Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Friday, December 10, 2010

NBC Thursday Night Line-Up Power Rankings: Week 11

This Week: Community>The Office>30 Rock

Let's go to the big board...

1) Community

2) The Office
3) 30 Rock
4) Outsourced still exists

Call me morose or Jewish but I realized last night that I LOVE characters being sad on Christmas.

I am reminded of the wedding scene from the Nora Ephron penned “When Harry Met Sally…”

Harry: Boy, the holidays are rough. Every year I just try to get from the day

before Thanksgiving to the day after New Years.

Sally: A lot of suicides.

Last night’s comedies were rife sadsackery – it was like…CHRISTMAS!

It is always darkest before the dawn, and really sad 2nd acts allows for the eventual more saccharine 3rd. Nowhere was that more apparent than the super dark, super brilliant episode of Community. Abed’s Christmas mother issues were alluded to in the Robocop episode so I expected there to be sad notes to this episode. That being said, I was not planning on viewing a bizarro world episode of In Treatment.

Beyond the Abed storyline it was arresting how honestly the characters addressed one another. Specifically, Abed’s song about why Britta cannot continue on the journey floored me. Stop-motion tears, jeeeez. Dan Harmon and Starburns (he co-wrote the episode) understood that characters in this ilk of Christmas story tend to emote in a more straight forward manner than what is commonplace in ironically-distant sitcoms. So the sad parts had to be more directly sad – Abed needed to get a letter from his Mom spelling out everything – and the ending needed to be overly sweet because that is the vocabulary of the platform.

This is what Community is so special at doing; their high-concept episodes are not spoofs or satires they are thoroughly understood homages. Where a lesser show would have tried to get cheap laughs by bastardizing Rankin/Bass plots or characters, Community approaches their iconic style of stop-motion with an appropriately sentimental point of view. And like the shows other high-concept episodes (Chicken, Paintball, Zombies), the use of genre mirrored the message of that episode. In this case, Abed put it best, “The meaning of Christmas is the idea that Christmas has meaning.”

In last night’s great episode of The Office the meaning was not necessarily that Darryl's daughter was visiting or that Holly was back or that Pam made a comic book for Jim, but the fact that this all transpired inside the office of The Office. One of my favorite parts of the series is that characters care about each other more than they realize. Holly was right, Jim and Dwight are obviously best friends.

This is the third great episode in a row, which is enough merit to 2nd place in the overall power ranking. Maybe this is a premature move stemming from my expectation that some of the series’s best work will come from the goodbye to Michael Scott arc. Regardless, last night’s The Office was darkly comedic and unabashedly sentimental, classic Mindy Kaling (the writer of the episode and our generations Nora Ephron in the making). Like Community, or probably vice versa, The Office has succeeded by creating as fully formed characters as have ever been scripted for TV. Jim speechlessly loving is wife and her gift, Andy failing at playing a Grinch, Erin fearless defending Michael, Kevin deriding Holly’s selfish maple candy hording ways, were all flawless executed moments rooted in 7 years of established characters.

This sort of sentimentality is hard for 30 Rock a show I love for its emotionally distance from its characters. 30 Rock has had some great Christmas episodes (“Ludachristmas” comes to mind) but this was not one of them. It kind of just went through the motions and had a character in black face, you know, classic 30 Rock.

Still, 30 Rock’s forgettable episode will be forgotten, where last night’s Community will last as another example of the tireless ambition and focused vision of the current best comedy (if not show period) on Television. To the victors goes the spoils...

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