Monday, February 07, 2011

Must See TV

For twenty-some years people have been harshing on Saturday Night Live. Dana Carvey was on this week and did a facetious song about how his years were the best years. For at least the last ten years have complained about the decline of The Simpsons. For the last three or four people have done the same about The Office. It’s true, The Office isn’t what it used to be. But it’s also true that The Office is something else entirely.

I love the original UK Office. Its one-two punch of cringing and laughing was something to behold. And I greatly enjoyed the US Office following suit in their early seasons. But as the years have gone by the cringing has gone. One of the unique elements of the show, the awkward humor, has taken a back seat, only popping up once in a great while. And while I liked the awkwardness, I like the characters more. I think the main reason the cringing had to go is the writers couldn’t make us pity Michael Scott the same way we pitied David Brent. Because we don’t pity Michael, we like him; and we don’t want to see him go through what we wanted to see David go through.

The same is true for everyone else. Dwight is a creep, but he’s not Gareth. We wanted Tim and Dawn to get together, but it would’ve been much worse if Jim and Pam hadn’t. We root for pretty much every character in The Office. Many characters started out as punching bags, but have become lovable. Michael is the best example, but think how annoying Andy was at first. Dwight has come a long way. Gabe is currently getting punched but even he is fairly likable. Old minor characters are now likable (Daryl and Oscar) newer characters have jumped right into likable (Holly and Erin), even characters like Angela are as often likable as not now. In short, they’ve taken a mean show and made everyone so likable that any real meanness is unpleasant.

And while that makes the show less edgy, I can’t really say it’s worse. I thought watching Michael and Holly on the roof last week was very rewarding, more so than if there had been some intractable foot-in-mouth situation. If I ran The Office, I would end the show this season when Steve Carell leaves. But if they keep up the consistent charm, I’ll keep watching The Office.

Post Script

I shouldn’t encourage you to watch more television, but here are some reasons to watch the other members of NBC’s Thursday lineup.
30 Rock – the best show of the evening, if not the week. The characters are surreal caricatures, but they’re very entertaining ones. You can’t predict what will happen next on 30 Rock, and the interconnection between diverse comedic elements is downright literary.

Community – this show jumps the shark every week. Is it jumping the shark if you do it every single time? Whereas 30 Rock throws 30 kinds of jokes at you every episode, Community picks one topic/genre/theme to skewer and sticks with it for 22 minutes. It’s nearly as inventive, and sometimes more funny.

Parks and Recreation – Season 2 was roughly 30 times better than Season 1. Season 3 looks even better. Adam Scott has become the new straight man, allowing Rashida Jones to become more interesting. Aziz is still hilarious, Andy has become extremely watchable rather than painful, and Amy Poehler, though still handicapped by her character, is more enjoyable. But the real reason to watch is Nick Offerman, who deserves his own show, or even his own network.


Paul said...

So I have a question related to this. It's my opinion that 30 Rock is the best show on television. Downright literary indeed. However, I have to give a lot of credit to Community. It seems that Community takes more chances and may actually be more innovative and groundbreaking,(in way that Arrested Development and The Office were groundbreaking). Any thoughts on the subject?

Ranteumptom said...

The case of 30 Rock v Community. Two major differences come to mind: cast and concept.

30 Rock
Tina and Alec are outstanding. The rest of the cast are good. Can you really say Lutz or Tupher or even Jenna or Tracy are great actors/characters? I don't think so. The guest stars though, are done extremely well.
Episodes are coherent, even though they use a huge variety of jokes.

They don't have Tina or Alec, but they have a fantastic ensemble cast. Chevy was a has-been, Joel a cult figure, and everyone else unknown. They've done great things with the cast.
I don't think Community is more groundbreaking though. I admire what they've done twisting sitcom tropes, but I don't feel like it's on the same level as 30 Rock. 30 Rock is high concept, Community low concept. The execution of both shows is handled very well and I don't mean low concept to be an insult. But I feel like 30 Rock is some PHDs breaking the rules and Community is some high schoolers. Gifted high schoolers, but it didn't take a brain trust to come up with ideas like action cliche episode, Dungeons and Dragons episode etc.