Arts & Culture

Jews Watching TV: NBC Thursday Night Preview

It was the night before shabbos, and all through the house were Jews watching NBC’s famous Thursday night comedy lineup. Read More

By / January 20, 2011
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Though sometimes the shows on NBC’s Thursday night comedy line-up are surprisingly not Jewfilled – with Annie, played by the day’s preeminent female Ashkenazi sexy symbol, Alison Brie, as the only explicitly Jewish lead character – most operate in the uber-intelligent realm of American comedy that Jews did the brunt of the work defining.  As hard as it is to accept that Tina Fey and/or Liz Lemon is not a chosen person, solace can be taken in that likely a large amount of the folks on the other side of the camera make sure the night is semitically represented.  This is why we feel we are the one’s best prepared to tackle the enormity of the line-up each week.

When NBC announced this November it was moving to a six-show/three hours of comedy Thursday line-up many were incredulous as the concept is mostly unheard of on basic cable and none of the shows are particularly well watched.  For example, the line-ups most popular show, The Office, still gets beat in the ratings each week by the comedy black hole known as Sh*t My Dad Says.  What separates the night from the rest of the network’s parade of unwatched inanity is that many of these show are good, like really good, like standard-bearers for the American sitcom good.

Still, we understand there is a lot to catch-up on, so here is a refresher on where each show stands before the start of the spring season:

Community 8:00pm

After a great freshman outing, Community’s second season has made a persuasive argument for why it is the not only the best comedy but quite possibly the best show on television.  Each week it seems to redefine the rules of what is possible on a sitcom.  Beyond its ability to undertake the attention grabbing, high-concept episodes, what has made the show so special is the honesty and depth of it characterization.  “Cooperative Calligraphy”, better known as the “Bottle Episode”, was a masterpiece of character-based situation comedy.  It exhibited that the show is able to pull-off its fantasy/reality blurring arcs because how grounded and human the characters and their relationships are.  This season has focused on each member of the study group coming to terms with the person they have become; from Troy accepting his inner-nerd to Annie reconciling her uptight high school self with her burgeoning physical confidence to Britta and Jeff’s subversion of the will-they-won’t-they cliché by pushing the audience to root for won’t.  If it continues on the same roll as its first half, Season two of Community has potential to be something truly great.

Perfect Couples 8:30pm

Perfect Couples is the sole new kid on line-up, and though it might not seem to be a “perfect” fit yet it is not exactly a sore thumb on the six-fingered hand metaphor. Created by two comedy-writing journeymen with credits ranging from Friends and 30 Rock to Joey, and starring Olivia Munn who continues to build a career around being consistently inexplicably cast, it does not come with the pedigree of the night’s heavy hitters.  It is still a single camera format and, if the first episode posted on Hulu late last year is any indication, there does seem to be a desire to really explore various perspectives on common marital themes. If Modern Family is The Office of the classic family ilk of sitcom, NBC appears to be trying to make Perfect Couples the 30-something relationship version.  It is not there yet but the first episode showed a good deal of promise, especially with the Vance and Amy couple that was responsible for 100% of the laughs.

The Office 9:00pm

With nothing at stake, The Office’s decline was undeniable as the show started to flounder as the Jim and Pam arc approached its resolution. Then before the start of season seven it was announced Steve Carell was leaving the show, giving the series a new sense of purpose.  Smartly, the writers have focused as much on Michael leaving as establishing the heir to the regional paper/printer throne.  If there is a frontrunner, it is Darryl, who due to a hilarious and nuanced performance by Craig Robinson, has evolved from a tertiary character to one of the most complex of the series. The season so far has been its most consistent and rewarding one in years and with the looming Michael swan song arc, we can expect a lot highlights to come.

Parks & Recreation 9:30pm

The first episode of Parks & Recreation second season kicked off with Leslie accidentally marrying two gay penguins and effectively creating a town-wide controversy. The hilarious episode sent a clear message that P&R was a different, more ambitious show then what they showed in its underwhelming first season.  At first the comeback comedy of the year, it evolved into the hands down funniest 30 minutes on TV. Last season ominously ended with the government shutting down indefinitely, leaving the loveable bunch at the Parks Department left unsure if they will ever get to fill a pit again.  On a positive note this shut down came from the hands of two state auditors, who played by Adam Scott (Boy Meets World/Party Down) and Rob Lowe (a million handsome fellow roles) are welcome additions to the already strongest comedic ensemble working today.

At its best, which is almost all the time, Parks & Recreation blends the heart and subtlety of The Office, the DVR-pausing joke-blitz of 30 rock, and a Simpsonian desire to explore the people and places of an absurd small town. With poor ratings, even by NBC standards, Parks & Rec was forced to ride the bench this fall.  Luckily, it seems poised to finally break this spring due to the rising star power of Aziz Ansari and its natural placement following the similar and popular Office.

30 Rock 10:00pm

30 Rock is so great that in a relatively down year the show is still can’t miss.  Famously, avoidant of too much plot and character development, this season has shown many of its leads at their most mature; Jack is engaged and a soon to be father, Tracy is nominated for a Golden Globe, Jenna has met her soulmate in the form of a Jenna Maroney impersonator, and even Liz has maintained a relationship for 12 episodes and counting.  More than anything, 30 Rock is a finely tuned joke machine that few shows can hold a candle when it is at its best.  Also, a move to 10:00pm will hopefully allow them to push the envelope even further and get out of the rut they are not really in in the first place.

Outsourced 10:30pm

The vitriol spat at Outsourced was so enthusiastic that the show ended up coming out on the other end underrated.  It is not necessarily a good show but it is also not an affront to annals of television history.  The show is also not nearly as racist as people liked to claim as it generally hovers in the same range as 30 Rock on most nights.  The highlight is the acting by many of the Indian characters, especially Ragiv who gets at least a couple laugh out loud one-liners an episode.  Also, the main will-they-won’t-they story arc is interesting because of the female’s looming arranged marriage, though it gets weighed down by the beyond bland performance of the show’s lead played by Ben Rappaport.  Most importantly for the future of the show, people actually watched Outsourced.  It was the #1 new series across all networks among the desirable 18-34 demographic, garnering better ratings than Community almost every Thursday.  Meaning, as scary as it might seem, Outsourced seems like it is here to stay.