Wednesday, October 12, 2011

NBC Sitcom Roundup for 10/6/11

The Office, Season 8 Episode 3 — "Lotto"

While by no means an Office all-timer, I'd say "Lotto" is the season's best effort to date, an episode that was fairly funny, balanced good A and B-plots, and did interesting dramatic character work with Darryl all at once. The big confrontation between Darryl and Andy in the lobby was genuinely involving stuff which also retroactively fit some of Darryl's odd missteps in the second half of last season into the show's universe and explained in more than satisfying detail why Andy was promoted instead of Darryl. Great scene all around.

The Darryl spotlight (along with last week's strong Andy focus) also seems to indicate a post-Michael Office where the weekly protagonist shifts around, which is very interesting and opens up lots of story possibilities. I'm curious to see whether some more background characters like Phyllis or Oscar will get similarly centric episodes later on in the season.

And the warehouse B-plot, while almost pure physical comedy, was pure physical comedy that more or less worked. It was a little absurdist without totally chucking reality out the window, and Erin and Kevin make a surprisingly potent comedic duo ("You need to drop it, okay? They hate it. I like it a lot, but they hate it, so drop it!").

Outside of the dog in the car cold open (which, except for the final gag with Kevin passing out, was a near-complete dud in which Oscar seemed wildly out of character), the weakest part of the episode was, surprise surprise, the generic Jim / Pam wannabe cuteness with them debating what to do with their hypothetical lottery winnings (although I did like the line, "In your fantasy we're Stephen King characters."). Yes, yay Jim and Pam. For the millionth time. Moving on.

And while I like Robert California just fine and think he adds an interesting something to the ensemble, I'd be dishonest not to note that his absence didn't even occur to me for a second until I saw someone mention it online after the episode was over. That's actually a good thing, I'd say, that they aren't shoehorning him into episodes he has no organic place in. I just hope it doesn't go so far that direction that he starts to feel like a comedic fifth wheel when he does appear.

Funniest Moment: The biggest laugh of the entire season so far is Stanley's look of shock and outrage upon seeing the warehouse applicant eating his lunch. First time in these three episodes I've done the full roaring from the gut laughter.

Parks and Recreation, Season 4 Episode 3 — "Born & Raised"

This episode was exactly the Parks and Rec goodness I was hoping for when the Leslie Knope city council storyline kicked off two weeks ago. In fact, the exact words in my season premiere review were that the story arc "provides easy access to the unilaterally hilarious talk shows and news shows of Pawnee," and boom, two episodes later, Joan Callamezzo. As with Perd Hapley, I understand why Joan can't be a regular – too much of a good thing, it'd be like eating ice cream every meal – but it's always, always great to see her, and this may have been her biggest spotlight yet.

The general consensus online seems to be that "Ron & Tammys" is still the best episode of the season, but that's wrong. It was hilarious, yes, but I wasn't crazy about the rigidly disconnected storylines. "Born & Raised," on the other hand, does a sublime job having its disparate stories all grow from the same seed and interconnect. Leslie's search for the truth of her birth, Ben and Tom's disturbing lunch with Joan, and Ron and April being forced into spending time with Ann all stemmed from the factual error in Leslie's book, and that's the kind of storytelling I find both more impressive and more rewarding.

As with "Ron & Tammys," the Ann storyline was the weakest part, but more so than when she was matched up with Chris, the general blandness of Ann is here counteracted by the general awesomeness of Ron and April (who, as I've mentioned before, probably have the greatest boss / henchman dynamic on television right now). Whatever Ann-related dullness there may have been was more than justified by Ron revealing his wrong name strategy and April flipping it on him to his pride seconds later.

The episode's subjects of parody were somewhat scattershot and outdated, with the Obama birthers and Oprah's Book Club both getting somewhat belatedly skewered, but it was funny enough that I didn't much care. The gotcha dancers, the return of Bert Macklin, Jerry's tragic quest across Indiana, Ben's theories on Star Trek, and the field trip to Eagleton were all hilarious, and moments like Chris helping Leslie reclaim her Pawnee pride and the final waffle party were pure warmhearted goodness. Parks and Rec is at its best one of the most pleasant and uncynical 22 minutes on television, and "Born & Raised" captured that perfectly.

Funniest Moment: Probably Ben's deadpan "That never happened." response to Joan's Val Kilmer story, because Adam Scott has the best line delivery in the world. Also from Adam Scott, a minute later, "Is she gonna powder her vagina?"

Community, Season 3 Episode 3 — "Competitive Ecology"

In utter contrast to the warmheartedness of Parks and Rec's "Born & Raised," Community's "Competitive Ecology" is quite possibly the most bitter, utterly misanthropic half-hour of the entire series. Now, this could get problematic if it stays this way, but for a one-time thing it pretty much made me laugh my ass off. The evolution of the group's hatred of Todd was a fantastically dark and comedically cruel thing to behold, and the main study room scene definitely had the feel of "Cooperative Calligraphy" on crack. (Not in a good or a bad way, just a plain old on crack, nutso way.)

Loved the return of Magnitude, and of course Vicki for the second week in a row. Hopefully Todd can join them in the stable of recurring characters. The episode also made better use of Michael K. Williams as Professor Kane than the premiere. None of the conversations he has make sense.

Chang's noir private eye B-plot wasn't really treading comedic territory that hasn't been explored years or even decades ago, but it had a lot of funny gags on a moment-to-moment basis. Chang mistaking a common passerby for a noir dame was great ("Legs that went all the way to the bottom of her torso. The kind of arms that had elbows."), as was Mel Rodriguez once again as Chang's supervisor. I also loved Chang's repeated "Was I crazy?", and the fact that the show is at this point pretty brazenly depicting him as mentally ill in a way that could just as easily be dramatic in another show, here played for increasingly dark comedy.

Funniest Moment: Gonna have to go with Britta's failed attempt at a "PEW! PEW! PEW! PEW!" middle finger, which Gillian Jacobs executed perfectly. Awkward Britta is definitely working for me this season.

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

No comments: