Wednesday, November 10, 2010

NBC Sitcom Roundup — "Christening," "Gentleman's Intermission," & "Aerodynamics of Gender"

The Office, Season 7 Episode 7 — "Christening"

I try to avoid over-the-top hyperbole when discussing pop culture, and unlike approximately 99.998% of people who can be found posting on internet message forums I don't fling around phrases like "best ever" and "worst ever" unless I truly mean them. That said, "Christening" is without a shadow of a doubt one of the top five worst episodes in the history of The Office. I can't call it the worst of all time — that is and I pray will always remain season six's "The Banker" — but it was really, really bad. I stared at the screen with a stony mask face for approximately 21 of the episode's 22 minutes and when it was done I actually said, out loud, "ugh."

The entire first half of the episode, documenting the christening of little CeCe Halpert, was somehow simultaneously the driest The Office has ever been (and not a good "Dinner Party" sort of dry, but a profoundly boring sort of dry) and cringe-inducingly broad and sitcommy. I'm blown away that the biggest punchline of the first half was actually "the baby pooed a lot!" That's a circa 1982 multi-camera sitcom punchline right there. A laugh track should have sounded. Give me a fucking break, Office.

Things got marginally more tolerable after the halfway point, key word being "marginally." The second that Michael and Andy hopped on the bus to Mexico it was incredibly obvious to every human being who had seen more than two episodes of The Office that the rest of their subplot was going to play out with them realizing the enormity of their commitment, panicking, and telling them to stop the bus, and then it did, exactly, with no deviation or surprises. Jim suspecting Angela of stealing the baby was more goofily broad sitcom humor, and although it could have been salvaged by lingering on Jim's self-inflicted discomfort at the end when he shouted his accusation, they dropped the ball on that too when they attempted to pass the awkwardness hot potato to Angela by revealing that she had stolen the scones.

The only parts of the episode I enjoyed were the tiny subplot dedicated to Toby's existential crisis and Erin and Michael's exchange when she picked him up at the end: "Get in, quick!" "Why quick?" "So it's faster." But two or three laughs does not a sitcom episode make. This was a near-complete failure, and I dread the possibility that it was anything other than an aberration.

30 Rock, Season 5 Episode 6 — "Gentleman's Intermission"

Whaddaya know, two great consecutive 30 Rocks! Admittedly my view of "Gentleman's Intermission" may have been positively skewed by watching it immediately after The Office, but I thought this was a genuinely funny bit of television by any standard, largely for the same reason I enjoyed the last episode "Reaganing" so much: the writers' realization that Jack and Liz's relationship is by far the show greatest strength, arguably one of the best platonic male-female friendships in the history of television. Once again this episode explored how they complement each other, why Jack needs someone to mentor, why it must be Liz ("Lemon is above average. She's got just the right amount of DIHC for me — I hear it, and I don't care!") and why she needs his blustery guidance. Hell, I may have even been the tiniest bit touched.

My only gripes about "Reaganing" were that it segregated Kenneth and Jenna into their own subplot and seemed to have no idea how to end Tracy's story, pitfalls which "Gentleman's Intermission" avoids entirely. Kenneth staging an attempted murder of a hero cat for Tracy to foil and become a double hero was beautifully absurd, and while I was initially cringing at Jenna's seemingly disconnected C-plot (which for the thousandth time shoehorned in a reason for Jane Krakowski to sing, as if it will one day become funny), it eventually collided with Tracy, Kenneth, and the hero cat in a wholly satisfying way. Not to mention that the hero cat was adorable, and you know how much I love a cute kitty.

All in all, kudos to Tina Fey; this was almost as enjoyable as Community. Keep it up, 30 Rock, you're on a roll!

Community, Season 2 Episode 7 — "Aerodynamics of Gender"

All the buzz I heard going into this latest Community was that it was a parody of Mean Girls with Abed and Hilary Duff vying for queen bee status of the Greendale cafeteria, so it was much to my surprise that the episode's true highlight (and by extension the highlight of last Thursday's NBC comedy block) was the B-plot I hadn't heard one word about, a beautifully absurd and non-sequitur parody of The Secret Garden starring Troy, Jeff, Pierce, a magical trampoline, and a white supremacist gardner. Every second of this subplot was hysterical, from Donald Glover sobbing and asking "why are you doing this?!" while double-bouncing Pierce, to Pierce's slow motion "faaaatthhherrrr" as he flew into the air, to the flashback of the swastika on the gardner's chest. I've seen this kind of elaborate parody on television before but never in live-action, once again cementing Community as not just a great sitcom but a great sitcom for people who love pop culture.

The A-plot was funny too, but not as completely successful as the trampoline tale. I enjoyed Abed's insults and eventual meltdown into an insulting Terminator who destroyed everyone in his path with bitchy putdowns, but the way it was going to unfold and end was pretty obvious halfway in. And while I appreciate that Community is pretty good about not letting their guest stars take over episodes, limiting people like Betty White and Tony Hale and Drew Carey to small supporting roles that take advantage of their exact comedic skillsets, Hilary Duff's role was so small and so nondescript that it could have been played by basically any pretty girl on earth. Wasn't quite sure I saw the point of paying her presumably larger salary. Nevertheless, a pretty good Community is still the funniest thing on TV all week.

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