What Doesn't Kill Us Makes Us Bitter: Book Review

What Doesn't Kill Us Makes Us Bitter Book Cover - P 2012

Chuck Lorre's vanity cards brilliantly tell a life story in 1-second increments.

This story first appeared in the Nov. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Vanity cards, the production company logos that flash at the end of a TV show, were a throw-away item until Chuck Lorre got one with Dharma & Greg in 1997 and turned them into an art form with his musings on life.

Lorre’s brilliance was in realizing that the vanity card (“so named,” he writes, “because the credit is bullshit”) could be turned into a “chronicle of an unraveling life and a raveling career flashed in subliminal one-second increments.” Now Lorre has collected nearly 300 of the cards in an oversized coffee-table book that adds illustrations to the original text-only cards (Lorre is donating all profits to the Venice Family Clinic).

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The first cards mainly were a declaration of his views — obsessive worship of TV is bad; Larry was the most underrated Stooge — but Lorre quickly grasped the creative possibilities. Card No. 12 details a painful breakup, using the alter ego “Richie” — Lorre soon abandoned him but thankfully not the introspection about a man confronting middle age (Nos. 83, 122, 191).

Often the cards describe professional frustrations, admitting bitterness about losing a WGA Award (No. 54), a Golden Globe (148) and an Emmy (185), criticizing the Parents Television Council (228 and 226) and venting about his feud with Two and a Half Men star Charlie Sheen (329). Others attack CBS for censoring cards (178) and bicker with it over digital streaming (197).

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Read together, the cards are a seminar in sitcom-making: jokes that don’t make the cut (146), pitching CBS head Leslie Moonves (152 — watch for the frown) and dealing with network censors (289, 301). The result is a fascinating, often raw, often laugh-out-loud-funny memoir told in brief snapshots.