's all I have to say about that.