This is the start of a new series I want to start writing about NBC’s comedy night on Thursdays. I will rank each show on in order from best to worst. Partially inspired by Grantland’s weekly roundup and partially by my own obsession with ranking and listing anything and everything.
I have full knowledge that this will probably be the last year for this series of shows to all exist on the same night (the 4 shows usually televised are Community, Parks & Recreation, 30 Rock, and The Office) and the seasons for each are almost over, but nonetheless I will try to do this until the end of the season.
4. The Office
The absence of Michael Scott is absolutely destroying this season. Sure there are funny moments, but nobody to really lead the charge. Andy is a terrible leading man and they are doing absolutely nothing with the new fatherly Jim. This weeks episode was a repeat of story lines past, not adding much other than what they know has gotten laughs in the past. There was fighting over who was the true manager, which is something that we saw coming last week and have seen happen several times especially in the last couple of seasons. There was Ryan and Kelly fighting, which has happened since the very beginning of the show. Ryan and Kelly have always been a small part of the show, played out in the background and in minor story arcs. Here, it gets the same treatment, but I will give them credit for actually moving their story forward. There was also Andy having anger problems wherein he punches the same wall he had a few seasons ago (they show clips from past seasons during this time). All of these repeats completely ignore the main story of Andy’s impotence with Erin, which leads to a few awkward laughs, but has no real payoff other than Andy overcoming his insecurities and stresses.
The Office tried to rehash its glory days with story lines that have worked over the last few years, but it all feels tired and there is little joy in watching it. (NOTE: The opening scene has been really funny the last couple of weeks, so I know the writers still have got it in them, there was just little to enjoy in this episode)
3. Parks and Recreation
Parks is probably my favorite show of the bunch and this week we saw its return after a mini-hiatus. It was an extremely solid episode with just about every character nailing what is great about that character. We saw Leslie try to save the Parks budget only to ruin other budgets to make her try to fix that only to ruin something else before finally figuring out to fix the whole situation as perfectionist Leslie often does. Andy did cute silly things, April talked of her hatred for people, Chris got Ron to do meditation with him, and Ben struggled with trying to control Leslie’s ambitions.
Unlike The Office, whose repeated story lines feel so tired, Parks thrives with a sweet familiarity. Even a couple of this season’s subpar arcs made for interesting material (Leslie running for city council, Tom and Anne dating). It definitely wasn’t a huge episode, but it worked the same way your favorite hot drink does on a cold evening, bringing comfort and warmth.
2. 30 Rock
For the second week in a row 30 Rock thrived on sentimentality ahead of the power packaged joke machine that it usually is. One of my reservations about 30 Rock in the past have been that it is so heartless leaving the characters feeling cold and harder to relate to, but watching Liz reopen her heart to the idea of having kids again and hearing Jack talk about how we need more Lemons in the world really showed me that this show can have a heart.
Leading up to the sentimental parts were some great scenes involving Jenna and Tracy planning Jenna’s fake celebrity meltdown (those two really are so great together, especially when they are involved in some escapade that only celebrities could get into). Jack’s new business venture “Kouchtown” was not only great for laughs, but also matured him as a character with his realization that the state of the American worker is not like he imagined. I can’t help but feeling that come the end of this season he really will have made steps forward from his arrogant, elitist, conservative attitude and will be pushed into a more nuanced version of himself, while remaining, ultimately hilarious.
I have to also say that watching Liz interact with a young girl much like herself was really entertaining. Watching them banter back and forth about their feminist, nerdy ideals and lifestyles was so much fun to watch and I hope that they bring that character back for some more scenes.
I got a strange feeling watching this week’s episode of Community. I felt as if I was watching something that was so brilliant and so well done that I couldn’t quite understand what I had just seen. Most of Community’s more themed episodes rarely show each character’s true heart and serve more as a fun way to mess around with different worlds and genres. However, this one delved into the innermost parts of the characters orchestrated with the thematic complexity and comic undertones that only Community could bring to an episode of television.
The episode started with Annie setting up Troy and Britta on a date, something that bothers Abed because he wanted to spend more time in the Dreamatorium with Troy. Annie instead decides to join Abed in an attempt to distract him from his disappointment. From there we get a look inside how the Dreamatorium and consequently Abed’s mind works. We see all of his insecurities and how he has built a system in order to comprehend and work around his social disabilities. We’ve always seen that he uses television to understand everyone and this has created plenty of laughs throughout the show’s history, but this episode took it to a deeper level.
Furthering the revelation into Abed’s mind was Annie, who basically took on the role of the viewer. She couldn’t understand why everyone treated Abed so nice and thought that people took things too easy on him. When she changes the way the Dreamatorium works, Abed begins to freak and we begin to see how Abed imagines Annie envisions the world. Through this empathetic vision into Abed’s imagination she invites us to question just how we treat people with invisible disabilities, reminding us that these people are not just “catching a break”. I think this will be a moment in television history to revisit for many years to come.