I was raised on the situation comedy, and by God that’s where I think television should shine. When crafted well, these half hour slices of life are so satisfying in their composition that it’s hard to tell which came first, the television or the television sitcom (NOTE: it was the television). It’s kind of disheartening to see how reality programming has obliterated much of the pre-scripted work that once dominated prime time. When you really look at it, most of these reality type game shows are merely opportunities for us to laugh and jeer at our fellow Americans. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we could do with fewer hours a week of it.
Television’s least-watched network is running three hours of situation comedy on Thursday nights, traditionally “their” night from when The Cosby Show was on, and perhaps even before that. It strikes me as a pretty ballsy “all in” kind of move, an attempt to plant their flag against other networks’ ratings powerhouses like Big Bang Theory and American Idol. I’ve been watching many of these NBC shows lately, and I declare that an hour and a half of this three-hour block of programming is worth your scrutiny!
It starts at 8 PM with Community, starring Joel McHale and Chevy Chase and other people you’ve probably never heard of. If you’re like me, you’ve noticed this show for the past year or so when it was plugged on Talk Soup, McHale’s show on the E! Network. Like everything plugged on that program, I ignored the publicity completely, until this year when I decided to watch an episode of Community, and learned that the reason it’s called Community is because it’s about a bunch of disparate people in a study group together at a community college. It’s a pretty good gimmick, at that: having taken classes at a community college, I can say that it might be the only place where people just starting out, or starting over, or just spending their retirement time all combine together to argue about dead philosophers. Upon starting to watch this show, I was afraid that I might have trouble taking Joel McHale’s smirking mick face seriously. And it is a problem. However, his character is pretty self-aware and in more recent episodes he’s mercifully been given less camera time. In fact, the most recent episodes have been where this show shines, as Community breaks the typical sitcom format and satirizes other popular movies and television programs. I could probably write a whole essay about this show, and perhaps I will eventually, but for now it should suffice to say that this show is worth watching.
After Community is a new show, having started mid-season, called Perfect Couples. I wanted to like this show a lot because it features Olivia Munn, who has not only induced many boners from yours truly, but is someone I think is reasonably funny and talented, and who I’d like to see succeed. This show is about three couples that are totally different from one another: you’ve got this totally combative couple, then this totally new age couple where the dude is all sensitive, and then a hapless “control” couple that routinely deals with shit from the other four assholes. It’s about as boring and stupid as it sounds. I don’t believe it’s really a problem with the acting, but that the premise is thin and a little ham-fisted, even for fans of romantic comedies. This show also features the waitress from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, incidentally, though she sucks here for sure.
At nine o’clock, you’ve got The Office. The Office is NBC’s longest-running current sitcom accomplishment, but I think only the most die-hard fans wouldn’t say that the show hasn’t run its course. I don’t even watch it on Thursdays anymore, I catch it a day or two later On Demand or on hulu.com because my girlfriend isn’t interested in watching. I’m curious to see what happens with Michael Scott and Holly, but less and less as the weeks drag on and there is little in the way of interesting progress. And has there been a more annoyingly sweet television couple than Jim and Pam? The only satisfying solution to this show would be if Jim steps in front of a speeding bus one morning and turns Pam into an instant widow. If you’re caught up in the stupid melodrama like I am, then you can join me in my shame, but if you haven’t been watching The Office up to now, then there’s no point in starting. I can’t imagine this program will last another season past the next, which would still be about four seasons too many.
At nine-thirty is my favorite show of these Thursday night offerings, Parks and Recreation. This is created by the same guys who did the US version of The Office and features the same phony shaky camera that is well overdone in movies and television by now. Yet this show seems to use it to good effect, or is good despite its effect, because I think its funny as shit. It’s about local government employees working for the Parks and Recreation department in Pawnee, Indiana, but the real payoff from this show comes when you immerse yourself into the stupid world of Pawnee. There are a couple of other nice things about the show which set it apart from sitcoms playing the same evening, like the genuine friendship between Leslie and Ann, which is unlike other catty relationships between women seen on much of TV. I highly recommend this show, I’ll probably write more about it later and repeatedly, as I intend to be the first internet geek to declare that this show is finished once it fails to make me guffaw appropriately in the near future.
After Parks & Rec is NBC’s other long-running successful sitcom, 30 Rock. I didn’t watch this show for years because 1) I kept forgetting when it was on, and 2) a show by members of Saturday Night Live about the behind-the-scenes stress of putting on a show just like Saturday Night Live, as I understood it, seemed too “meta” to me. 30 Rock is technically about the background of putting on a weekly sketch comedy show before a live audience, but the comedy is in the surreal situations and outrageous things Tracy “Tracy Jordan” Morgan does and says. It looks like this show is also past its prime, but it’s still pretty funny and worth checking out. Of all the shows mentioned in this essay, it requires the least investment; you’ll probably find an individual episode funny whether you follow 30 Rock faithfully or not.
The final show in this Thursday night laff-fest is Outsourced, which I’ve never seen. Chances are, you haven’t either. I mean, if you’ve faithfully watched the previous five comedies as per NBC’s recommended allotment, your eyeballs are pretty fried by now. It’s likely that you haven’t watched two and a half hours of straight television, but you get my point. In any case, I have enough stupid shows to follow and I don’t care about this one. It could be hysterical and I’ll never know. Unless it gets syndicated on cable or something.