My unheralded return to the blogosphere will begin with a new feature. A Thursday night feature. Since NBC is experimenting with a three hour block of comedy (“Comedy Night Done Right”), I thought I’d honor the night accordingly. In case you’re busy on Thursday night, or you’re watching the new Thursday night behemoth, this will be your guide to the best the night has to offer. So, if you only have a half hour on Friday, this will tell you which comedy to watch on DVR or Hulu.
I’ll rank each sitcom, give a little summary (I won’t give a full recap of the episode or jokes, so as not to spoil anything), some great moments, and also tally the laughs. From least to most: chuckles, laughs, wheezes, and ROFLs. Also smiles, but I figure if an episode’s enjoyable, you’re smiling all the time. So I won’t count those up. I’ll just put (++, +, -, — to indicate good or bad). Obviously, everyone will laugh at different things. But I think it’s a good barometer of the humor.
1. Parks & Recreation – “Go Big or Go Homes” (3.1)
I love the mockumentary style, so it was reassuring to know last year that as The Office started to slip in quality, another show took its place in comic brilliance. But not just that. Parks & Recreation also mastered comedic sentimentality. No sitcom does a better job right now of showing emotion. In this episode alone, there was a fantastic shift between energy and depression by Rob Lowe’s character and we also got a peak into some solid background for Adam Scott’s character and Leslie. And neither those moments, nor the more ridiculous ones (like Ron Swanson’s Pyramid of Greatness…don’t ruin his cult hero status by hitting us over the head with it), took away from the constant, subtle laughs. Best show this Thursday, maybe it will be the best all season.
Best Fake Foul Called By Tom: “That’s a foul for touching the basketball.”Smiles: ++
2. 30 Rock – “Mrs. Donaghy” (5.11)
When 30 Rock is hitting on cylinders, it’s a joy to sit through. And tonight the hits just kept coming. Not all the plots worked (Tracy thinking he’s going to die only served as another pawn in Jack and Liz’s fight), but the writing was sharp. Just don’t blink, or you migh miss some hysterical drop-in line. I also like that the whole episode played on the fact that Jack and Liz are never romantic possibilities. That’s very rare for two leads in a sitcom. Just great friends.
One of the Best Jokes: Early on in this Liz/Jack heavy episode, Liz apologizes for him getting caught up in another one of “Liz Lemon’s Adventures.” Jack: “My adventures! I am the protagonist!” I love meta jokes. Like when Danny (Cheyenne Jackson) returns after a long absence and Kenneth says “We forgot you work here!” And so much NBC lampooning.
THE Best Moment: Liz pretending to be Jack’s wife by putting on a Kennedy-esque accent and calling a press conference.Smiles: +
3. The Office – “Ultimatum” (7.12)
Let me first say that the order of this line-up is great. Specifically putting The Office before Parks & Recreation. They’re naturally meant to be together. Now, to one of the better episodes of the season. It was just a transitional episode, to get us to a point where Michael and Holly can reunite. But it was laced with several funny gags (mostly regarding resolutions) and also had a heavy dose of Michael’s endearingly pathetic love life. But the subplot of Darryl, Dwight and Andy was just weird and stupid (a preview of the end of the season? They’re the three in-house candidates for Michael’s job). Still, a solid episode.
Best Moment: Michael coming down to earth and subtly telling Holly that he’s sorry and will make their friendship work. Michael’s non-cartoony moments are his best.Smiles: +
Wheezes: 2 ROFLs: 0
4. Perfect Couples – “Pilot” (1.1)
The only new comedy in the CDNR line-up. My initial reaction: just what TV needs. Another relationship sitcom featuring three couples. Has this been done before? And the opening is the same schtick Better than You (which I like) uses on ABC: how three very different couples handle the same situation. But I’ll tell you what gives me hope about Perfect Couples. It stars one of my favorite and under-appreciated comic actors. Kyle Bornheimer. I loved his half-season comedy Worst Week two years ago. Loved it. So I’ll watch this just for him. And early on, he’s the only one I’m laughing at (and originally, he wasn’t playing this part). There are a lot of recognizable faces. The Waitress from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Double Agent from FlashForward, Lana from Greek. But no one’s as natural as Bornheimer. The material’s not breaking new ground, but as a highly competitive person, I can’t dislike an episode about Game Night. Always comic gold. Also the filming is a more modern upbeat style than many other sitcoms. Good change of pace for NBC. Just like the sentimental music montage at the end.
Best Joke: (cut to) Rex: “What is our best relationship skill?” Julia: “Nobody asked you that…”Smiles: + Chuckles: 7 Laughs: 9 Wheezes: 0
5. Community – “Asian Population Studies” (2.12)
My favorite comedy of the season (yes, even more than Modern Family). It’s easily the most inventive show on television (in the first half of the season alone, they did a zombie episode, a space parody, and an entire episode in claymation). But this episode was lackluster. The idea of having a contest to pick a new study group member was solid, but the execution felt rushed. Also, too many previous plots seemed to come together for resolution, as if they wanted to start fresh next episode without any lingering problems. That took out a lot of the humor and made it much more plot-centric than usual. Epitomized by the underutilization of Abed. The ending seemed to indicate this was supposed to be a mock-up of a chick flick (that’s Community‘s gimmick), but it didn’t work. I liked the return of the “Troy and Abed in the Morning” show for the tag, though.
Best Character: Duncan. As he explained how his soberness has changed his sex life. Also, he keeps calling one student “Fat Neal.” Neal: “Neal’s just fine.” Duncan: “Not from an actuarial point of view.”
Guest Stars of Note: Malcolm Jamal Warner (Theo Huxtable on The Cosby Show) playing Shirley’s ex-husband/current boyfriend.Smiles: –
Wheezes: 0 ROFLs: 0
6. Outsourced – “A Sitar is Born ” (1.11)
This show got panned when it debuted. And I, too, was initially lukewarm on the concept of a show set entirely in India. But the premise (a call center for novelty gifts) has provided a good background for an Office-Lite show, with zany characters and budding romances. A little heart too. So I’ll keep watching, though it’s not a homerun quite yet. As you can see from the chuckles and not laughs. A fine episode, with a main plot about a singing competition and another about fixing their hold music. Meh.
Best Voice: We heard a lot of them, and I liked Madhuri’s angelic voice. But as a character actor myself, I was also kind of impressed by Parvesh Cheena’s (Gupta’s) purposefully bad singing.Smiles: –