Thursday, February 10, 2011

NBC Sitcom Roundup for 2/3/11

The Office, Season 7 Episode 15 — "The Search"

I found "The Search" to be pretty light on laughs. Granted, it seemed like an intentionally understated episode that wasn't aiming for huge belly laughs in the first place, more of a minor Michael Scott character study than anything else, but even in that respect I'm not sure it revealed much of anything about Michael we haven't known for years. Yes, he's lonely and lovesick, we get it. Most of the episode's laughs were found in the other half of the lost Michael story that showed Dwight, Holly, and Erin searching for him, mostly thanks to how inexplicably irritated both Dwight and Erin seem at Holly's presence. People hating other people for no apparent reason is a comedic technique that never fails to work on me. And the Michael-Holly kiss at the end, while not entirely earned in the few episodes Holly's been back, was tough not to smile at.

However, the B-plot with Gabe and the captions on Pam's art was pretty much a comedic nonstarter outside of Darryl bragging about his elite captioning skills. Oh well, can't win 'em all.

As a side note, I read that the reason for Jim's borderline-cameo appearances the last three weeks is because John Krasinski was simultaneously shooting a movie called Everybody Loves Whales in Alaska during filming (and yes, the movie is literally about whales). Whether or not he's still shooting it I don't know, but it's probably safe to assume that at least a few more Jim-light episodes await us moving forward. Just in case anyone was unaware.

Funniest Moment: Although Erin's pathological dislike of Holly is my favorite running joke, for reasons I myself can't entirely explain it was Michael saying "You are disgusting, you'll never find love." to the snake that made me laugh hardest.

Parks and Recreation, Season 3 Episode 3 — "Time Capsule"

I liked "Time Capsule" while being a bit disappointed by it at the same time, or at least disappointed by its big guest star. Weird thing is that I actually loved the movie MacGruber, and because of that I naturally assumed I was a fan of its protagonist Will Forte, but I haven't liked him in anything since. I think his character on 30 Rock (Jenna's crossdressing boyfriend Paul) horribly gums up the momentum every time he appears and I didn't think his Twilight-obsessed wannabe martyr in this latest Parks was much better. He was just trying so, so hard to be funny, visibly trying, and nothing kills comedy deader than looking like you're straining for it.

However, that story still came to a pretty entertaining climax with the town hall meeting. It's in its town hall meetings that Parks and Recreation reveals its tone and grip on reality to actually be a bit more akin to The Simpsons than The Office, the show it was initially inspired by, and the baffling, frustrating-to-Leslie surreality of Pawnee's citizenry is pretty much always funny as hell. I also enjoyed Andy and April's subplot once again, although I do hope the show doesn't make us wait until the season finale to finally get those two crazy kids together — not just for our own gratification as viewers, but because it would be sluggish to wait that long when their secrets and crushes are already out in the open. But for now they're still likable. It was a shame the episode was so light on Ron Swanson, though.

Funniest Moment: Either Andy suggesting that they put April's new boyfriend in the time capsule and "seal the top, so that he suffocates and dies" or the following exchange at the town hall meeting: "Please remember this is a government project, so we need to refrain from corporate promotion and religious items. Who'd like to start?" "I think we should put in the Bible." "...Great."

30 Rock, Season 5 Episode 13 — "¡Qué Sorpresa!"

This episode was not surprisingly a big step down from last week's transcendent "Operation Righteous Cowboy Lightning," one the best 30 Rocks in years, but I still thought it was pretty solid by season five standards. The best part was Liz, Avery, and the ethnically ambiguous Carmen Chao's fake pregnancy A-plot, mostly because of how obviously absurd and flimsy Liz's side of the story was, but I also enjoyed Jack's B-plot except for his new, creepily friendly boss, who I'm not sure I like much more than Jack does. It was an episode mostly reliant on moment-to-moment jokes as opposed to last week's strong character work (very, very strong by 30 Rock standards) so I'm not sure what else I have to say beyond "yep, I laughed here and there," so yep, I laughed here and there — at Liz and Jack's stories, anyway.

As for Tracy and Jenna's feud... well, eh, but did anyone really expect such a thing to be any good in the first place?

Funniest Moment: Jack attempting to demonstrate the voice-activated television to his new boss, particularly the Keeping Up with the Kardashians burn at the end. The scene with Jack ordering Kenneth to hit him in the elevator was also pretty good.

Community, Season 2 Episode 14 — "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons"

Now, this. This was peak Community. This was peak televised comedy, period. The best of NBC's Thursday block to be certain, but also one of the best episodes of the series and probably one of the best sitcom episodes of the last ten years. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, and fucking hilarious, made all the more impressive by the fact that it was a borderline-bottle episode that took place almost entirely within the confines of the study room.

I've never actually played Dungeons & Dragons (in high school me and my friends got as far as creating characters before losing interest) so I can't review "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" on the basis of accuracy, but I think they did a great job making the game look simultaneously very geeky and very fun. The episode's sound design — an aspect of sitcom production I rarely find myself commenting on, but demands attention here — was sublime, using the sounds of goblins attacking and swords clanging and dragon wings flapping and the hustle and bustle of an elf tavern to actually give the episode a palpable high fantasy flavor without utilizing a single exotic prop or set. And the modifications to what we're familiar with, namely the medieval version of the theme song and Pierce making the supply closet into a generic dark lord's throne room, were so perfect.

Pierce's place in the episode is interesting. I read some people on forums claiming that he was too sadistic and too evil to even find funny, but it didn't bother me, as Community has always been a show of shifting alignments (Dungeons & Dragons pun intended). I'm sure you'll recall Troy becoming a jerk jock in "Football, Feminism and You," Shirley becoming a crusading zealot in "Comparative Religion," and Jeff turning temporarily selfish and / or manipulative in any number of episodes. Yeah, this one took Pierce a little further, but it could be argued that in the end he helped Neil more than anyone.

Altogether the episode gave every character a few great moments to shine, and it was creative, propulsive, and hilarious in everything from its biggest moments (the showdown with Draconis) to its littlest (Britta's hilarious "ow!" when Abed tells her she's been hit by an arrow). I admit that I didn't think last week's "Celebrity Pharmacology" was among the series' stronger efforts, but they've come back from that and then some. Just a couple more episodes on this level and the second season of Community will easily go down as one of the greatest sitcom seasons of all time.

Funniest Moment: So, so many to pick from. I could almost just say "the whole episode" and that'd be pretty damn accurate, but it'd also be a weak-ass move, so I'm gonna buckle down and say Annie and Abed's "sex scene," particularly Troy's reaction and Annie adding the fourth finger.

Weekly Power Rankings: 1. Community 2. Parks and Recreation 3. 30 Rock 4. The Office

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