Arts & Culture

Jews Watching TV: Compatibility Mode

Two weeks in, it appears that along with the departure of Steve Carell, the most exciting narrative of the NBC Thursday Spring season will be the epic battle each week between Parks & Recreation and Community for funniest show on television. Read More

By / January 28, 2011
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Two weeks in, it appears that along with the departure of Steve Carell, the most exciting narrative of the NBC Thursday Spring season will be the epic battle each week between Parks & Recreation and Community for funniest show on television. Last night, P&R won by showing how hilarious it is to have Ron Swanson giddy as a school child, Andy run into a car, and many of the rest of the cast flu-ridden (leading Leslie to ask the night’s most resonate question, “Was I wearing a tiara when I came in here? Because if you happen upon it, will you have Lady Pennyface retrieve it and send it post hence?”).

Last night, the story might be that Perfect Couples was better than 30 Rock.  It feels as crazy to write as it probably does to read, but Perfect Couples was simply a more enjoyable 30 minutes of situationally comedic television.  We have undoubtedly loved 30 Rock for all of its six season but six seasons is still a long time and sometimes you have an episode that plainly is meh.

After two episodes, Perfect Couples is not as easily dismissed as it first appeared.  The premise – focusing each episode on a theme of marriage and having it play out differently over three different types of couples – has proven fertile for both necessary conflict and comedy.  In this way it is most reminiscent of Modern Family in that instead of avoiding clichés it embraces them in earnest and tries to put its own spin on it.  Perfect Couples stands as the one in show in this lineup that’s not trying to reinvent the wheel.

That is not to say Perfect Couples lacks ambition; it has shown itself to be packed with some bold flourishes.  With its quick cuts and frenzied score, it is easily the most frantically paced show of the night, which has successfully heightened the show’s farcical underpinning.  What has been really fun is that the stories are not told completely linearly; they use 30 Rockian cutaways not for absurdist diversions but to offer glimpses at where these couples started out and foreshadow future plot developments (like a not at all depressing Blue Valentine).  In last night’s episode, for example, this device was used to great effect to tell the surprising and ridiculous story of how Rex proposed to Leigh.

Not that the show is without kinks. Fundamentally, the writing and acting is grotesquely uneven.  There are three couples – the normal one, the crazy one (as Vance put it, “I’m big, she drinks from a jar, I really think this can work”), and the one that for some reason features Olivia Munn – yet they all do not contribute equally to the laugh creation.  The crazy one brings a lion’s share of the funny, the normal one operates as the necessary straight men, and the last one mostly exists as graveyard of failed punch lines.  As is often the case with young shows, the scripts were likely written before the cast was set, so one would hope that with time the characters will really start reflecting the actor’s voices.  If it gets enough episodes for this happen, Perfect Couples will grow into a decidedly good TV show.

Will it ever be one of the greats?  Probably not, but if <s>Kabletown’s</s> Comcast’s NBC decides to stick with this three-hour comedy racket, it might come to offer a nice relief from the high-wire cleverness of its line-up mates.  Meaning that Perfect Couples might be one of the best shows of any given night, but likely not operate at Parks and Recreation and Community’s current level.

So as the night’s winner, here is a clip from last nights Parks & Recreation