Saturday, October 30, 2010

NBC Sitcom Roundup — "Costume Contest" & "Epidemiology"

The Office, Season 7 Episode 6 — "Costume Contest"

In terms of pure laugh count, this newest Office is one of the strongest so far this season. It was a mess, to be certain, throwing out tiny subplots left and right and trying to give almost every character a little something to chew on, but enough of these subplots worked that it was the good kind of mess. Barring one misstep (the exact misstep I predicted the show was going to make in my last sitcom roundup), this was a funny, consistently entertaining 22 minutes of television that zipped by in a flash.

First off, "Costume Contest" featured the return of full-blown manchild Michael Scott, who reverts to incredibly awkward temper tantrums reminiscent of a preschooler when he doesn't get his way. I feel the same way about temper tantrum manchild Michael Scott as I do about hypercompetent salesman prodigy Michael Scott — I wouldn't want to see either every episode, because it'd get real old quick, but as something saved for a few appearances a season I love it. Michael's juvenile, public vendetta against Darryl was hilarious, and the moment where he emerged from his office in a Darryl costume and exclaimed, "I work in the warehouse! I'm cool. I'm hip and I'm jive and I don't care about nobody! Do you know who I am? HAPPY HALLOWEEN, JERK." was one of the biggest and most sublimely uncomfortable laughs I've had at this show in ages. The scene where Michael takes his anger out on Kevin who in turn takes it out on Gabe was also genius.

The Halloween-centric miniature subplots revolving around the $15,000 coupon book also made me laugh a lot. Most every costume was pretty funny so I won't go through them one by one, but I loved Angela giving up, throwing her values under the bus, and dressing up as a slutty nurse, and especially Oscar's frustration and bafflement that no one else in the office seemed to understand that the "$15,000" coupon book was, in practice, worth about $40. In fact, Oscar's subplot, despite only taking up about a minute of total screentime, may have been my favorite part of the episode. It was a spot-on depiction of feeling like the only sane man in a world gone crazy.

I said last week that the "Danny used to date Pam" retcon couldn't lead anywhere good, and indeed, the one thing that didn't really work in this episode was the conflict between Jim and Timothy Olyphant's new character Danny Cordray, wherein Jim tried to figure out why Danny didn't call Pam back after their second and final date four years ago. Like, persistently tried to figure it out. It led to some nervous chuckles, and Danny's eventual explanation that Pam was too dorky was enjoyable in a "Wow, not everyone in the world loves Jim and Pam!" sort of way, but Jim's behavior in this subplot did not in any way, shape, or form resemble that of a human being on the planet earth. He actually came across crazier than Michael. And yes, it ended in the affirmation that Jim and Pam are a cute couple and have a cute baby. I get it, Office. Promise.

Community, Season 2 Episode 6 — "Epidemiology"

Home run. After a rare stumble with last week's Jesus episode, Community returns with force to remind everyone why it's one of the best, most creative, ambitious comedies in the history of television and one of the top ten shows of the last decade, comedy, drama, or otherwise; a show that is quickly muscling its way up the ranks to become my second favorite sitcom of all time. I've said it before but I'll reiterate: Community is a spectacular fucking show. If you consider yourself someone who enjoys laughing or things that are good and are not watching Community you are doing yourself a grave disservice. It pains me to think of all the nerds watching the bloodlss, turgid The Big Bang Theory because "wow, nerds on television!" when a couple channels over Community is a more loving tribute to pop culture and film convention and television comedy than The Big Bang Theory could aspire to in a thousand episodes.

Doing a full-blown zombie (or "people infected by tainted taco meat") apocalypse is probably something the writers decided they wanted to do for Halloween as soon as last season's action movie spoof "Modern Warfare" was such a hit, and they pulled it off brilliantly. To list the things I liked would be to go beat-by-beat through the whole episode, so I won't bother, except to say that I expected Jeff to be the last man standing just like in "Modern Warfare" and was delighted by the swerve. Troy occasionally feels underutilized outside of his bromance with Abed and positioning him as the hero was perfect. The whole episode was hilarious and even a little scary; the only flaw is that it wasn't an hour long. Even removed from the medium of television and stacked up against feature films, "Epidemiology" could well go down as one of the finest pieces of horror-comedy ever made.

This is Community's third high concept episode in a row, after the Apollo 13 spoof and the Jesus episode, and it's probably time to take things down a few notches and get back to (relative) reality, but even as someone who didn't care for last week's episode I think it's been a spectacular little run. All other comedies currently on the air should look to Community and feel embarrassed.

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