Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Friday, December 3, 2010

NBC Thursday Night Line-Up Power Rankings: Week 10

This Week: The Office>Community>30 Rock

Let's go to the big board...

1) Community
2) 30 Rock
3) The Office (though trending up)
4) Outsourced still exists

There was a small window between February 2006 and October 2006 – between the end of Arrested Development and the start of 30 Rock - that The Office was the hands down best comedy on Television. It was the smartest, funniest, and, maybe most importantly, the most touching. It was subversive and clever without ever coming across as overly too cool for school as many great contemporary comedies do. Then the 30 Rock joke juggernaut debuted and The Office just did not seem so funny/smart/clever/subversive.

The Office won the night last night by deftly offering emotional heft, thus succeeding where 30 Rock almost always fails and Community got a little bogged down by last night. At first I was wary of the whole Michael v. China arc but then it became apparent that it was really Michael v. Oscar. Instead of trying to clumsily eek out a satire (cough cough 30 Rock cough) from this arc, The Office smartly decided to examine how a small town would react to this news.

Still the star of the episode was Pam, who this season has slowly started coming into her own as a character separate from Jim (Is she the next boss?). Pam v. Dwight was hilarious and tense,with a 100% emotionally resonate conclusion. It was a story that made me think back to the history of the two characters – Dwight’s concussion, Dwight’s caring for CC, the two being trapped in an elevator – and I realized it was completely justified for Dwight to act so compassionately.

Historically, this is exactly what the show has been great at, even for those couple of years when the show just was not as funny. It got to a point where I started watching The Office as an atypical 30 minute comedic drama. I think this season has been one of the funniest of the last couple years* yet it is the ability to deftly handle drama that can set it apart.

In contrast you have 30 Rock that is so impersonal, so cold that any attempts at emotion come across as condescending. Last night’s episode had some funny moments but was dominated by cringe-worthy attempts at heart. For better of worse, the show has been about jokes, and character development can get in the way. Liz, instead of being a character that must deal with the desire to “have it all”, has almost developed into a satire of the overworked late 30's single woman. Maybe we aren't supposed to care and maybe it is just me, but I fear that 30 Rock's joke machine model of comedy just has not aged well.

Then there is Community that is not necessarily trying to blend the two** but trying to take the best parts of all of them to the MAX. I have consistently applauded Community for its quixotic ambition but as last night’s episode showed its not easy to have your cake, eat it, make a meta joke about singing Happy Birthday on television, have a birthday used to reveal that Troy’s Mom lied to him about his real age, and have Troy realize that the people he looked up to are no better than he is TOO. For lack of a better word, the episode just felt weird. It was predominantly sad and dark (not dark comedy dark just dark dark). When Troy made that "It's like the Lifetime movie of beverages" joke, I started to wonder if the entire episode was supposed to be a meta-satire of such. What was the moral of the story: Look how sad grown-ups really are, which is why they need escapist comedies like Community? Other than Troy:

- Abed realized that he is so emotionally detached that his friends feel comfortable making out on top of him.

- Annie realized she has no idea who she is, and what she does know she doesn't like.

- Britta and Jeff realized they are messed up idiots that are perfectly awful for each other.

- Shirley comes face to face with her sorted past and just runs off.

- And Pierce, jeez.

Maybe its a testament to the shows commitment to making sure the characters seem realistic, as the reality of the world around them could drop out at any moment. And I liked the episode because I like sad stuff. Still, it was weird.

It is just growing pains for a young show. The Office has had its fair share of emotional clunkers along the way but as last night proved for a show to have true longevity, heart is essential. For that reason, To the victors goes the spoils...

* The ascension of Darryl might be the main reason for the comedic upswing. First, it helps that Craig Robinson is hilarious. Second, he is one of the few characters where their primary joke has not been exhausted. I hope he becomes the new boss.

** One can argue that Parks & Recreation is actually a closer blend of the heart/realism of The Office and the laugh-pace/absurdity of 30 Rock. Oh how I miss it so.

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