Sunday, April 24, 2011

NBC Sitcom Roundup for 4/21/11

The Office, Season 7 Episode 21 — "Michael's Last Dundies"

Sadly, I have to take back the nice things I said about Deangelo Vickers after last week's "Training Day." Not that I think Will Ferrell himself is screwing up what's given to him, but it unfortunately seems that the writers have no interest in or intention of giving Deangelo any kind of consistent, coherent personality or dynamic with the rest of the office. The Southwest-loving straight man with an antipathy for babies, a tendency for subtle power plays and who views Andy as the office funnyguy has vanished without a trace, replaced by a bundle of neuroses and stage fright and now brushed off or even made fun of by the people who seven days earlier were openly sucking up to him. The writers also went for the WILL FERRELL TALKING LOUDLY gag they so expertly avoided last week. A shame.

Outside of Deangelo, the episode was intermittently amusing without ever being great. I liked the introduction video to the Dundies, Phyllis' quiet indignity at Stanley getting all the diabetes attention, Toby's uncertainty that they convicted the real Scranton Strangler, Erin hiding from Gabe (and Jim wanting nothing to do with it), Michael's analysis of the Godfather trilogy, and Ryan rationalizing not being named office hottie.

The "Seasons of Love" parody song really didn't work, though. It's a fine, difficult line to walk between emotional and schmaltzy (one that The Office did successfully with Michael's proposal to Holly a few weeks back, and Parks and Recreation provided a veritable master class in with last week's "Andy and April's Fancy Party"), and that scene stumbled headfirst into schmaltzville. Altogether, a kind of disappointing penultimate episode for Michael Scott. Let's hope they recover quickly and don't pull a Lost with his finale next week.

Funniest Moment: Definitely Michael's interpretation of Jim in his Dundies introduction video ("Hey, you wanna listen to some records?"). That that's how Michael has viewed Jim all this time is so absurd yet makes so much sense.

Parks and Recreation, Season 3 Episode 10 — "Soulmates"

Granted, "Soulmates" was the weakest episode since February's "Ron & Tammy: Part Two." But these are Parks and Recreation standards we're going by here; by ordinary sitcom standards it was still really great. Chris and Ron Swanson's burger cook-off was hilarious (and made me crave a burger more intensely than I ever have in my entire life), while further solidifying Ron and April as having the greatest boss-henchman dynamic on television. I loved most everything about the trips to the health and discount food stores. My one hesitation is that they need to be careful not to make Ron Swanson too victorious all the time, or else the character will start to grow tired. On occasion he needs to be taken down a peg.

Leslie and Tom's non-romantic A-plot I was a little iffier on. There was nothing really wrong with it and it had its share of smiles and chuckles, but it was light on true belly laughs (outside of "FUCK YOU ANN!", of course). And as I've mentioned before, I'm still not quite where the show wants me to be in regards to Leslie and Ben's romantic tension.

Funniest Moment: It's tempting to go with Ron and April throwing out the vegan bacon, but for whatever reason my absolute favorite thing was how happy Ron was about shopping at Food and Stuff.

30 Rock, Season 5 Episode 20/21 — "100"

What a great tribute to the entirety of 30 Rock. It's no secret that, despite a relatively strong season, I think 30 Rock's best days are behind it, but this episode gave me wonderfully nostalgic flashbacks to when I considered it the best comedy on television. The combination of bringing Liz and Jack's relationship to the forefront (and deconstructing it going back to the pilot), Tracy reentering the narrative in a big way, a plethora of great guest stars both new and classic, more writers room and TGS antics than we've had in a while, and a smattering of flashbacks (not nearly enough to actually consider it a "clip show," just a couple minutes worth spread across an hourlong episode) coalesced to form what's certainly one of the three or four best episodes the show has had in its last couple years, and probably the single warmest and most pleasant to watch for the longtime 30 Rock fan. And seeing as I watched the pilot live on television on October 11th, 2006, it don't get much more longtime than me. Whatever shit I may occasionally give it, this is one of the all-time great sitcoms.

Funniest Moment: "I'm gettin' too old for this 'shh' sound that comes from this gas pipe."

Community, Season 2 Episode 21 — "Paradigms of Human Memory"

After a funny but relatively generic episode last week, Community again brings the brilliance and reaffirms its status as my second-favorite sitcom of all time. Despite being by far the best sitcom episode of the week this will be a short writeup, because I don't have that much coherent criticism to offer outside of just listing everything that happened and being like "Yep, loved that. Loved that. Laughed my ass off at that." This isn't the first sitcom episode to use the "fake clip show" format (Clerks: The Animated Series notably did so in its second episode, "The Clipshow Wherein Dante and Randal are Locked in the Freezer and Remember Some of the Great Moments in Their Lives," over ten years ago), but it's definitely my new favorite example. All those locations must have made this episode the biggest pain in the ass to shoot since Halloween's zombie apocalypse, and you gotta admire them going to an Old West set and getting Old West costumes for what amounted to thirty seconds of screentime.

I loved the return of Annie's Boobs, I loved seeing the Christmas claymation special from the real world POV, I loved Abed's love of The Cape (even if I hated The Cape myself), I loved Chang stuck on the outside of the diorama looking in, I loved the gang in an insane asylum, I loved Pierce trying to become a living god, I loved Jeff's final clip show speech, and now I find that I'm just listing things I loved exactly like I said I wasn't going to. Wrapping it up! This show rules.

Funniest Moment: The parody of Jeff / Annie shipper fan videos was brilliant, hilarious, and ballsy as hell in the way that, for over a minute of screentime, it didn't even pretend to be coherent or accessible to people who haven't followed Community fandom beyond their televisions. The brilliance and hilarity then exploded to unprecedented new heights with the Pierce / Abed shipper fan video. I love this show.

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

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

NBC Sitcom Roundup for 4/14/11

The Office, Season 7 Episode 20 — "Training Day"

I'm always leery when it comes to major celebrities (outside of those already in the main cast) setting foot in Dunder Mifflin. I don't know what it is about the energy of The Office that makes it feel more insular than other big sitcoms in that way, but something always felt just a little off to me when Kathy Bates was on the show, and that applies doubly to Will Ferrell. There's just no way to truly look at Deangelo Vickers and think "Deangelo Vickers" rather than "Will Ferrell." The power of the celebrity overwhelms the character.

But with that said, I absolutely think Ferrell did a good job. His character was a little poorly defined — sometimes he bordered on being a Michael clone (most notably in the cold open), sometimes he seemed like a straightforward everyman (his reaction to Kelly's attempted meet cute), sometimes he showed a darker side ("Drink some soap!") — but within those parameters Ferrell was surprisingly understated and, yes, funny. The writers buckled the hell down and delivered the funniest episode since February's "PDA" last Thursday, giving good moments to Deangelo, of course, but also providing wiggle room for Erin and Andy to slay. The talking head with a shellshocked Andy despondently accepting his new office funnyguy duties was perfection.

The one character who I thought was a bit weakly serviced comedically was Michael himself. "I happen to like the hilarious hijinks that I get myself into" was a great line, and he was involved in both of my personal funniest moments of the episode, but really, Erin was the star of both. The next two weeks might drift towards the maudlin, particularly when it comes to Steve Carell, but hopefully there'll be some bona fide Michael hilarity to accompany that. Let's send him off on a comedic as well as emotional high note, Office!

Funniest Moment: Deangelo's final line was pretty spectacular, but still, Erin's two big scenes — being caught in the middle of Michael and Deangelo's differing phone instructions and trying to shave Michael — trumped it in how long and loud I laughed. I'm glad Ellie Kemper is getting a shot at a real big screen role in Bridesmaids this summer. With a little luck (and faith in the mainstream viewing audience), she could definitely have some degree of legitimate stardom ahead of her.

Parks and Recreation, Season 3 Episode 9 — "Andy and April's Fancy Party"

What a lovely little episode. I mean, I wasn't bellowing with laughter from one end to the other, but this was 22 minutes of blissfully pleasant television. I was just in a good mood after watching. And I give enormous kudos to the writers for springing a key "mythology" episode on us with absolutely no warning whatsoever, in sharp contrast to all the brouhaha surrounding Jim and Pam's wedding on The Office. I don't read spoilers or anything so I had no idea this was the April / Andy wedding episode until they told Leslie in the kitchen, and even then I didn't really expect them to go through with it, but nope! It was legit. Man and wife, baby.

Everything surrounding the wedding was Parks perfection. Ron Swanson and his ex-wife effigies (not to mention his tooth in the cold open); Jerry and his terrible shirt; Tom struggling for best man supremacy; every moment with Chris; and the sullen goth teenager Orin, who makes a great addition to the Parks universe and simply must return in future episodes. And April and Andy themselves, of course. I'm rooting for those two boneheads to make it work.

My one major critique: I'm not feeling the romantic chemistry the show wants me to be feeling between Leslie and Ben. I just get platonic vibes there, no matter how much they try to convince me otherwise. If they kiss I'm worried it'll just freak me out.

Funniest Moment: Not to be confused with my favorite moment, would could be any one of several heartwarming scenes, but the biggest laugh was the animal trainers throwing the dead bird onto the living room floor and then the one going "Okay. Alright, so that one is dead — we know that."

30 Rock, Season 5 Episode 19 — "I Heart Connecticut"

"I Heart Connecticut" was a pretty ho-hum, down-the-middle 30 Rock. I watched, I chuckled, I doubt I'll remember anything about it a few weeks from now. Liz and Kenneth's hunt for Tracy had a few laughs (and one particularly big one, mentioned down below), and it was nice to finally get a solid Tracy scene at the end for the first time in months. Tracy's line about ketchup was hilarious. It seemed like Jack and Jenna's titular Connecticut B-plot was attempting to satirize something, although (outside of torture porn) I'm not entirely sure what. Unusually, I actually thought Pete's subplot was the high point of the episode. There's something I can't say but once or twice a year.

Funniest Moment: This is nowhere near as big a laugh as my funniest Office and Parks moments this week, but Liz telling Kenneth to act normal before getting on webcam with Tracy and Kenneth immediately greeting Tracy with "Hello, I'm a baby!" in a British (?) accent, followed by Liz hissing "What are you doing?!" was wonderfully absurd.

Community, Season 2 Episode 20 — "Competitive Wine Tasting"

Oddly, despite a lot of individual funny moments and three guest stars — Kevin Corrigan, Stephen Tobolowsky, and Michelle Krusiec — who I like a lot, "Competitive Wine Tasting" never quite gelled into a cohesive comedic whole for me. I guess this was due in part to how disconnected every subplot felt from every other subplot and how each was pretty predictable as soon as it got past the setup stage. Pierce's engagement to Wu Mei being exposed as a sham, Abed showing up his professor in the realm of classic sitcom trivia, and Troy having to reveal that his molestation was fake were exactly how you'd expect each subplot to play out, and they did, with little deviation.

Within those limits, however, there were lots of little moments to enjoy. Particularly in Troy and Britta's subplot, with Kevin Corrigan getting a great spotlight, Garrett's traumatic non-childhood memory of playground taunting, and Britta kissing Troy, perhaps the episode's one unexpected twist. I'm curious to see if there'll be any followup on or fallout from that throughout the remainder of the season.

Funniest Moment: God help me, but my biggest laugh was Britta announcing to Pierce's engagement party that Troy was molested. Stephen Tobolowsky opening the drawer wide enough to reveal the pistol before opening it wider to reveal What WAS Happening?: An Analysis of What's Happening was also a perfect sight gag.

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