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

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

NBC Sitcom Roundup for 3/17/11

I've been mad busy with deadlines at work (and in fact have two or three I should be working right this second), so I've fallen pathetically far behind on my movie reviews, best of 2010 lists, TV pilot coverage, trailer analyses, and sitcom roundups on this here blog. Thankfully, I think this weekend should be relatively open, so I should be able to finally get the next part of the 2010 Kraemer Movie Awards up, and if we're lucky maybe even a movie review too. But if I start falling behind on my sitcom roundups all will be lost, so even though these episodes aired an entire week ago I'm gonna go ahead and knock out some super-quick thoughts on them. After all, the main reason I started these sitcom roundups in the first place was to chronicle Michael Scott's departure from The Office and what follows, and holy shit, that's only a few weeks away!

Oh, and hey, Community and Parks and Rec both got renewed! (And The Office and 30 Rock, but we knew that months ago.) Awesome! I always had a feeling they would be. Despite the early and tragic death of Terriers (and now Lights Out), all those Friday Night Lights renewals have made me a dumbass optimist.

Parks and Recreation, Season 3 Episode 7 — "Harvest Festival"

I'll admit being a little nervous after the first few episodes of this season — all of which I liked, but none of which I loved — but for the last three episodes, "Media Blitz," "Indianapolis," and now "Harvest Festival," Parks has been absolutely killing it. Despite being a little light on Ron Swanson and having an Ann Perkins subplot that wasn't too interesting, this episode was great and for the second time in a row actually pulls off the stiff task of trumping the Community that aired the same evening.

First off, this was Leslie's best episode so far this season by a mile. Almost every second of her feud with tribal chief Ken Hotate was hilarious, and I really hope he's a recurring character. Adam Scott was at his dry, despondent best (especially when confused over the appeal of Li'l Sebastian), and April and Andy's "Dude, shut up! That is awesome sauce!" subplot showed off why they are, in many respects, more funny and likable than Jim and Pam were even back in The Office's heydey. Even Tom and Jerry's lost horse D-plot satisfied, and Ron Swanson straightening everyone out on the Ferris wheel made up for his limited presence throughout the rest of the episode.

Also, I was impressed by the final pre-credits shot. I mean, sure, you could make out the CGI in it, but on a sitcom budget that was a really fucking ambitious shot.

Funniest Moment: "That is exactly what happened."

30 Rock, Season 5 Episode 17 — "Queen of Jordan"

Sorry, didn't like it. In fact, I actually paused in the middle, took a break for a couple hours, then came back to finish it later. True, I did the same thing with the director's cut of Dances with Wolves and I liked that, but that was a 236-minute film; this is a 21-minute sitcom episode. I found the reality show gimmick to be tedious and unfunny — although I should note that the last episode of reality TV I saw was during the first season of Survivor in 2000, so I'm sure plenty of references went over my head — and other than Jack I didn't like what it brought out in any of the characters. The next time this show tries to make me laugh via Jane Krakowski singing I'm literally going to blow my brains out.

I do think it's interesting they've actually made a story arc out of Tracy Morgan's absence for his real-life kidney transplant — I assumed Tracy was simply going to be off screen with little explanation for two episodes and then quietly return, but nope, they've gone full serialized with it. Which would be great, except that I don't watch 30 Rock to find it interesting, I watch it to find it funny. Oh well, can't win 'em all.

Funniest Moment: Probably the cut to Jack with the "Jack, Tracy's Gay Boss" subtitle at the bottom. One of the few moments I thought actually made strong comedic use of the reality format.

Community, Season 2 Episode 18 — "Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy"

This episode was pretty middle-of-the-road by Community standards, but if you know how much I love Community you know that's still a compliment. Jeff, Shirley, and Chang's paternal rights story was a little standard and unimaginative (and I still kind of miss Chang the Spanish professor), but Britta trying to expose the truth of Abed and Troy's genocidal buddy was pretty damn funny, with great performances from all three actors. And, save for funniest moment, that's really about all I have to say.
Funniest Moment: That would have to be Britta's horrifically botched attempt at singing Britney Spears for Lukka near the beginning. I thought Gillian Jacobs was the series' comedic weak link back when it first premiered, but in gradually replacing her detached coolness with pure awkwardness (starting around the "bagel" fiasco) they've successfully made her fucking hilarious.

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

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

NBC Sitcom Roundup for 2/24/11

The Office, Season 7 Episode 18 — "Todd Packer"

I've never really been a fan of Todd Packer, even in the "love to hate" kind of way. I like "The Carpet" from way back in season two, which revolves around a Packer prank, but the man himself only really appears in the closing minutes of that episode. Otherwise I find the obnoxious chemistry he brings into Dunder Mifflin more something to be tolerated for the length of time it needs be rather than truly enjoyed. However, the fact that everyone except Michael feels exactly the same way — even generally-annoying-to-others characters like Dwight — helps smooth things over a bit. So while I wasn't a big fan of the scenes centered around this episode's title character, I did like the parts with other people trying to figure out what to do about him, especially Jim and Dwight's subplot and just about any moment with Holly. Erin cheerfully trying to get the ant farm away from Holly before the ants started eating each other was goddamn hilarious.

I also liked seeing Pam sharing story time with someone besides Jim in her B-plot with Andy, Darryl, and going full-on corrupt in her new position as office administrator as one intended good deed quickly ballooned into a web of bribery and deceit. It was like so many "fall to darkness" dramas in film or on HBO, except funny and played out over six or seven minutes. I hope very much that this plot comes up again in the season's final eight episodes, possibly even in relation to the upcoming maneuvering to hire a new boss.

Speaking of which, there's the oliphaunt in the room in regards to the fact that Steve Carell has just a few episodes left as a series regular, but we'll leave that be until The Office returns on March 24th. I have a feeling that I'll be writing a lot more about this show over the next few episodes than any of the others.

Funniest Moment: The entire scene where Jim, Pam, and several others confronted Holly about hiring Packer was perfect start to finish; Meredith starting off too strong, Ryan's botched critique of the government, and especially the exchange between Jim and Holly of "Well, I mean, he humped Michael," followed by "Well, if that's the case, I guess I've gotta be fired too," and everyone's disgusted reactions.

Parks and Recreation, Season 3 Episode 6 — "Indianapolis"

Two fantastic Parks and Recs in row! Although Ron (Effin') Swanson wound up stepping in and taking over comedically as he descended into hunger-induced madness, "Indianapolis" seemed more intended as a Chris Traeger spotlight similar to what "Media Blitz" did for Ben Wyatt, and was reasonably successful in that regard. I said last week that it seemed like they were trying to overinvest us in the extremely new Ann / Chris relationship, but the way this episode revealed that he broke up with her so cheerfully offscreen that she didn't even realize it was a breakup was a clever and funny twist that justified the whole story arc. It was Leslie herself who wound up feeling like a bit of an A-plot tagalong, but Chris, Ann, and Swanson were all expertly served by the Indianapolis trip. I'm curious to see how they intend to keep Chris on the show with him living out there, though. I guess they might have him come back to Pawnee for the Harvest Festival and wind up staying for some reason, but who knows.

Tom and Ben bonding over men's perfume and April and Andy competing for free stuff in Tom's club undeniably felt like B-plots, but they were fun, peppy, and entertaining B-plots, if for no other reasons than that I'd watch Adam Scott read the phone book and that it was nice to see an April and Andy subplot sans romantic drama for the first time in forever. Hopefully they can prove that established and happy TV couples don't have to be boring as we move forward. I'd hate to see them get broken up by misunderstandings and circumstance yet again.

Funniest Moment: I can't pin this down to any one specific moment, but as I mentioned above, every scene of Ron Swanson's steak-craving subplot, from initially discussing his love of Charles Mulligan's Steakhouse to discovering Chris grilling portobello mushrooms to demanding all the bacon and eggs they have at some roadside diner, was perfection and the highlight of the entire Thursday comedy block.

30 Rock, Season 5 Episode 16 — "TGS Hates Women"

This was a pretty damn good, unusually thematically ambitious 30 Rock, taking a legitimate swing at making a statement about the relationship between feminism and comedy. I'll admit that I'm not 100% sure what the episode's final conclusion on the matter was — Abby Flynn's baby talk and skimpy outfits and hypersexualized comedy definitely weren't positively portrayed in the least, but at same time Liz's meddling just wound up making things worse — but there were many moments of truth and sharp satire mixed into the story's specific beats, and Cristin Milioti did a great job as Abby. It was nice to see a show so big on flashy guest stars (and more on that in just one second) give a shot to an up-and-comer. I wouldn't be surprised if Milioti leverages this guest spot into a leading role on another sitcom by next fall.

I also liked Lutz pissing his pants, because deep down inside I'm quite juvenile.

Jack's subplot was an even better bait-and-switch than the revelation of Abby Flynn as Abby Grossman, though. I was kind of bummed that they had cast Chloë Moretz as a giggly, bright-eyed, aggressively cheerful schoolgirl, because that seemed like such a waste of her specific acting skillset, then was delighted (both by the reveal and the fact that I'd been successfully fooled) when she turned out to be conning Jack and was set up as a recurring villain. Hopefully the Kabletown showdown between Jack and Kaylie Hooper is intended as a running story as we enter the final arc of 30 Rock season five.

Funniest Moment: The last scene between Jack and Kaylie was full of great exchanges. "I hate the ocean — it's for tools," followed by "The ocean's awesome and for winners, you're for tools!", plus "And I can always seduce one of your teachers and get her to fail you." "I'd be into that!" "Me too!" Evil Chloë Moretz got way more laughs in two minutes than chipper and enthusiastic Chloë Moretz got the entire rest of the episode put together.

Community, Season 2 Episode 17 — "Intro to Political Science"

I didn't think Community tackled political satire with quite the same grace and comedic verve as it has action movies, zombies, conspiracy thrillers, mob movies, and the mockumentary just last week (especially stacked up against Parks and Recreation, which has government comedy locked down), but "Intro to Political Science" was still a pretty solid, funny little episode. Troy and Abed's impromptu political talk show felt just a little too broad while still being funny in line-to-line moments, but I loved Jeff's cynical, expert politicking before Annie threw him off his game with the audition tape. His "Are you saying Greendale is dirty?" line of attack was a spot-on parody of the popular and equally moronic real-life "Why do you hate America?" argument.

The scene where Jeff and Annie made up didn't do all that much for me, but that may be because I still have November's brilliant "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design" in mind, one of my favorite episodes of the series and a Jeff / Annie explosion that all future episodes starring the pair will struggle to measure up to. Abed's quasi-romantic subplot with the Secret Service agent was cute, although I have pretty severe doubts it'll ever come up again even if we do get a third season.

Funniest Moment: I'm gonna wimp out and declare a three-way tie between Classic "Wingers" + Ab Mentions + Notches in the intro, "Do you just constantly have your own little side adventures?" "Yep." "...Me too!", and Pierce's vendetta against Vicki.

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