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with George

Category: Television

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

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.

Sitcom March Madness: Elite Nine

Today, we have some major results to reveal. Additionally, we have some Final Four deciding to do. See you Friday!

  1. Congrats to Frasier for defeating Fawlty Towers by one vote.
  2. Sorry to I Love Lucy, who would have defeated Fawlty Towers by a good margin, but lost to Frasier because Frasier was chosen to move on. (Vote margins: Lucy 59, Fawlty 41 … Frasier 53, Lucy 47.)
  3. Parks and Recreation (GO PAWNEE) and Seinfeld are tied with 11 votes apiece, so we’ll have to do this sort of play-in game again. Winner plays The Office (UK), so (not to editorialize) but this is for the Final Four, guys.
  4. The Simpsons trounced The Addams Family. Shocking. Speaking of shocking, The Simpsons will have to do battle with The Office (US) next, since it beat 30 Rock. No, it’s not shocking that it beat 30 Rock (although that is upsetting), but it is shocking that both Offices made it to the field of 8.
  5. M*A*S*H defeated Louie and will play the aforementioned Frasier next.
  6. My pick, Arrested Development, will be matched up with South Park, killer of Community, next. Watch out, live-action cult comedy!

Sitcom Bracket – Nine Left

My Month in Pop Culture: February

Today, we recap the second month of 2012, pop-culturally. Last time, The Larry Sanders Show took home gold, while Community’s suspension was named the worst. Enjoy, and feel free to post your own picks. Mine are in no particular order, unless otherwise indicated (except for the winner/loser, of course).

The Best

Yes, Annie. Those really are 30 Rock's ratings. No, Annie. I don't know why they hate just you.

1. The weirdly awesome parade of big TV ratings that is February. First there’s the Super Bowl. Then, two weeks later, we have the Grammys. Then, to finish things off, two weeks later, the Oscars show up. As much as I hate the month, February has something going with this scheduling thing.

2. Re-watching the second season of Parks and Recreation. Oh my God, I love this show. I feel like I underestimate its earlier seasons a bit too much, and if you haven’t revisited its early days since you started loving it, I suggest you do too.

3. Community grabbing a return date. You guys know how much I love Community, so it should come as no surprise that I’m pumped it’s coming back. I love the fact that NBC is promoting it, as well.

4. Drive. “You tell me where we start, where we’re going, where we’re going afterwards. I give you five minutes when we get there. Anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours. No matter what. Anything a minute on either side of that and you’re on your own. I don’t sit in while you’re running it down. I don’t carry a gun. I drive.

5. Frasier. I haven’t really allowed you guys into my life enough. So, why not share with you the fact that I’m ultra pretentious and snooty. I had to deliver a speech in Professional Communication class today, and one of the lines was “I love a good, pretentious slice of cinematic art… especially if it’s foreign.” So, naturally, I love Frasier. And I’m glad I start my mornings with it.

The Bad

"I'm gonna need this."

1. Party Down leaving NetflixThis one really gets me going. I love Party Down… it’s one of my Top 12 Favorite Modern Comedies. But I’m disappointed that Netflix couldn’t come to terms with Starz on a new deal to keep this show (and many others on Netflix). The point is to become more valuable to your subscribers, guys. Don’t be an NBC.

2. Are You There, Chelsea? continuing to exist. You can say I was too lazy to change this one from last month’s list, but this being alive still is bad news for the world.

3. Justin Bieber at the Oscars. In what way was this necessary?

4. The guilt I feel because I didn’t go see Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close or War Horse. I hate this. These movies were open for so long in my town, and I didn’t go to see either of them. Now I’ll never know if The Artist really deserved to win!

5. The Tree of Life not winning Best Cinematography. I am a part of the “trophy generation.” (No, it’s okay, you can call us that because it’s true.) I’m usually opposed to giving everyone over a certain age (probably 6) a trophy for participating, but the Oscars got this one wrong. Even if you didn’t think it was the best, you had to throw this movie a bone. I was neither expecting nor rooting for it to win Best Picture, but I thought this was one it could and should have won.

And The Rest

From best to worst:
  1. Happy Endings… undoubtedly my favorite non-Parks and not benched show on the air right now
  2. Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey
  3. Mary and Max
  4. A handful of episodes from the second season of The Larry Sanders Show
  5. Le Havre
  6. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  7. Running Wilde, a show that had terrible episodes but is really fun on the whole
  8. Dead Poets Society
  9. 30 Rock‘s roller-coaster sixth season
  10. Cougar Town‘s woeful ratings

The Worst Thursday NBC Has Ever Had (and What I’ve Taken Away From It)

Today, I criticize both 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation. No, these aren’t activities I usually enjoy, but something must be said. NBC’s Thursday night lineup used to be must see TV (hence the name). But no longer. 30 Rock and The Office are shattered, decaying bits of their former shells; Parks and Recreation is suffering from something nearly inexplicable; and Up All Night is, well, Up All Night. Last night, I only saw the first hour of their famous two hour comedy block, but knowing what has happened to The Office and how much I don’t care about Up All Night, that was enough. Below, I have listed a few solutions to our problem, and I hope NBC, the network on a roll thanks to their recent Community announcement, takes note and fixes a few things.

1. Cancel everything

Note: “everything” refers to the six Thursday comedies this season (30 Rock, Community, The Office, Parks and Recreation, Up All Night, and Whitney).

This is, by far, the most drastic option, but it might just be the most successful one. And why not do it? It’s not as if there’s a ratings hero of the bunch that you could salvage. And the quality of each show (with the exception of Community, which hasn’t aired a new episode since the beginning of December) is doing down, some of them precipitously. But NBC is still getting Emmy, SAG, and WGA nominations (no Globes this year), and they’ll probably want to bask in that bright light, so…

2. Cancel everything not nominated for a major award (with the exception of the criminally under-awarded Community)

This leaves 30 Rock, Community, and Parks. And I have a problem with (only one part of) that.

30 Rock was brilliant in 2011. Some of their best episodes ever came from the second half of their fifth season. But 2012 has not been good to the aging veteran. So far, I have despised three of the nine episodes they’ve produced (including the hour-long fiasco of a Valentine’s Day episode). Their high so far, “Idiots Are People Three,” might not be able to match some of the earlier seasons’ lows.

The show can still be productive (see all of the increasingly weird Season 5/this season’s Dance Like Nobody’s Watching, Today You Are a Man, and The Tuxedo Begins), but it must be better. I honestly don’t know what needs to be fixed, since they do so much crazy stuff, but it really hurts to see what was my favorite show at one point in shambles like this. Ugh, #firstworldproblems. #AmIRiteJustin?

And that is the perfect segue for…

3. Make Parks the “anchor”

The Office will be done soon, and that will leave a void at the precious 9:00 anchor spot. So who should take it over?

30 Rock? No, because they don’t have that many years left in the tank, either.

Community? Bahahahahahaha. Not with those ratings.

Up All Night? The experiment in which NBC tries to force Office fans to like UAN has officially failed. I give it one more season tops.

Whitney? See: Community, but replace the word “ratings” with something dirty (just like Whitney would).

Parks and Rec is the obvious choice. It’s shot in the same mockumentary style, but it’s less in your face. It doesn’t do too poorly in the ratings (for NBC). The lead is lovable and easy to become obsessed with emotionally attached to. And Office devotees with enjoy spending time with Karen Filipelli’s nicer and hoter alter ego, Ann Perkins.

4. Take comedy to an/other night/s

This one is the riskiest of all of them. CBS has Mondays, Fox has Tuesdays, ABC has Wednesdays, and NBC has Thursdays. That’s how it is meant to be.

But imagine a world in which NBC just up and moved their comedies to another night, or took certain comedies and moved them in groups of two to three separate nights. NBC actually has nothing to lose by doing this. I would actually move all the non-perfect shows (so all the shows that aren’t Parks or Community) out of prestigious Thursday.

Create a new, three hour block on Tuesdays, the most vulnerable days. The Glee-hating, Raising Hope/New Girl-loving Fox fans would watch from 8-9; the Cougar Townians who dislike horror could stop by at 9; and there are no comedies being shown at 10, so that’s an instant ratings boost. The Biggest Loser is easily movable, and starting that program at 9 (after Idol ends) would make sense.

5. Keep everything the way it is and hope Damon Wayans, Jr. and whoever is judging American Idol now-a-days die

No.

6. Reward quality and face the fact that you’ll never not be NBC

This is a summation of all of my arguments.

Parks and Recreation wasn’t bad this week. Of course, it was in no way a season high for them, but it really does bear repeating; their worst is better than most of television’s best (that goes for you as well, Community).

But 30 Rock was. And The Office has had only a handful of good episodes this season. (And Up All Night is Up All Night.) You do know how many people I tell about your quality shows on a daily basis? 15… that’s how many. And it’s not only the comedies/the shows I’ve actually seen. I tell people about Smash, The Voice, Parenthood, Awake, Grimm, even Sunday Night Football; all in the hopes that they’ll watch your network.

When it comes down to it, I love you, NBC. I really do. I’ve spent more quality time with you than nearly anyone (do the math: 21 minutes of JUST Parks and Rec X each week since the “Indianapolis” episode, not including re-watches on Hulu or the summer reruns). I know who you are and what you do. And no matter what… no matter how many viewers the Super Bowl fetches The Voice, you’re still NBC. The ratings fade, and you return to week after week of finishing behind Univision.

I want you to know that I’m here for you. But you have to give up some* of your bad habits (benching good shows, airing AYTC, etc.) and devote yourself to having the best shows on TV. PBS is doing just that, and look at what they can achieve.

*You can keep Whitney. I’m fine with her.

One last thing: it’s going to be okay. Keep your chin up and don’t cancel any of my shows. Thank you.

So, what do you think the solution is? Do you like me writing about TV? And is it just me or does this post feel really sloppy?

…and then Community returned, and all was right with the world

Today, we discuss Community.

Well, NBC? Don’t you feel so much better now? You should. You done good. Now cancel Are You There, Chelsea? and I’ll finally be satisfied. Also, a few more seasons of Community would be nice.

Anyway, this is good, but it messes with my schedule this week something fierce. I always wear my #AnniesMove t-shirt on Thursdays, but this week I get to wear it twice. I usually skip watching 30 Rock live because it makes me feel guilty for contributing to the ratings (Parks doesn’t get that treatment… they deserve my views much more), but now I get/have to watch it (oh, come on, 30 Rock fans… you know it peaked four years ago). Not only that, but I was beginning to actively promote Abed’s precious Cougar Town. I can’t encourage my friends to watch two shows at once! That’s illegal!

And I had a post I spent a lot of time (5-12 minutes) on that is now somewhat useless. The intro for it was:

Today, in a feature I will update fortnightly until Community gets renewed and as a result I lose interest, I break down each of the four big American TV networks’ schedules to see what stays and what gets taken to the dump.

Obviously this Community thing is good news, but you couldn’t have saved the news for tomorrow? In said post (which I will now just make a page for), I claimed Community was likely to be renewed.

This is extremely good news. 30 Rock wasn’t working out at 8:00, and Community returning to that timeslot means NBC isn’t going to see where it can or can’t pull better or worse ratings. They understand what Community‘s ratings are, and they are accepting it. I still say Community is likely to be renewed, and with a few good showings from those Nielsen families, I might even bump it up to certain renewal.

Anyway, here’s NBC’s Thursday schedule as of March 15:

8:00 — Community

8:30 — 30 Rock

9:00 — The Office

9:30 — Up All Night

And here’s what happens on April 19:

8:00 — Community

8:30 — 30 Rock

9:00 — The Office

9:30 — Parks and Recreation

I’m good with this. See you then, human beings.

Notes about the fate of the blog:

  • Here’s the link to the page with the TV predictions.
  • I was recently on an Oscar roundtable. You should check it out. (And then watch Community. And maybe also Cougar Town if you really feel like it.)
  • I may begin to write about TV soon. Is that something you guys would want?
  • Sorry if this post is sloppy. I think I took too long (5-12 minutes) writing it.
  • Next time on the blog: my Oscar predictions. Let’s hope NBC doesn’t spoil that post for me either. (Even though everyone knows who’s going to win Best Picture, anyway.)

What’s Making Me Feel Awful This Week: Whitney

Up until a few days ago, I hated NBC’s raunchy multi-cam joint Whitney with a burning passion. Currently, I hate myself. Let me explain why.

This past weekend, I sat down and watched an episode. I had not previously seen the show, but none-the-less felt it was hogging a timeslot that otherwise could be Community‘s. (Plus this.) Well, I’m terribly sad to report that you that I do not hate it. In fact, I thought it was decent.

Don’t get me wrong… Whitney, at what I assume was its best, cannot keep up with shows like Parks and Community at their worst. But the fact that I didn’t hate it combined with the slight urge I had to see another episode was not good news.

What had I become? Did I like this kind of television now? What do I do with my life now?

The only thing I can do… watch the only other show I can loathe without having to see; Are You There, Chelsea? This was, quite simply, the best decision I have ever made.

The air was stale and laugh-less. Afterward, my eyes were sore due to the excessive eye-rolling. Its attitude towards drinking and DUIs is sickening. No part of this show is funny. Have you not seen it yet? Too bad, because I’m about to spoil the joke they were working toward all night:

“Just for the record, you pooped a little when you were pushing.”

Yes, sir. My faith in my own gag reflex has once again been restored.