Tuesday, October 4, 2011

NBC Sitcom Roundup for 9/29/11

The Office, Season 8 Episode 2 — "The Incentive"

I said last week that I won't belabor the point of Steve Carell's absence in these sitcom roundups – and I won't – but I will belabor the point of boss Andy being characterized in a way indistinguishable from Michael Scott. Granted, him having to report directly to Robert California, who is frequently in the office, adds a new flavor, but so much dialogue that comes out of boss Andy's mouth (especially the "cocker spaniel" explanation and awkward backpedalling in this episode) feels like they just took unused Michael dialogue from old scripts and did a find and replace with Andy's name. That's a problem.

But despite that, I did like the main incentive and tattoo story a lot. Andy upping the stakes on his point exchange offers, seeing the office come alive with hard work, and Robert's final explanation about the inspirational power of the underdog to the unexceptional all worked completely. And seeing the Nard Dog tattoo was actually a really great moment of office camaraderie that I didn't predict; probably one of the infinitesimally few reveals of a man's bare ass in the 133-year history of film and television that could be described as "heartwarming."

I thought less of the episode's B-plots. Pam and Angela's brief bonding and then feud over their pregnancies was a comedic nonstarter and didn't have enough time dedicated to it to do interesting character work, and Darryl reconnecting with his ex-wife went absolutely nowhere (although Kevin's response to her Dunder Mifflin entrance was pretty funny). I'm willing to assume for now that Darryl's wife is going to be a continuing story in episodes to come, and I hope I'm right, but The Office has bit me in the ass with seemingly unfinished stories that never came up again before.

Funniest Moment: As with last week, there wasn't really any singular moment that made me tilt my head back and roar, but it was a funny week for Kevin all around – both the intro with him talk funny, and his consternation at Dwight putting walnuts in the brownie mix.

Parks and Recreation, Season 4 Episode 2 — "Ron & Tammys"

This is one of the most rigidly segmented sitcom episodes I've seen lately – the three stories had absolutely no connecting tissue and didn't even have any character crossover; they could have easily been from three completely different episodes – but two of the stories were so damn funny I can't really find it in myself to care.

The heart of the episode was Ron taking the opposite approach from when Tammy 2 transformed him into a psychotic sex maniac and becoming creepily pleasant and unmustachioed, which was brilliant and gave Nick Offerman a great new angle to play. Tammy 1 is a perfectly conceived and performed character who simply must appear again, and the drinking contest at the end was awesome. Plus, April and Andy, while lacking any true spotlight, were consistently hilarious, from April's immediate love of Tammy 1 to Andy panicking and giving a false name before sheepishly backpedalling. Great stuff, great characters, greatness.

Also great was the Entertainment 720 subplot, both because Jean-Ralphio is awesome ("Take me there!") and because Adam Scott does the camera confessional cutaways better than anyone else on this show or on The Office. As I'm sure I've said before, it's crazy that Ben wasn't in the first season or most of the second, because he feels like such a crucial part of the show's DNA now that I can't even imagine it without him.

Less crucial feeling, I'm afraid, is Chris Traeger, perhaps partially because of how distant from everyone else he seems up in his office. Ann and Chris's subplot, while having a few laugh out loud bits (Ann shaking her head at the camera after telling Chris they're rolling), was kind of one joke hammered over and over, and definitely a bit of a buzzkill when compared to the other two stories. Still, even it probably made me laugh harder than anything else in any non-Parks, non-Office, non-Community sitcom episode I watched in the last week, which I guess is why these are the only sitcoms I put in the time to actually review.

Funniest Moment: It's a tough call between the party switch at E720, Leslie's reactions to drinking the Swanson moonshine ("POISON." / "What is that?!"), and Andy asking to take a peek at Tammy 2's acid-burned foot (mostly thanks to Chris Pratt's brilliant line delivery). Hilarity all around!

Community, Season 3 Episode 2 — "Geography of Global Conflict"

"Geography of Global Conflict" was another strange, hilarious, and aggressively irreverent episode that I can't imagine being much more hostile to conventional sitcom lovers. From Garrett's "CRISIS ALERT!" to Britta trying and failing to kick over a trash can to Troy taking the lid off Annie's cup to Abed's fixation on Earth 2 to Troy's Georgian accent to all the Lionel Richie music, it was weird and it kept me laughing loudly the entire time. Annie Kim and Professor Cligoris are both characters I'd love to see recur throughout the season. Especially Cligoris, since Martin Starr is high up on my list of the funniest actors alive who will sadly never become huge mainstream stars.

Despite being clearly stuck on B-plot duty, I'd go with Gillian Jacobs as the MVP of the episode, because I'm continually impressed by how much raw comedy she's wrung from what, at the inception of the series, was such a blandly "cool" and uninteresting character. Now Britta Perry is one of the best sitcom characters on television. How things change. Every scene she had across from Chang was hilarious. I also think Mel Rodriguez has been great as Chang's supervisor thus far, which is funny because I didn't really like him at all in Running Wilde. I guess it's all about having a good script to work off of.

The one bit I didn't like so much was Annie's freakout at Annie Kim. I would have been find if they'd left it at the screaming – there's precedent for that, especially in "Cooperative Calligraphy" – but the full-body freakout was a little out of character and just a little too much. But the show made up for it two scenes later with the Spartacus farting confession, so I can forgive and forget.

Funniest Moment: This is tough, but I'd have to go with Abed whispering nonsense to explain his plan, confident that the show will cut away, and Jeff correcting him. That's the kind of joke that feels like it was written just for me, and that assumed pop culture knowledge is a big part of why I love Community so much.

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

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