“Oh, Harry” creates a nightmarish scenario of being stuck inside an unfunny sitcom in this enjoyable but not particularly incisive installment of HBO’s anthology series.
This recap of Room 104 season 4, episode 5, “Oh, Harry”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
When “Oh, Harry” opened with a little announcement that Room 104 is apparently filmed in front of a live studio audience, I got the joke straight away. But it takes Harry (Kevin Nealon) a while to figure out that he’s living inside an insufferable sitcom with a family who isn’t his, a script mandating his every move, and a canned laugh track playing all his misfortune for comedy.
The joke is that sitcoms – especially this kind of sitcom – aren’t funny. Harry’s married to Linda (Erinn Hayes), and they have three children together: Jules (Sadie Stanley), Maddie (Skylar Gray), and Will (Jason David), who’re all different ages but speak in the same mouthfuls of sarcastic quips. They’re staying in Room 104 while their house is being repaired, and many jokes are about the fact it’s only one room. Then they’re about Harry trying to find time for himself in the bathroom. Then they’re about him having forgotten Linda’s birthday. And so on, and so forth. Classic sitcom business.
Predictably, when Harry bangs his head and knocks himself unconscious, he wakes up with a newfound awareness of the canned laughter and the weird performative dialogue and eventually finds the script. But even when he points it out, nobody, from his “wife” to his “kids” to the random local mechanic (Ron Funches), will stop adhering to it. His cursing is bleeped out and made part of the show; his desperate attempts to flee the room become the episode’s plot.
Since a character in a sitcom becoming self-aware is nothing new, you’d think Room 104 season 4, episode 5 would be building to a more incisive twist than the one it comes up with, which is simply Harry realizing he’s unable to escape while the camera pans out to take in the studio lot. It’s a dark turn, but not a fresh one; if the point is about how actors who star in these things frequently find themselves bound inexorably to the same typecast role, then that’s something we already knew, and if the point is about how the idea of safe, unoriginal jokes being treated with pre-prepared guffaws is a bit weird and sinister, well… we already knew that too.
Thankfully, “Oh, Harry” is constructed and acted well, so it’s easy to enjoy and not think about too much afterward, which might well be the point of an episode mocking sitcoms after all.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.