Wednesday, March 30, 2011

NBC Sitcom Roundup for 3/24/11

Advance warning — gushing all around this week. If you're looking to see me rip something to shreds, better hold off on reading this post!

The Office, Season 7 Episode 19 — "Garage Sale"

We come to it at last — the beginning of the end. And I liked it! With the caveat that marrying Holly and leaving Scranton with her is the most insanely predictable ending for Michael Scott imaginable, the first thing that popped into all of our minds when Carell's impending departure was announced a year ago. But this is The Office, not Lost or 24, and I don't think predictable plotting is that big a problem so long as it's funny and moving, which it was. The way Pam and the rest tried to help Michael with keeping his proposal "safe and responsible and realistic and doable" was very sweet (even if it resulted in Oscar and Ryan teleporting from the conference room to the warehouse and back again in a slightly horrific bit of editing I can't believe they didn't catch in post).

The proposal itself stood in contrast to Jim's sudden, rainy, roadside proposal to Pam (okay, there was still rain, but of a different sort). I loved that one specifically for the way it shirked TV proposal conventions, while this one embraces them, roomful of candles and crying and cheering crowd and all, but it was still likable due to how much I enjoy the characters and how damn well Carell and Amy Ryan played it. Holly's been a godsend for this show's chemistry ever since she first showed up in season four, even with a thirty-episode gap between appearances, and as syrupy and cheesy as the proposal scene may have been it was impossible not to smile at her reaction to seeing the ring.

Some have questioned whether or not Michael Scott truly even deserves a happy ending after all his hissy fits and manchild antics and fake firings and poor management and fucking Pam's mom and Scott's Tots, but I'd retort that this is only half a happy ending anyway. Michael got the girl, sure, and she's wonderful. But he's also leaving the company he's been with for decades and all the rest of his friends for a city he's never been to with no job prospects to care for two Alzheimery old people he's never met. That's a bittersweet ending at the very best. But let's not jump the gun too much on discussing the departure of Michael Gary Scott, which doesn't officially go down until April 28th. I'll have much more to say then, trust me.

The non-Michael and Holly elements of the episode — Dwight's trading sequence (which I found reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening), Darryl, Andy and Kevin's Dallas game, Ryan's foodstuffs business — were nondescript but solid. I think we all saw Dwight giving in and trading his final prize for Jim's beans a mile in advance. Still, this was a great episode. That it's ranked fourth this week isn't a slight but just goes to show how damn good last Thursday's sitcom block was.

Funniest Moment: The internet collective seems to have decided on Kevin's "And that... is Dallas," which did make me laugh pretty loud, but I have to go with Michael showing off Holly's engagement ring with "They say three years salary," followed by Oscar's quiet, plaintive "Nooo."

Parks and Recreation, Season 3 Episode 8 — "Camping"

Parks and Recreation's hot streak continues with its fourth consecutive brilliant episode. Funny thing is that it didn't start overwhelmingly strongly, with the city manager's groping heart attack and subsequent office teasing of Leslie eliciting more chuckles than true laughs, but the episode got better with each act — each minute, almost — until by the time the gang stopped by the bed and breakfast I was laughing long, loud, and frequently. The fuck is a German muffin, indeed. Like "Harvest Festival" it was a great episode for Leslie and Ben in particular, with Ron Swanson again making a huge impact with a handful of moments. Tom's luxury Sky Mall tent was mildly funny at first but became hilarious upon the revelation that he was drawing power from the van.

The way they brought back Chris Traeger was just a little forced, but at the same time I'd much rather have Chris back with a slightly forced explanation than not have him back at all. It's kind of interesting how Ben and Chris were introduced as a duo with identical jobs but have in ten episodes reached such different places in relation to the parks department and the people therein. I doubt my heart will ever be stirred by Chris and Ann's romance, but Rashida Jones' grand delivery of "I have to move, right?" made their whole subplot in this episode worthwhile.

Funniest Moment: Right up until the very end of the episode it was Tom's "Great idea. Thanks, White Urkel," but then the ending credits tag blew that out of the water, especially Ben's final line. How rare to see a sitcom episode go out comedically on top in literally its final three seconds. I've said before and I'll say again that Adam Scott is impossibly funny and an amazing addition to the show. It already feels like he's been here from the beginning.

30 Rock, Season 5 Episode 18 — "Plan B"

I'm loving what they've done with Tracy's absence from the show, taking a couple of missed episodes that could have easily passed quietly with him simply being offscreen and turning it into the first look at TGS in full-blown crisis we've ever really gotten. This episode wasn't quite like anything 30 Rock's ever done before (which I guess could also be said for last week's "Queen of Jordan," except this time I mean it in a good way), and while it not surprisingly came down to being about Liz and Jack, I liked the little moments of the various supporting characters embarking on their own personal plan Bs. Particularly Sue's The Mentalist parody, because that's some top-shelf absurdity right there.

Liz reaching the end of her rope and possibly career freed the character up to be a little looser and funnier than she's been lately, and Jack had a good old business shark subplot, which the writers always tend to nail with him. Devon Banks and his gaybies were pretty awesome (true story: when Devon appeared I was like, wow, it's been so long since I've seen Will Arnett! But no, it hasn't; I had just already forgotten that Running Wilde ever existed) and I'm liking Hank Hooper a lot more this time around than I did in his first appearance, probably thanks to his new gimmick of smiling widely and talking in a warm, friendly tone about how furious he is. This was a strong episode all around and I look forward to seeing where TGS's forced hiatus takes the show from here.

Funniest Moment: As someone who generally loves Aaron Sorkin and hated Studio 60, I thought the entire Sorkin scene was brilliant, particularly the "Studio 60?" "Shut up." exchange. In fact, I'd go so far as to call it the best celebrity-playing-themselves cameo 30 Rock's ever done, even over Al Gore.

Community, Season 2 Episode 19 — "Critical Film Studies"

Now this was more like it. Not that "Intro to Political Science" and "Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy" were bad by any means, they were just... less than peak Community. But this episode honestly could have gone on for an hour and I wouldn't have minded in the least. When I realized Jeff and Abed's conversation was ending I felt really disappointed, like, no! I want more of this! It was such a sharply-written parody of My Dinner with Andre (I loved the use of Gymnopédie No.1), and Abed's Cougar Town monologue, lie or not, was just superb. Huge kudos to Danny Pudi for the way he started Abed out as being weirdly non-weird then very gradually allowed natural Abed to leak back in over the course of the dinner sequence.

The Pulp Fiction side of things stood out less than the Andre side, but still allotted at least one great moment for each character (Troy and his good no-no juice, Shirley's synopsis of Pulp Fiction for Pierce, and a couple of Annie and Britta moments I'll come back to in a minute). The visual of the cast dressed up as Tarantino characters, while an easy pop culture gag, was still a cute and likable one.

Fantastic piece of television any way you look at it; as comedy, as parody, but perhaps most importantly as an almost uncomfortably penetrative character study of Abed. It's also interesting to see Community calling out its own movie parodies in such a direct, borderline fourth wall-breaking way, with Jeff angrily describing the episode's events as "yet another stupid movie spoof." It feels like the show is barreling towards some sort of final showdown with its own meta-ness, and I can't wait to see what that may be.

Funniest Moment: While not the best or most interesting moment by any means, for whatever reason it was Britta and Annie's exchange of "What, I have 3D vision now?" "Yes... you do." "You don't know me!" that really set me off on a laughing fit. I also liked Annie's "Everyone hates Britta!" later on. Britta getting crapped on in general makes me laugh, probably because of how detached and cool and above it all she was written as being at the beginning of the series. She's not the best current sitcom character but she may be the most improved one.

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

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