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Posts Tagged ‘Parks and Recreation’

Two Terrific Comedies You’re Not Watching

November 19th, 2009 No comments

Amidst all of the hoopla over NBC giving over five hours a week of prime time to Jay Leno, another story has been largely lost: the (creative) resurgence of the Peacock’s Thursday comedy lineup. If anything, it’s better than ever; even back in it’s “Must See TV” days, NBC’s Thursday inevitably had one series that was simply placeholding. There’s no Jesse or Veronica’s Closet here.

Now, none of them are “hits,” even under the greatly diminished expectations of today’s broadcast industry. The biggest audience success is The Office, which pulls down a 5 rating on a good day. And, despite all the awards and the post-Palin buzz surrounding Tina Fey, 30 Rock is nothing like a mass-audience appeal show. (In fact, the running storyline this season has the show-within-a-show trying to hire new talent in an attempt to win over “real America.”)

Unfortunately, the two newcomers–Community and Parks and Recreation–aren’t doing even that well in terms of Nielsen numbers. Yet for me they’ve made Thursday a night on which I can anticipate the laughing off of my ass.

(One caveat here: I am not a fan of The Office. I know people like it, but neither version of the series has ever done a thing for me. I checked out a few early episodes because of Steve Carell, but it comes from the school of comedy that depends on awkward pauses and cringe-worthy moments.)

Community is built around Joel McHale–a comedian Vic and I have enjoyed as the host of E’s The Soup.–but I think that the real strength of the series is its ensemble. McHale plays a lawyer who has to go back to school after his dodgy college degree is invalidated. Smitten with a hot, young thing named Britta, he creates a fake Spanish study group in an attempt to bed her, but the group soon takes on a life of its own. It becomes, if you will, a community.

I like how it takes a bunch of random people who would normally have no reason to hang together and bounces them off each other in unexpected ways. In addition to McHale’s semi-skeevy Jeff and aforementioned lust interest Britta, there’s divorcee Shirley, ex-football star Troy, film student/savant Abed, brainy Annie andĀ elder weirdo Pierce.

Pierce is played by Chevy Chase, someone I’d long ago written off as a once-funny asshole. But here he reminds me of what I liked about him in the first place. And, to my surprise, he can still pull off a pratfall.

alisonbrieI must admit that I’ve become rather fond of Alison Brie as Annie. No doubt that some of that is wish-fulfillment; her character is exactly the sort of girlfriend I longed for back in high school. But I like that she’s been able to throw off the shackles of simply being “the smart one” on the show. A recent episode had her as an all-too-willing enabler of an experiment in psychological torture to which only Abed was immune.

Abed is the breakout character of the show, a milder version of Sheldon onĀ The Big Bang Theory. Like Sheldon, he appears to be living with Asperger’s, but unlike him, he seems to be a keen student of character. Last week’s episode hinged around his strangely prescient student films based on the lives of his fellow study groupees.

Also, he makes a great Batman.



Meanwhile, Parks and Recreation has turned from a fluttering Office-wannabe into the night’s most dependable comedy. During its short test-run last season it didn’t generate a lot of laughs, but I could at least see the potential there.

Like Community, I was drawn to the show by the presence of someone I’ve liked elsewhere: Saturday Night Live star Amy Poehler. Poehler’s character, well-intentioned deputy director Leslie Knope, has been toned down a lot this season after initial episodes played her as intensely-focused yet clueless. She’s become much more self-aware and therefore more sympathetic, even as she’s continued on her tireless crusade to turn the local dumping pit into a children’s park.

The show has a great deal of fun lampooning small-town politics, with ferocious turf-battles fought over the likes of zoning permits. Pawnee, Indiana is a place with a rich history of institutionalized racism (decorated with such hilarious WPA-era murals as “A Lively Fisting“), where everyone acknowledges that the library is “evil” (its librarians are notoriously vicious schemers).

Here again, Parks and Recreation benefits from a strong supporting cast, including Aziz Ansari as Tom Haverford, who adopted his unlikely, white bread moniker because he didn’t think his given name of Darwish Sabir Ismael Gani would get him far in politics. He’s the office sleaze, but there are hints of heart lurking underneath.

And, as with Alison Brie over on Community, I like Rashida Jones as Leslie’s friend Ann. Rashida is the daughter of Quincy Jones and Peggy Lipton (of The Mod Squad), and she’s easy on my bleary eyes. She’s also pretty funny, even though she’s more of the straight woman to the more broadly comic characters.

The funniest of these is Ron Swanson, played by former University of Illinois grad Nick Offerman. (He graduated in 1993 according to Wikipedia; that’s four years after I started work here!) Swanson’s deadpan minimalism masks his inner absurdity. He moonlights as saxophonist “Duke Silver;” has a thing for dark-haired women and breakfast foods; and has two ex-wives and a mother all named Tammy. (One of the Tammys is Offerman’s real-life wife Megan Mullally, who recently played the wicked head of the Pawnee library.)

I could do without the series’ employment of the fake-documentary style used by The Office. That sort of thing works fine in a one-off like This is Spinal Tap, but for an on-going series it starts to grate after a while. I mean, really, there’s been a film crew following around Jim and Pam for five years?

While both Parks and Recreation and Community continue to struggle in the ratings, hopefully NBC has enough other problems that it will be patient with them. For me, at least, they really are Must See TV.