Thursday, December 9, 2010

NBC Sitcom Roundup — "China," "Chain Reaction of Mental Anguish," & "Mixology Certification"

Apologies for being rather late with and terse in my sitcom roundup this week, but with the midseason finales just around the corner I'm holding off to post more elaborate thoughts on the general status of all three shows sometime in the next few days. But in the interest of not missing a week lemme bust out some quick and dirty minireviews on last Thursday's new episodes.

The Office, Season 7 Episode 10 — "China"

Just as "" seemingly served to wrap up Michael and Ryan's relationship, this episode seems to put a cap on Michael and Oscar by letting Michael intellectually one-up Oscar for the first and presumably only time ever. I was cringing when their storyline began with Michael's red scare paranoia, because one thing The Office is not deft in is broad sociopolitical issues, but once it softened into a mental duel between Michael and Oscar it became much more enjoyable. I wasn't exactly rolling with laughter, but it amused.

Far better was the other duel going on in the episode's B-plot between Dwight and Pam. Very funny, brought out the best in both characters, and ended on a legitimately sweet note (as opposed to the faux-sweetness of the Erin / Andy and Dwight / Angela romances I find tedious) by showing that at some level Dwight really does care about Pam. Mix in the ice cream pigeon credits sequence and Erin being well-written once again (this time as paranoid and possibly a little sociopathic) and you have the best Office since Halloween, as well as the first one since then to trump the 30 Rock it aired up against.

30 Rock, Season 5 Episode 9 — "Chain Reaction of Mental Anguish"

After four consecutive strong episodes, 30 Rock slipped up last Thursday. I had exactly one huge belly laugh in the episode, which ironically involved one of the characters I've grown most tired of: I of course refer to the flashback revealing that Kenneth was forced to eat the pig he regarded as a father (including its face). That was hilarious dark comedy and one of the biggest laughs I had all week.

Shame then that the rest of the episode was mostly dead air. Other than assigning already-trademarked names to his various cockamamie business schemes the subplot with Tracy's "son" was a bust, especially the odd comedic monologue by Jack involving proteins that was about 95% odd and only about 5% comedic. Liz's psychoanalysis felt like a poor man's version of her confessing her dark sexual history in "Reaganing" just a couple months back and the less said about Jenna and her cross-dressing boyfriend's desperately unfunny subplot the better. Arguably the weakest episode of the season outside of the premiere and the live show.

Community, Season 2 Episode 10 — "Mixology Certification"

Community has tried its hand at many genres in 2010 — action with "Modern Warfare," horror with "Epidemiology," and thriller with "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design" just last week — so it only makes sense that they now take a shot at drama. A comedic drama, of course, just as "Modern Warfare" was comedic action, "Epidemiology" was comedic horror, and "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design" was a comedic thriller, but drama nonetheless.

"Mixology Certification" was a quiet, understated, and vaguely sad episode by Community standards that cemented exactly why this show is so amazing: I genuinely like the characters. As people, I mean, not as sitcom types. That's something that can't really be said about The Office or 30 Rock or Arrested Development or Curb Your Enthusiasm or Always Sunny. It's part of what made Friends so popular back in the day and it's the reason that, even after all the recent high concept episodes raised the bar, we can still just watch the cast hang out in The Ballroom for twenty minutes and it's fairly riveting stuff. The scene with Annie and Troy in Annie's apartment at the end did not in any way look or feel like a scene from a broadcast sitcom; it felt like something from an indie film, a good indie film.

This episode also again proved that Annie, Abed, and Troy, while not the official protagonists, are the show's holy trinity and some of the most likable sitcom characters of all time. Have I mentioned lately that I love this show?

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