Thursday, May 19, 2011

NBC Sitcom Roundup for 5/12/11

The Office, Season 7 Episode 24 — "Dwight K. Schrute, (Acting) Manager"

Now that the great Will Ferrell experiment is behind us, we can start getting a more clear picture of what the post-Michael days of Dunder Mifflin are going to look like. And based off this episode, they may actually hold some promise! No one's going to pretend that the Carell-sized hole is a small one, but it shouldn't obscure over a dozen talented and funny stars left behind, several of whom have led big screen movies of their own (even if a few of said movies were spectacular bombs). This won't go down as one of the series' classic episodes by any stretch, but it was funny and completely worth its weight in network time, which, Michael or no, still places The Office well within the 95th percentile of television.

Except for a couple of Erin / Andy / Gabe scenes (which we'll come back to in a minute), this episode was sharply focused on Dwight's stewardship of the office — understandably, since it seems that they've crammed the entirety of that subplot into these 22 minutes. And, despite Dwight's dictatorial and weaponry-heavy managerial style being pretty predictable, it was fun to watch. It gave Jim a good chance to screw with Dwight without seeming like a bully, and everyone holding Dwight's gun mishap over his head with Jo at the end added some very funny tension.

As for Andy and Erin, I stand by what I've been saying for over a year now: love both actors. Ed Helms, great. Ellie Kemper, amazing. But I have zero emotional investment in their romance. If they never get together my heart shan't ache, and the show just isn't going to change that. However, I still laughed at how grossed out and anxious to leave Andy was when Gabe cornered him in the conference room, and Gabe trying to swallow his tears as he left.

Funniest Moment: I'm torn too close to call between Kevin's reaction to the piranha in the toilet and the scene where he forces Dwight to give him a disquietingly intimate deep tissue massage in the middle of the office. "Knead it like a pizza! But don't eat it!"

Parks and Recreation, Season 3 Episode 13 — "The Fight"

Ann Perkins is this season's Mark Brendanawicz. I hate to say it, since I think Rashida Jones is as cool and likable as just about any actress out there right now, but it's clearer by the episode how little of a place Ann has in this ensemble outside of being a straight woman for Leslie to bounce dialogue off of. So this episode suffered a bit on account of its Ann A-plot, even if there were good jokes spread throughout it. I mean, we got the return of The Douche, so that's something. We'll see if Ann's hiring at the city government can allow them to integrate her less awkwardly moving forward.

Everything going on under the main plot, however, was unambiguously great: Andy and April again assuming their alter egos of FBI agent Burt Macklin and wealthy widow Janet Snakehole (I'm reminded of Phoebe's alter ego Regina Phalange on Friends); Jean Ralphio's various botched attempts at rapping; Tom's new booze at the Snakehole; and of course anything and everything with Adam Scott, because Adam Scott is the greatest. One of the things that makes Parks so damn good is that anyone in the ensemble except Ann can hold down the fort comedy-wise all on their own if need be. 30 Rock would do well to take some inspiration from it in that regard.

Funniest Moment: If I'm being 100% honest, my biggest laugh was Andy puking on Kyle. That may sound pretty lowest common denominator, but sometimes a perfectly timed physical grossout gag just hits the spot.

Parks and Recreation, Season 3 Episode 14 — "Road Trip"

And so we tackle the "will they or won't they?" story head-on, and if I do say so myself, really well. I'm still not feeling the erotic charge between Leslie and Ben that the show wants me to be feeling, but Amy Poehler and Adam Scott are so funny and likable that, eh, what the hell, right? I also like that they didn't save Leslie and Ben finally kissing for the season finale. Seems fair — the third-to-last episodes of TV seasons need love too. I'm more curious about the fallout than the kiss itself anyway.

There was a bit of a schism in the secondary subplots, however. Andy and April getting into a fight during Tom's fake game show and then making up was a perfect combination of funny and sweet that really showed Parks at its bright, optimistic best and actually overshadowed the main Leslie / Ben story for me. Gotta love those two crazy kids.

Ron Swanson becoming political mentor to a wayward grade school girl didn't work, though. There just wasn't any punchline to it except, "Hey, remember how Ron is a libertarian?", which I don't think anyone who watches this show forgot. Unless he's on a quest for all the bacon and eggs a diner has, Ron needs someone else in the main cast to bounce his crazy off of.

Funniest Moment: Andy holding up his sign for Tom's "favorite place to smush" question and reading "at the Neutral Milk Hotel" was fucking hysterical, largely due to Chris Pratt's brilliantly low-key delivery. I'm already preemptively angry at Pratt not being nominated for an Emmy.

Community, Season 2 Finale — "For a Few Paintballs More"

Across the internet, it seems people are eager to compare the collective whole of "A Fistful of Paintballs" and "For a Few Paintballs More" to last season's magnum opus "Modern Warfare." But I say, what's the point? Far more fun to compare Community to every other sitcom on television and see how incredibly short they all fall in comparison. Community is one of the greatest television shows of all time — sitcom or drama, broadcast or cable — and episodes this alive, ambitious, and creative show exactly why.

When I said last week that I found 30 Rock's season finale to be disappointingly sedate and anticlimactic, I didn't really offer a comparison point for what a sitcom season finale should be. Well, here it is. This is a season finale. I'd effortlessly call it one of the top five sitcom season finales ever made, and even that may be selling it short.

How did I love "For a Few Paintballs More"? Let me count the ways: I loved the villainous Dean of City College making his return. I loved how tons of Greendale supporting characters spanning two seasons got moments to shine (Star-burns, Leonard, Vicki, Garrett, Magnitude, even Quendra with a Q-U!). I loved the return of Troy's plumbing skills. I loved the scene of the Greendale survivors planning their battle strategy over a diorama of the school (no doubt applying the skills they picked up over the year in Anthro 101). I loved Annie and Han Solo's miniature romance. I loved how cinematic and beautifully-shot the whole episode was. And I loved what they did with Pierce at the end.

Who knows what the show's plans for Pierce are next year — he could become a teacher, start a rival study group, or simply rejoin Jeff and the gang a few episodes in — but I admire the show so much for not ignoring how villainous they were making Pierce for the sake of comedy and truly confronting the issue as the culmination of a season-spanning character arc. Longform character arcs not centered around romances aren't something sitcoms outside of Arrested Development do often, but I think Community may now be the gold standard for such a thing. Chevy Chase has never been asked to do emotion on the show, not even when Pierce's mother died, but he gave genuine weight to that final scene.

But let's not dwell too much on the heaviness of human emotion — just like "Modern Warfare," this two-part finale was notable for making its action movie parody more exciting and energetic than a pretty good fraction of actual theatrically-released action movies. Troy's team setting up and executing the library trap was great, but Britta and Shirley's final drive-by paintballing was spectacular. I also like that Jeff wasn't the last man standing this year.

I don't know whether or not Community will have the balls to try to pull off yet another paintball extravaganza in season three, but they already have all the kudos I have to offer for making a sequel to the greatest episode of their first season and actually having it measure up. I'm going to have a lot more to say about the sheer ambition and unrivaled genius of Community in my full season wrap-up, so I'll stop here with the final comment that this season finale lived up to everything I wanted it to be and hoped it could be.

Funniest Moment: "Pop? Pop what? Pop what? What is he trying to say?! Pop what, Magnitude?!!"

Weekly Power Rankings: 1. Community 2. Parks and Recreation "The Fight" 3. Parks and Recreation "Road Trip" 4. The Office

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What's going on, bro? Your public is getting restless for more posts!