TV Commentary of the Week: Community, Happy Endings, and Weeds

by George Watches Things

Today, I begin a weekly TV post. Each week, I’ll discuss three television episodes, seasons, or just overall shows. Up this week: the underdog comedy that I love to tell people to watch, Community… another underdog comedy that I love to tell people to watch, but also love to claim I discovered, Happy Endings… and a show I gave up on long ago, only to discover made a comeback, Weeds (which will air its eighth season this late summer/early fall on Showtime). Let’s begin.

“Pillows and Blankets” – Community

(currently airing Thursdays at 8PM ET on NBC)

Community has had an interesting road to this point. A weird start to the season, a string of all-timers, that whole hiatus thing, and, more recently, tepid critical reaction to the post-hiatus episodes. After all this time away from sitting down and watching a distraction-free, crazy-ass episode of Community, I was beginning to forget what it was like. Fortunately, Pillows and Blankets brought it all back.

Just to clarify: every episode has a degree of crazy in it. Some of them fail because of this degree of crazy. And Community crazy is different from 30 Rock crazy (also known as Happy Endings normal): mania isn’t as prevalent at Greendale as it is at 30 Rock. An extremely calm and subtle episode of Community isn’t something we’ve seen in awhile. Pillows and Blankets works because it adds craziness to the mix without giving up the style or tempo necessary to work inside of a PBS documentary.

That’s right… this week’s episode of Community was a parody of Ken Burns’ Civil War.

In a continuation from last week, Troy and Abed are still feuding. (I think it was over something Troy and Abed In the Morning!-related, but I may be wrong.) Things escalate as they become entrenched in their respective trenches, and the name calling begins. The horrible things they say to each other won’t be easily forgotten by me, and the resolution at the end of the episode won’t change the fact they were said, but the show itself has been saying them about Troy, but especially Abed, for a long time, so I’ll get over it.

Last week, I chose the blanket/pillow plot as my least favorite plot thread among the trio. But this week, it was all-encompassing. Everyone was sucked in. Even the Chevy Chase/Dan Harmon feud was addressed… in my own mind, of course, since this episode was shot in or around January.

We had some nice asides from Shirley, Pierce, and Annie, but it was a very Leonard-heavy week. (The writers are probably making up for the fact that they might kill him next week.) My favorite bit, however, was how badly Britta Britta’d photography. Ms. Perry didn’t even get a line this week, but she nailed the physical comedy. And, come on, Britta would totally not be able to figure out how to take a picture of some waffles (pronounced way-fulls, of course).

“Pillows and Blankets” Grade: A. All in all, an excellent episode. This is one of the best ones I’ve seen all season long.

Happy Endings

(just finished its second season on ABC)

I was with this show from the start.

Sort of.

After struggling through the mess that was Perfect Couples, I dreaded another show about married and single friends just being married and single friends. The promos for it looked horrifying. I was convinced that Happy Endings was going to be a monster failure. But, I decided to give it a chance.

It’s lucky that ABC began burning it off immediately (meaning two back-to-back episodes a week, instead of one… it’s a miracle the show was renewed), because while the first episode didn’t convince me I was wrong, the second hooked me forever. And every episode since then seems to have built on the one before it. Each one is tighter, funnier, and faster than its predecessor. Except its second season finale.

(Yeah, you know it’s serious when I drop a cliffhanger at the end of a paragraph like that.)

That’s because the season finale was an episode so emotional and sweet that it didn’t have time to be funny. Oh wait… but it did!

And that’s why Happy Endings is one of the best comedies on TV. I’m not talking top 25. I mean that during Community‘s hiatus (and the coinciding Louie‘s offseason), I frequently told people “this is the best show on TV.” I’ve been saying that for months, and I know now, after this brilliant season, they’ll start to believe me. That’s the triumph of Happy Endings. They stuffed all of the following into one season finale: the idea of a designated aside guy, Mandonna, Brad losing his job, Brad telling Jane that he lost his job, Penny trying to fit Max into his Mandonna jeans, De-eric, E-ric, the yellow suit, the importance of communicating with your significant other, napkin cheese, oh and the Penny-Dave-Alex thing that might be going down next season.

Season 2 grade: A-. This isn’t Perfect Couples. This is so much better.

Weeds (Season 6)

(will return to Showtime with season eight in July)

I loved the first three seasons of Weeds. They were amazing and fresh. Their immediately successors, however, were stale. Netflix only had the first five seasons available, so I decided I wouldn’t pursue any further episodes once I finished those available. I had gotten my fix, and I didn’t need any more. Until, of course, Netflix added their sixth season.

In season six, Nancy, Silas, Shane, Andy, and Stevie Ray finally flee Ren Mar, after Shane bashes Pilar’s head in with a croquet mallet. They first go to Seattle, where Nancy… uh, I mean Nathalie… gets a job at a hotel and ends up tearing some woman’s ear off for stealing her money or something awesome like that. It was very refreshing to watch, even though Nancy has gotten angry before.

Next, the gang take a very long road trip that leads them to Dearborn, Michigan, where we insert a hilarious, unusually understated Richard Dreyfuss into the mix (as the former math teacher who took Nancy’s virginity back in high school). I really enjoyed my time with him, and that’s something I cannot say of Albert Brooks’ season four character.

Weeds got its swagger back. It was exciting again. It wasn’t just the on-the-road style of it all… this season saw everyone at the top of their game. The actors have never been better, the unnecessary characters have all been shed, and the series has never felt fresher.

Season 6 grade: A-. This one is up there with the first three in quality.