Wednesday, May 4, 2011

NBC Sitcom Roundup for 4/28/11

For fairly obvious reasons, I have more to say about The Office this week than anything else, so I'll keep my thoughts on 30 Rock, Parks, and Community on the brief side. Which isn't intended as disparagement of any of their episodes, all three of which I thought were pretty good.

The Office, Season 7 Episode 22 — "Goodbye, Michael"

This really is a series finale in a sense. I mean, The Office will go on for probably two or three more years and I'll keep watching until the end, but this iteration of the show is done. Steve Carell was one cast member in a huge ensemble, but he was unmistakably the core, the linchpin. Quite a few characters were primarily defined by their relationships with him and will have to carve out new roles on the show. The energy and the vibe of Dunder Mifflin is irreparably altered and will never be the same again. We're now in (remembering to count the British original) The Office 3.

But that's something to discuss over the next month and in the fall — for now, let's just focus on Steve Carell / Michael Scott's pretty great farewell episode. Absolutely no one can say that Carell phoned it in on account of being out the door. He nailed it, beautifully capturing the emotion of his long goodbye, sharing a nice scene with almost every character, and depicting every facet of Michael from his childlike vulnerability to his obliviousness to a surprising self-awareness, particularly in the talking head where he finally acknowledged, sputtering with laughter, how little respect Oscar has for him. Not that the Emmys are relevant, but maybe this episode can finally give Carell a shot at winning one, rescuing the Emmys from the embarrassment of letting one of the most iconic sitcom protagonists of all time go unrecognized.

I also loved how, in contrast to the overly schmaltzy "Seasons of Love" riff in the last episode, the bulk of this episode was quite subtle and understated. Michael not telling anyone it was his last day both made sense for the character (I think back to how hard he tried to avoid confrontation with Stanley in "Did I Stutter?" a few years back) and was a brilliant way to avoid the clichés of a farewell episode in favor of something that actually wound up being more emotional. Rather than oozing with forced TV tears, the vibe was a slightly disquieting mix of hope, warmth and inevitable sadness that will stick with me for much longer than any Rent parody ever could.

This was best encapsulated in Michael's final scene with Pam. In a way it seemed odd that the show treated Michael's relationship with Pam as his most important (I mean, he did fuck her mom), but when actually watching it I was surprised by how correct it felt. There's always been a level of sarcastic disconnect between Jim and Michael, Dwight is too goofy to have the final emotional farewell, Erin too new. Michael and Pam's relationship has, at its best, been rather sweet, such as when she quit to help him found the Michael Scott Paper Company and when he negotiated her her job at Dunder Mifflin back several episodes later. The final airport scene was near perfect, and having Michael Scott's final lines inaudible and related to us by Pam later a masterstroke.

I do have to say that I didn't buy how emotional Jim was getting in his final scene with Michael, which put a crack in the wonderfully understated vibe. Telling Michael he was a great boss and wishing him well with un-Jimlike sincerity, sure. Awesome. Tearing up? No. That just wouldn't happen. Jim has spent the entire series exasperated by and struggling to tolerate Michael, including in this very same episode when Michael gave Andy all of his top clients. But viewed in the light of doubling as John Krasinski's farewell to Steve Carell, I suppose it's excusable.

On the more indefensible downside (and I toyed with not even mentioning this subplot, but I guess I have to), Will Ferrell's character has in two episodes devolved from surprisingly likable to being every single thing I feared he would be and more. Acting wacky, going crazy, being stupid, shouting, the whole Will Ferrell nine. After "Training Day" I was hoping that Ferrell could actually stick around longer than was initially planned; now he can't be gone fast enough. Let's hope the barrage of guest stars in the season finale is less obtrusive, although I can't say I'm holding my breath.

Funniest Moment: "Goodbye, Michael" mostly went for poignancy as opposed to laughs when it came to Michael himself, but there were a lot of great moments surrounding him. Take your pick from Jim noting with a degree of real irritation that they've started filming people going to the bathroom now, Phyllis' relief that Michael didn't reveal her abandoned baby, and the introduction of the terrifying Rory Flenderson, implying that the specter of Toby will haunt Michael across time and space.

Parks and Recreation, Season 3 Episode 11 — "Jerry's Painting"

This was a pretty solid little episode. I mean, pointing out that Parks and Recreation is good is kind of like pointing out that water is wet at this point, but still. I will say that I actually preferred the B-plot to the main, titular story. I liked Leslie's protectiveness of the painting and especially Chris's feeble attempts at resolving things ("But I am not in the nude now, am I? Because we're in a government building, and that would be inappropriate."). The returns of Perd Hapley and the repellant Marcia Langman were welcome. But even if a somewhat high-ranking (by Pawnee standards) government employee not being able to find his own apartment makes no sense, I still preferred the story about Ben moving in with April and Andy. That's a three-way collision of awesome characters, and Adam Scott could make me laugh by reading the ingredients off a cereal box.

Funniest Moment: Leslie Knope and Brandi Maxxxx on Ya' Heard? with Perd was classic, but I still laughed harder at Ben's exasperation with Andy and April. Adam Scott deserves all the comedy Emmys for his delivery of the line, "No. Do you know what cute means?"

30 Rock, Season 5 Episode 22 — "Everything Sunny All the Time Always"

While inevitably not as strong as the previous week's fantastic series-spanning 30 Rock tribute "100" (probably my favorite episode of the season), this was a brisk, amusing 22 minutes solidly focused on the big three of Liz, Jack, and Tracy. Liz's subplot didn't amount to much (although I did love the "sometimes, we use a song to move a story along" montage), but Jack's and Tracy's were a bit more clever and out there. Anyone who's ever been stuck on the outside of an inside joke should admire Tracy's heroism. I also appreciate them introducing a seemingly ongoing storyline with Avery and Kim Jong-un, because that's something 30 Rock normally avoids, barring Tracy's disappearance. However, even for a politician, Condi Rice is a startlingly horrible actor.

Funniest Moment: Grizz's "You wouldn't expect a movie called Somewhere... to go absolutely nowhere," on account of it probably making no sense to the vast majority of the show's audience yet also being hilariously accurate. I mean, if your giant blockbuster movie gets burned on a sitcom, that's par for the course, but if your tiny indie movie gets burned, some writer must have really hated it.

Community, Season 2 Episode 22 — "Applied Anthropology and Culinary Arts"

The birth episode is among the most ancient and cliché of all TV traditions, but I still loved what Community did with it. For one, no hospital. In fact, it turned out to be a full-blown bottle episode (although without calling attention to it the way the classic "Cooperative Calligraphy" did), set entirely in the anthropology classroom. They didn't feel the need to make it double-length either, and still found plenty of room for non-Shirley subplots, such as Britta's angst over her hypocrisy, the Dean struggling to make a good impression, Pierce buying the rights to Troy and Abed's coolness move, and even a hint of romance between Vicki and Neil. It was consistently funny and incredibly fast-paced. No gimmicks, no movie spoofs, just traditional sitcom greatness. Yep, Community rules. (I should note that Shirley's baby being born healthy and not having to spend months in an NICU at this point makes absolutely no sense, but whatever. I mean, it's a wacky comedy. Just gotta accept it and move on.)

Funniest Moment: Obviously Pierce forcing Abed and Troy to mark his announcement of "Betty Grable" with their patented coolness-signifying chest slap / high five, because no actor on earth cries funnier than Donald Glover. But the close-up of Britta under Shirley's skirt was also rather grand.

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

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