Tuesday, October 26, 2010

NBC Sitcom Roundup — "The Sting," "Reaganing," & "Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples"

The Office, Season 7 Episode 5 — "The Sting"

Despite the introduction of Deadwood sheriff (and Live Free or Die Hard / The Girl Next Door bad guy) Timothy Olyphant as traveling salesman Danny Cordray, I was not super into this latest Office episode. I especially wasn't into the B-plot — in fact, I'd go so far as to say I sort of hated it — but even the A-plot was a broad, cartoony piece of work held together more by the presence of a premium cable and big screen actor stirring up the chemistry than by the writing.

I want to give credit where it's due, so I'll grant that, yes, I laughed at the titular "sting," wherein Michael, Dwight, and Jim set up a fake sales call for Danny with hidden cameras and Meredith posing as a CEO to learn his sales secret. It was a goofy, madcap sequence that had absolutely nothing in common with the dry and relatively realistic show The Office once was, but when Meredith declared Oscar to be a janitor who couldn't speak English and forced him to dust the blinds as part of the show for Danny, it was almost funny enough to overlook the broadness of it. Still, part of my mind screamed "this is like a scene from 30 Rock, not The Office."

I'm glad Danny seems to be sticking around, but the whole retcon that he used to date Pam between Roy and Jim makes me nervous. If used for a bit of awkward humor, great. If used for soapy theatrics, terrible. As Pam rightfully points out during the episode, Jim is married to and has a child with her, so hopefully The Office has enough rationality and restraint not to stir up some kind of insipid jealousy drama about the fact that she had a short-term boyfriend four years ago.

Meanwhile, the B-plot about Andy starting a band was a piece of shit. I hate to be so blunt about a show I love, but yeah. It just wasn't funny. At all. I understand that Ed Helms co-starred in The Hangover, a smash hit that made hundreds of millions of dollars, but that doesn't mean that every single B-plot has to center around Andy from this point on. Not to mention that this is the third Office out of five episodes this season that has contained musical numbers. I thought it was cute enough in the first episode, acceptable as part of the plot in the third, but now I'm just begging them to stop. This is The Office, not fucking Glee.

30 Rock, Season 5 Episode 5 — "Reaganing"

I'm so happy, especially after last week's gag-inducing live show, to say that I loved the latest 30 Rock. In fact, it was the best of NBC's Thursday sitcoms, just 22 really funny minutes of television, in no small part because it put Liz and Jack together instead of dividing them into separate storylines. I understand why the writers don't always do this — Liz and Jack apart means more combined screentime for them and fewer minutes balanced on the more precarious shoulders of the remaining cast — but I'm always glad when they do, because it's the show's key relationship, not to mention its most entertaining. And hey, this one had some legitimate character development for Liz! Taking us to the beginning of her sexual hangups and isolating their root cause actually felt like the resolution of a story arc four years in the making, and it was funny to boot.

Segregating Kenneth and Jenna into their own subplot is usually a recipe for disaster (see the episode "Let's Stay Together" for further details), but this one was actually enjoyable as the conman element gave it an extra dimension beyond the tired "LOL, Kenneth's a hick!" and "LOL, Jenna's a diva!" angles they usually take. I still hold a grudge against Kelsey Grammer for the ABC show Hank, so bringing him in as the villain was satisfying, even if he never really got his comeuppance. And while the awkwardly absurd jellybean resolution to Tracy's subplot made it obvious the writers had no idea how to end it, everything up to that point was really funny. Tracy's announcement that "I'm sorry, I have an erection!" was base humor done right, and I laughed.

More 30 Rock episodes like this, and who knows? Maybe I can make it to season six with my sanity intact after all.

Community, Season 2 Episode 5 — "Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples"

Unfortunately, I wasn't really feeling this latest Community. I don't object to Jeff being largely sidelined and Abed protagonist for a week, but having Abed become the Jesus of Greendale was nowhere near as funny as having him become the Godfather of Greendale in last season's "Contemporary American Poultry," and the religious feud between him and Shirley handled what last season's Christmas episode did gracefully with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. It almost retroactively makes that episode worse. Pierce's subplot with the old folks had some chuckles but fizzled out into an awkward anticlimax.

I would say that the biggest laughs of the entire episode came from John Oliver's Professor Duncan, and I'm glad that he seems to have had his part beefed up this year. But other that that I think this was probably one of the top five weakest episodes of the series. Ah well. Dust yourself off, Community, try again Thursday. I ain't hold a grudge.

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