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TV on the Television: Brief Reviews of Today’s Best Shows

December 2, 2011

The Thanksgiving holiday permitted some serious catching-up on my TV viewing. Before jumping into my thoughts on the recent directions of some of The Brown Tweed Society’s faves, I have to mention this wave of re-mastered Rolling Stones albums. The latest to receive a spiffing up, Some Girls still maintains the rough charm of late-70s New York. Odd that an album (along with Emotional Rescue) can so effectively capture the city’s mood when burgeoning styles of disco, punk and new-wave were all about to explode, yet every song was recorded in Paris. Perhaps that explains the bizarre Eastern-Bloc dialect (“Emotional Ceausescu”?) employed by Mick during the talk-down of the latter’s title track (“…Ah’ll be yuuh kniiiight iiin shiiiiining ahhhhh-muhhhh….”). If you can countenance lyrics far more appropriate for a bathroom wall than a Social Work classroom, prepare for some devilishly-fun rock n’ roll tunes. OK, on to the TV:

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. A show that caught me very late. Last season’s episode titled Mac’s Big Break was as funny and well-written as anything within the last 5 years, reaching Community-level heights. Dee and Dennis’ disastrous attempt at a podcast, Mac’s talk-radio cursing, Charlie’s observation that “we need to learn our hockey-words if we’re going to hang at the beach house”, and Mac’s screaming about the puck/ice substitute of beercans-on-pavement was “not regulation” – this was merely a setup for a glorious send-up of every ’80s movie montage one can imagine. The song (“…take it to the limit…THE LI-MIT! Walk along the ra-zor’s edge…”) was so spot-on, it deserves it’s own article.

Most of the show’s criticism involves the way the characters treat one another, not to mention anyone unlucky enough to enter their orbit (particularly if you’re from another cultural background). Yeah, they can be real jerkfaces. But that’s the point – think of the show as an anti-instructional manual for life. These five louts are already drunk by 11 AM on most days, and get their biggest thrills when they prevent the other group members from reaching any kind of success. Would it be realistic to expect them to not treat outsiders any different? “You tack on mass, you sacrifice flexibility, that’s a scientific fact!”

Don’t try this at home, kids.

The League. Similar to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, this program also features several complete arseholes together, mirroring the archetypes and roles one would find within groups of friends in junior high. One almost wonders how Ruxin (Nick Kroll), the primary instigator, is ever invited to anything involving this collective. Unlike Ruxin, Taco and Raffi are completely unaware that their antics make others uncomfortable. Poor Andre (Paul Scheer), a slightly-more-sardonic version of Parks & Rec’s Gerry (or is it Gary?), offers a clue into what Karl Pilkington must be like when the cameras and microphones are turned off.

While fantasy football is the only tangible thing that links this crew together, other than a similar love of some restaurant called Gibson’s, the league is really a McGuffin, like Rob Brydon’s Heat-laden scallops in The Trip. Lately, it’s been a tough watch, as some of the topics cross into the “ewww” realm. But that cast, which features Mark Duplass and several other notable performers, makes it work.

Community. As we’ve all heard, the best sitcom of this decade will be placed on hiatus in 2012. Any reader of The Onion’s AV Club remembers the ridiculously-detailed interview with creator Dan Harmon, where AV Clubber Todd VanDerWerff and Harmon discussed every episode of the show. I’ve often heard the phrase “He/she really put their entire existence into this project”, but I’ve never actually believed it until I read this interview with Harmon. This show deserves canonical praise, let alone survival, due to its rare Voltron of innovation, brilliance, hilarity and ability to (dare I say) warm the heart. But a syndication-level episode total absolutely has to happen, so we don’t have to worry about the spectre of Harmon, with James Garfield-level beard, wandering the streets of LA with a jug of wine in one hand and a list of “Classic ‘Wingers'” in the other. A legitimate Great like Harmon deserves better, damnit.

As VanDerWerff said in his TV on the Internet podcast that he hosts with Libby Hill (“some girl that lives with him”), the show is a victim of its innovation. Forget the issues with ratings and casual viewers, which every show seeks. How do you maintain the passion of your hard-core fans, who might take for granted an episode like “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design” (featuring the always-awesome Kevin Corrigan) when they’re still recovering from “Modern Warfare”, or “Remedial Chaos Theory”? It’s not – if I may – ‘streets-ahead’ to have expected Magic Johnson to get a triple-double every night, or for Dwight Gooden to drive in as many runs as he allowed in every start (although in 1985, it appeared that such things were possible). Community’s virtues – outside of the oft-forgotten manner in which it not only avoids the problematic treatments of race one finds within most other sitcoms, but transcends them – are finally being acknowledged in more mainstream elements of the media (among other examples, Slate.com’s Bill Wyman – no relation to THAT Bill Wyman – basically covers it every week). Here’s hoping #sixseasonsandamovie leaps from character-eating hashtag to Wikipedia category.

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