Tag Archives: NBC

The Year End Review: TV

It’s that time of year again. And I mean, it’s really that time of year. Any more time and it’d be next year. Speaking of which, how many of you are absolutely sick of the fact that I can’t get my s**t together and update this thing more regularly? Well, too bad! I’m pretty set in my ways, and if I wouldn’t change for any of my three wives, I probably won’t change for you. Anyway, it was a pretty good year for TV, and for those of you who care, these are my top 10 picks. If I had more time on my hands, this list might look somewhat different**, but I can’t watch everything. So, in no particular order…

Lost. I’d be remiss (what does that mean?) if I didn’t mention one of the greatest TV shows in the history of TV (and shows). ‘Lost’ earns its place on the list more in recognition of the entire series than the sixth season, which most people will admit had its problems. But for all of the questions that were left unanswered and weird, glowy caves that had holes in the middle that needed to be plugged up or else the world would explode — I mean, seriously, what was that? — the show delivered a finale that was as emotionally satisfying as I could have hoped for. And before the numbers, polar bears and four-toed statues, it was the characters that made the show what it was. And that damn dog gets me every time.

Treme. For a little while, ‘Treme’ felt like the kid who was a little too cool for school. It didn’t really invite us into its world, but kept us at arm’s length, telling us that we just didn’t get it. But slowly, as if in the arms of a generous lover, it opened up to us. And once the characters started doing a little more than hang out, drink and play music it turned into appointment television. And the fact that it comes from David Simon and could probably go on for six or seven seasons without building toward any clear ending makes it one of the best character studies in recent memory.

Louie. Hands down, the best comedy of the year. FX told Louie CK that, even though they couldn’t pay him as much as other networks, they would give him complete creative control over his own show, and the opportunity was not wasted. I hate to sound trite (no I don’t), but he’s really reinvented the sitcom, with each episode taking the form of a mostly-self-contained short film. And not only is it hilarious, but introspective and thoughtful. Not to mention gorgeously shot. If you haven’t caught this one yet, you can stream it on Netflix. I really can’t recommend it enough.

Archer. ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Boardwalk Empire’ are all good and well, but man cannot live on live-action drama alone. Solid animated fare is important, and unfortunately ‘American Dad’ can’t carry the load all by itself. ‘Archer’ comes from the fine folks who brought us ‘Frisky Dingo,’ which for two short years carried the mantle ‘Arrested Development’ left behind after it was canceled. The show takes the world’s most self-absorbed incompetent, gives him a double-0 rating and sets him loose on the world. Hilarity ensues. And when I say hilarity ensues, I mean it. Did you read what I said about ‘Frisky Dingo’? The show comes back for another season in January, so check it out.

Breaking Bad. Suck it, ‘Supernatural’ fans. In its third season, ‘Breaking Bad’ made the jump from engrossing (and high-grossing!), to the best show on TV. And the season before was already pretty great. Watching the lengths Walter White is willing to go to, at first to provide for his family, but then to satisfy his own ego is completely devastating. Walter shooting that drug dealer in the head at the end of “Half Measures” had me screaming at my TV, and if the season finale is any indication (it is), things are only going to get darker going forward. Unfortunately, AMC’s schedule is all jacked up, so the show won’t be back until July. The curse of cable television!

Mad Men. This is another show that doesn’t really have any sort of clear end in sight. And because it’s AMC’s darling, they’re probably going to try and keep it around for as long as they can. The trick then becomes how to keep it feeling fresh and not like it’s spinning its wheels. Season 4 did that. Don has his own agency, and now that he’s divorced he’s back out on the prowl. Although I guess that was the case even when he was married. Anyway, the season featured some of the series’ best work. “The Suitcase” and the showdown between Don and Peggy being only one example. Expect that one to be showered with Emmys at next year’s ceremony. For my money, the show came in just a hair behind ‘Breaking Bad’ this year, but…it was a very fine hair.

Fringe. I don’t think anyone really gives a s**t if a show comes “from the mind of J.J. Abrams” anymore. And if you ask me that’s only worked in ‘Fringe’s’ favor. When it wasn’t the hit some expected it to be, it kind of dropped off the radar. That really gave it carte blanche to go balls to wall and make a show for the people who were watching it, the people who were carrying it into second and third season renewals. This season’s proved that like no other, and really shows what risks the showrunners were willing to take with things. Thankfully they all paid off. I’m feeling a little better about the show’s move to Friday now than I was when I first heard about it, so hopefully its audience will move with it and it’ll be back for a fourth season.

Boardwalk Empire. AMC winning all those Emmys must have really pissed HBO off, because they’re coming back in a big way. It took ‘Boardwalk Empire’ about four episodes to find its footing, but after that it was strong all the way to the finish. It’s always good to see such a big show get things right, and that was before we saw exactly how big a freak Agent Van Alden was, and met Richard Harrow (who’s thankfully been promoted to a series regular in season two). What the show lacks in ‘Sopranos’ it makes up for in ‘Deadwood,’ which sucks me in every single time. Can we lay down some cash that season two will open with a montage of all the characters getting dressed in the morning?

30 Rock. Oh ’30 Rock,’ it’s so good to have you back. After a lackluster fourth season, the show’s really amped things up this year, delivering several episodes that are as good as anything they’ve done in the past. I mean, you’ve got Matt Damon! Paul Giamatti! Liz’s Julia Roberts laugh! John Effing Slattery! I cower before the brilliance of his performance. Now, if the show could just find more excuses to bring Jon Hamm back, all would be right with the world. Really, this is the show propping up NBC’s Thursday night lineup. ‘The Office’ has turned into the grandpa with Parkinson’s disease. Every once in a while it remembers how good it was, but it mostly thinks we’re its wife and yells at us for not having supper on the table when it gets home from work. ‘Outsourced’ is garbage and ‘Community’ is too busy smelling its own private parts to do much else. When the lineup grows by a hour come January, it’s gonna be ’30 Rock’ and ‘Parks and Rec,’ so get ready for it.

Justified. FX is really trying to roll with the big dogs as of late, at thanks to shows like ‘Justified,’ it’s paying off. The show had a mix of procedural and serialized storytelling, and I think that as the season progressed, it realized how much stronger those serialized elements were, and so followed them more as the season closed out. Timothy Olyphant is a great actor, and fans of ‘Deadwood’ know that this role was almost tailor-made for him. The back and forth between him and Walt Goggins is great, but honestly, I’d watch a show of Olyphant just ramming Dewey Crow’s face into steering wheels.

And there you have it. A pretty good year, all things considered. And next year we’ve got ‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘Luck,’ ‘Lights Out,’ ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ and more ‘Parks and Rec’ to look forward to, so it’s going to be pretty crowded. So until then and as a always, excelsior true believers!

**’Community’ still wouldn’t be on it, because it still isn’t that good.

The Office, “WUPHF.com”: Bigboobz

I could relate to a lot in this episode. For starters, I frequently run my space heater and fan at the same time, at top speed. Don’ t judge me. What can I say? I’m hot-headed, and I’ve got cold feet! Ba-dum-bum-shhhh. Also, I’m not naming any names or companies, but let’s just say I have personally witnessed social media bandwagonry and what we’ll call “marketing without substance.” But the part about lacking motivation to work and the boss trying to convince you that you don’t do it just for the money? Nope. Don’t know anything about that. Definitely not.

/whistles nonchalantly and walks away with hands in pockets

Aaaaaannnnyyyhoo, so, Ryan has come up with WUPHF.com, a service that harasses you at all communication points when someone wants to send you a message – so, basically, what Facebook will be in about six months. He’s convinced most of his Dunder Mifflin coworkers to invest, and now he’s got enough cash for nine days and a strategy that amounts to “throw WUPHF-branded condoms out of a helicopter during spring break.” Michael is the prime patsy, of course, and is starting to plan for an investor ski weekend before he finds out that the company is broke and everyone wants their money back.

Meanwhile, Dwight has opened “HayPlace” in the parking lot, where he is rectifying a childhood injustice of not being named “Hay King” while Angela finds a new man right under his nose (Hey HRG! Good to see you on another floundering NBC show!) Other than finally seeing the Dwight/Angela storyline go somewhere, this plotline was pretty uneventful. Meanwhile, back in the Dunder Mifflin offices, Michael begins his sales pitch to the office

Michael: “SEX! Now that I have your attention….”
Stanley: “You don’t have our attention.”
Michael: “MONEY!”
Stanley, perking up: “I’m listening.”
Kevin: “You had me at sex.”

In early seasons, this would’ve been a pretty standard, high-humor exchange, but given where The Office is these days, this was downright milk-out-of-your-nose funny. It turns out, Stanley is already an investor, because he has a dream to live isolated at the top of an abandoned lighthouse (yet another thing I can relate to in this episode) that will then go into space (you lost me there).

Blah blah blah – Ryan’s a douche, Dwight’s a psychopath. Michaels’ an idiot. Blah blah blah. The investors meet and decide they want to sell, and Andy turns out to be surprisingly business savvy – maybe it’s that college degree (Where did he go to school again?) But as the majority investor, Michael refuses to sell, saying, “I’d rather go broke betting on my people.” It’s another one of those great, albeit brief, redemptive glimpses into Michael’s psyche.
In any event, it made me want to see something good happen to Michael – and I was even secretly hoping that WUPHF would be come a huge success, even if it meant success for weasely Ryan, if only to see Michael’s faith in people rewarded. Sadly, no. They sell, but Michael leaves us with a great, classic Office monologue:

The world sends people your way. Ryan came to me through a temp agency. Andy was transferred here. No idea where Creed came from. The point is you just have to play with the cards that you’re dealt. Jim – that guy is an ace. Dwight is my king up my sleeve. Phyllis is my old maid. Oscar is my queen. That’s easy. Give me a hard one – that’s what Oscar said. Toby is the instruction card you throw away. Pam is a solid seven. And yeah, you know what? Ryan is probably, like, a two. But sometimes twos can be wild, so watch out. And I am obviously the joker.

I thought we were going to see another callback to The Office’s good old days with an awesome Jim prank at the end – he had been cutting dialogue from Jo Bennett’s biography-on-tape, and I thought he was going to find a way to get his hard-earned commission from Gabe and Sabre. Disappointingly, it was just a prank on Gabe, and a pretty mild one at that, though I guess I can’t fault the writers for not wanting to turn Jim into an embezzler. I do wonder though if Jim might’ve found in Gabe a new target for his pranks … it wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying as sticking it to Dwight (that’s what she said?), and Gabe’s a pretty sympathetic (but still annoying) character, so it might not work. But, Office writers? A change (a change) would do you… would do you good (A change would do you good)

Community, “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design”: And That’s Why You Always Leave a Note!

I’d started to think that maybe writing about TV had made me (more) cynical, because while there have been some solid episodes of Glee, The Office and Community in the past few weeks, it had started to seem like I no longer felt excited and energized and wholly enthusiastic about certain episodes the way I used to. But I realized after watching this week’s Community that it wasn’t me – it was them.

Because this episode rocked my socks. Amazing writing, amazing story, amazing performances – more fun than a giant blanket fort. I love when Community acknowledges those secret childish desires that we all still have to do things like make dioramas and build blanket forts and walk around on moon shoes (just me?) How much FUN was that blanket fort? The answer is so much. SO MUCH FUN. Britta is a bitch, and anyone who is too good for a blanket fort is no friend of mine.

There are episodes where I have a lot to say because there were good points and bad, and there are episodes that are so terrible, they require a manifesto, but this episode of Community doesn’t require much because it was just fun.

The Annie/Jeff/Dean Pelton/Professor Professorson back-and-forth, twist-and-turn storyline kept getting more and more hilariously ridiculous, and I found myself laughing out loud as the shots rang out. I was glad to see the writers finally acknowledge the Annie/Jeff cliffhanger from last year, and Jeff’s line “You are going to Nancy Screw me out of my free credit!” was terrific. The whole episode was terrific. It was reminiscent not only of the greatness of last season’s paintball episode, but I hope we all thought of J. Walter Weatherman and the perils of teaching lessons, a la the “Pier Pressure” episode in season one of Arrested Development. And if we didn’t all think of that, then we all need to be watching a little less CBS and a little more IFC.

Anything that calls back to arrested Development is bound to be good, but Community is making a name for itself all on its own. It’s a smart, funny, relatable comedy with a great cast (minus Britta), and great writing. Episodes like these remind me why I love TV.

The Office, “Viewing Party”: I wanted to eat a pig in a blanket… in a blanket.

I felt like this episode had more highlights than some of the recent episodes, but The Office is still on life support. We may see shadows of its former spark, but it’s gone, people. I can only hope that NBC lets it fade away in peace at the end of this season.

So, what’s good? Erin. Her innocent and naive act is a little annoying at times, but most of the time, it’s just the kind of un-self-aware goofiness that made this show’s best characters memorable. When she very seriously told Gabe that Waco was pronounced wacko in the cold open, it’s hard not to find her well-intentioned ignorance a little endearing. GayMike, best friends?

But for every cute moment (not particularly funny, but cute), there’s also Michael’s grandpa/space station fantasy which is just awkward and makes the audience feel guilty for thinking that Michael is such an idiot. I get that it’s supposed to make his character sympathetic, but you just feel bad that this guy is so socially maladjusted that these dreams are probably never going to come true for him. Womp womp.

As usual, Dwight comes out with a few amusing lines – “Of all feelings to base a show around? Glee? Thirst – now that’s a show I’d watch.” And of course, the line I’ll be co-opting for my own nefarious purposes: “Join the real world. Sex contracts exist!”  I hope his “situation” with Angela is going somewhere – I’ve got to believe it is because it’s starting to drag, and I’m anxious to see what the writers have been building to.

It’s so strange that The Office can be so good about building some storylines for entire seasons – Dwight and Angela’s relationship, Andy pining for Erin, and Michael’s growing dissatisfaction with his work – and with others, they seem to come from nowhere and go nowhere. What was Michael doing in the first scene (not the cold open) when he was running around pretending to be busy and important? If he was imitating something from pop culture or trying to pull off an elaborate and ill-conceived joke, there would’ve been some context, but instead, he does it for no apparent reason and the “pay-off” is him telling Erin, “I was just kidding. I was kidding. I wasn’t mad.” Um, okay.

And the exchange between Michael and Erin? The daughter/father thing? Awkward and horrifying and completely without set-up or pay-off. Are we supposed to read into that strange silence, after Michael says “I am not your father” that Erin has some kind of father issues? That’s a pretty big leap or the audience to make on their own.

Michael bringing the old “that’s what she said” back was fun and familiar, but even that lacked the enthusiasm of previous seasons. I feel like I’m saying the same thing every week – it’s not bad, but it’s not good. The bar was set too high – both by this show in previous seasons and by other shows in the same time block – and now The Office just falls flat. When the best part of the episode is the small piece of 30 Rock I caught on my DVR, that’s not a good sign. But seriously, how hysterical was John Slattery on 30 Rock? Absolutely brilliant.

P.S. God bless Kelly and her spot-on Glee analysis. It’s hysterical to hear those kinds of insights coming from someone as vapid as her. But it works because if she’s going to have valid insights on anything, it’s going to be a pop culture phenomenon.

Community, “Cooperative Calligraphy”: Verbal dyspraxia and octopus laws.

Oh Dan Harmon, you saucy minx. Just when I start to get my Joel McHale lust under control, you have to put him in his underwear again! Aside from that highlight, this was an average to above average episode – nothing really groundbreaking, and there were certainly some weak points, but a solid mid-season contribution, nonetheless.

I maintain once again that Donald Glover is this show’s breakout star. “Sometimes I think I’ve lost something really important to me, and it turns out I already ate it.” Kudos to the writer who came up with that little bit of heaven and kudos to Donald Glover for delivering it in a way that makes it not only seem appropriate for that character but makes us all (no? just me?) think back and wonder if we’ve ever believed something was lost, only to realize it was… swallowed.

What this episode really left us with was questions. A hallmark of the great writing on Community is that there is enough obvious comedy to keep the casual viewer interested but enough layers to keep the dedicated fans invested. Britta knows what kind of underwear Jeff “usually” wears? Troy only carries a pillow in his backpack? Troy’s look when he realizes Shirley may have gotten pregnant during Halloween – was that a callback to her time stuck in the bathroom with Chang? Or something else? Mmm hmmm… (that’s a sassy, eyebrow raised, insinuating look mmm hmmm, by the way)

Also, Ryan Murphy – take note – this is how you build a plotline. With a few exceptions (Jeff seemed to go from 0 to maniac a little quick for believability), the build up during the great pen hunt was reasonable. We start off with platitudes, go to a cursory search around the room, and eventually land on a boys vs. girls strip search – I mean, that is, after all, how I got my favorite red Swingline stapler out of my thieving co-worker’s ass.

Speaking of making people uncomfortable, are the writers essentially telling us that Abed does, in fact, have Asperger’s? That seemed a little more implied prior to this episode.

Anyway, far more good elements than not-good elements this (um, last – sorry, busy weekend) week. The conclusion was particularly well done, and some of the subtler moments really landed for die-hard fans – Jeff’s lawyerspeak, Abed handing Annie the first piece of chocolate and Pierce jumping (so to speak) on the opportunity to take off his shirt. The closing bumper was great because – well, puppies, but also for the Dean’s booing of the “equality and togetherness” float. For me – a borderline-psychotic-dog-lover, the real question was, would I have rather watched this episode or the puppy parade, and the episode edged out the puppies, but only barely. I mean, puppies on one hand, Community (and Joel McHale) on the other?  Peanut butter? Chocolate? I’m just saying… a little more puppy screen time next time, and we may achieve the perfect episode.

Quality writing, people. Quality:

  • With every moment , these puppies grow older and less deserving of our attention.
  • Britta: So, if I took it, it’s larceny, but if you find it under Mother Hen, it’s a mistake. Shirley: Mother hen? I think we’re about the same age. Britta: Sure, unless time is linear. Shirley: I’ll make your ass linear. Britta: That doesn’t make any sense. Shirley: I’ll make your ass sense.
  • Gwynnifer
  • Just a quick nonviolent reminder…. (Fair warning to friends, family and co-workers: I will be using this insufferably)

The Office, “Christening”: Do you smell, like, a wet, warm cheese?

There’s really nothing wrong with The Office. Really, there isn’t. It’s just a show that’s run its course. It used to be SO funny and cutting-edge, and now, its lead-ins are the two funniest network sitcoms, and it just can’t keep up. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s done. I didn’t take notes for the first half of the episode – what was there to comment on? Jim and Pam’s relationship and new-baby mishaps are cute and funny in a facebook-update-from-a-new-parent-before-their-posts-get-so-boring-and-repetitive-that-you-want-to-kill-yourself kind of way, but they’re not “Diversity Day,” “Healthcare” or “The Alliance” funny. Was spontaneous dental hydroplosion really that funny? Or was it just a more innocent time?

Funny thing, extensive experience watching TV only gives you enough insight to say what’s wrong with a show, but not quite enough to tell you how to fix it. With the office, these characters and their social dysfunctions have just been done to death. Each week, they’re put into a new scenario or “situation” if you will, and either Michael or Dwight or both will act crazy. Jim, Pam, Phyllis, Darryl and Stanley will play the straight men and women, and everyone else gets to be a quirky side character. It’s like the writers expect some kind of “situational comedy” to emerge from putting the simple act of inserting the characters into a new scenario.

That might’ve been enough twenty years ago, and hell, it may have even been enough five years ago, though I truly think The Office used to have a certain irreverent quality that it’s lost, but it’s not enough any more. Dwight selling Sabre products at the church was typical Dwight. And it made me think “oh, that crazy Dwight! Always the salesman!” but it didn’t make me laugh. Ryan playing the anti-establishment card and complaining about the password-protected Wi-Fi made me think “oh, that hipster Ryan! Always with the ironic glasses!” but it didn’t make me laugh. And Toby’s sad sack struggle with even entering the church made me think “oh, poor Eeyore Toby! Always with the uncomfortable references to his screwed up life!” but it definitely didn’t make me laugh.

There were parts that made me smile…

  • everyone sneezing on Dwight
  • Michael’s godfather impression (though even that got a little sad and uncomfortable when Pam forced him to acknowledge that he was not, in fact, CeCe’s godfather)
  • Erin telling Michael “I wish I had a job that I could just leave”
  • Jim accusing Angela of stealing CeCe, only to find out she actually stole the scones
  • The kid who decided to bail on the mission trip
  • Erin telling Michael to “get in quick.” “Why quick?” “Because it’s faster”

It’s all solidly mediocre humor, but that’s the best I can say, and I think that these days, that’s the best The Office can do.

P.S. Looks like we missed reviewing The Office’s Halloween episode – insert the word “costume” after every sixth word above, and you’re good to go.

Community, “The Aerodynamics of Gender”: Double-bounce me!

Brace yourselves. I know that all four of you who read this do so for the joy of hearing me wax poetic about Joel McHale’s rockin’ body, and boy do I love the producers for putting it on display again in this week’s opening scene – a basketball game between Jeff and Troy – BUT I’m beginning to gather evidence that Joel McHale may actually be somewhat of an asshole in real life, which just makes those toned arms seem less majestic and that chiseled jaw a little less… I don’t know… chisel-y. Don’t worry – we’re not imaginary breaking up just yet, but he is on thin ice, mister, and he’d better watch his step.

Now that that messiness is out of the way, let’s talk about the fact that I can’t understand a fucking word that comes out of Abed’s mouth. I get that he was being insulting, but he talks too damn fast, and the volume is up on my TV as loud as it can get, and I just don’t understand rap music these days and why are all these kids on my lawn?!?!

Seriously, though, I bet this episode was 5-10% funnier than I thought it was because I couldn’t understand some of his mean-girl insults. He was “commissioned” by the girls (Britta sucks, btw) to be a bitch to the bitches but then he realized that all girls are bitches when he became the bitchiest bitch that ever bitched. The concept was fine, and the execution was above average, largely due to Chang’s background celebrations of every burn and “Oh Snap” moment.  He continues to be a highlight of the show as the misfit desperately trying to belong to the group. And props must be given to the writers for finding a good place for Chang after his fall from grace as the Spanish professor. More often that not, when shows significantly alter a character’s on-screen role, they either find a way to quickly bring the character back to his/her original place in the story (see: ‘The Office’ – Michael, Jim, Pam and Jim again) or the characters gets shoved awkwardly to the side because no one quite knows what to do with him/her (see: ‘The Office’ – Darryl, Ryan).

And then there was the trampoline. It was nice to see Jeff unwind a bit, and Donald Glover has seriously great comedic timing, but the main purpose of this B-story was that it provided a vehicle for Pierce to be hilariously insane. “I’m going to slit your butts’ throats!” “These balls… on your butts!”  “Enhance… enhance… enhance… stop. That’s it!” as the screen shows “How to download photos from you spy camera” in 96-point font.  Good stuff, all of it, but the absolute high point was Joshua the gardener’s completely out-of-left-field racism. Another example of Community keeping its viewers on their toes and guessing – that’s just good comedy, people.

And speaking of good comedy – the reemergence of the term “gaywad” continues to brighten my day like the neon wind shorts and matching leg warmers I wore when that term was in its heyday. Overall, it was a solid episode. I just don’t get why ‘Community’ insists on every episode having A Very Important Lesson. I wondered if it’s just more heavy-handed on this show, but maybe every comedy does it to keep its characters grounded, but honestly, 30 Rock, The Office and others don’t seem to bother with it most of the time, and I think they’re stronger for it… yes, even ‘The Office.’

Last but not least — the Abed/Troy bumper at the end was weak. If only the weather guy had been this guy – it would’ve been fantastic – one of those things that’s only relevant to a relatively small population, but that population would appreciate the shit out of it.

P.S. I still love you Joel. Mostly because of this. Let’s never fight again.