We are seven weeks into 2011, meaning we’ are at the point when the networks start cutting shows loose in consideration for the Fall. It is the wonderful time of year where we are reminded that for networks TV shows are simply the most entertaining way to spend the seven minutes between three minute commercial blocks.
For the NBC Thursday Line-up, there is definitely chaff in the midst of wheat, especially considering that none of the shows are especially well watched when compared to the Modern Familys and Glees of the world. So here is a preview of where the shows stand right now (from most bleak to the positively rosy)
Despite promise, Perfect Couples days – nay seconds are numbered. After six episodes it has developed so little traction that Ralph Nader is already working on a class action suit. At the end of the day, it was a multi-camera, laugh track dependent comedy in a single-camera’s body. Friends has held up surprisingly well over time but even it benefited from the rhythm and space filling of canned laughter. To make matters worse, Perfect Couples is in the perfect(!) timeslot for NBC to air Steve Carrel starring reruns of The Office before the eventual Carrel-less new episodes later in the season.
The former breakout (nominally watched for any other network) hit of NBC’s Fall season has struggled mightily at 10:30. In addition to its difficult airtime, Outsourced is slotted as not only the sixth of six comedies but also the fourth workplace sitcom in a row. If laugh fatigue were a thing, five million people would have it by the time this loveable bunch of Indians (and unlovable bunch white people) beam onto their TV screens. They also are not doing themselves any favors with how aggressively unfunny the not funny parts are. It has finally developed a consistent joke infrastructure but far too often it uses lowbrow as a crutch. Last night might have been a series best – the mustached Ragiv as a tying women to a train track villain was one of the night’s stand out bits – yet it still had a share of hard-to-watch jokes. That being said, NBC does not hate the show as much as many of the early critics did. The hope was probably to have it build a consistent enough audience, in which they could move it to another night. Alas, it seems they are left to choose between it and the critically lauded Community.
Yep, as laughable as it may seem, Community might get canceled to make room for Outsourced. Regardless of how praised it is, Community is not a well-watched show and its ambition is seemingly very costly. If you give the NBC executives the credit in understanding that it is a revolutionary show then you must assume that they understand that it might be too challenging for a broad audience. Take last night’s brilliant episode, which somehow took the mockumentary in a completely new direction. Previously, a comedy would either spoof the format (Spinal Tap) or use it as unacknowledged plot device (the American Office). Instead, Community – as they do – completely worked within the vocabulary of the format, played it straight, and effectively had fun with actual documentaries and those shows pretending to be one. This is pretty heady stuff for an 8:00pm time slot. Still, it is this ambition that will likely (hopefully) save Community. NBC’s new boss, Kabletown Comcast, has vowed to be a friend of the artist and Community is undeniably art. Wishful thinking or not, this show deserves to be on the air and we think it will be this time next year.
Parks & Recreation
The show is as secure as it has ever been. It is getting solid numbers thus far and the forced hiatus provided the necessary catalyst for a more impassioned fan base. Simply, Parks & Recreation is operating at the highest and most consistent level of any comedy on television. It might not be as ground-breaking as Community but it exist as the day’s platonic ideal of a situation comedy, putting out 30 minutes of beautiful paced, honestly felt, painful funny television every week. More pragmatically, NBC would not have brought the show back at all this season if it did not think it was worthy. So unless, P&R takes a completely unlikely turn for the worse, it will be fine. Though, it is probably too early to get excited about the idea of a complete season after this split-up nonsense.
Other than the crossing of the F’s and dotting of the I’s, The Office is as secure as any on the network. Unlike the rest of this ragtime bunch, people actually watch The Office and this season reminded the fans and doubting-critics alike why. The funniest season in years is likely in response to the renewed urgency that came from Steve Carrel’s impending departure yet this quality of output appears likely to continue as for the first time in six years the show has something to prove. We are decidedly on the Pro-Michael Scott leaving side and are hopeful for where the show will go next year.
It has spent so many years on the cancellation bubble that it is nice that it was the first picked-up for next year. This is likely due to some sort of Hollywood power play, however, we like to think it is because of some unspoken Philadelphia loyalty on behalf of Kabletown Comcast. Even more likely, is that Tina Fey is a national treasure and 30 Rock has been an unstoppable force of jokes for five seasons. With each passing season the stakes have escalated, and last night showed Liz Lemon at her most Lemony. With a cat named Emily Dickenson and a fanny pack in tow, Liz appeared to finally have given up. Only to be saved by a man that was precisely trained to bed her and her friends. It was quite possibly the most sentimental episode in the show’s run and we ate it up. Maybe, this is the direction 30 Rock will look to steer heading into next year, Alec Baldwin’s last as the incomparable Jack Donaghy. Last night’s episode was the best of the night, so we hope so.
So as the night’s winner, here is a clip from last night’s 30 Rock