Checking in on NBC’s New Thursday Night Lineup
NBC’s critically vaunted (but, sadly, lowly rated) Thursday night lineup returned with new episodes two nights ago. We here at TBTS have gone on record—multiple times—declaring our love, fascination, and even disappointment with the comedies that populate the Thursday slate. So let’s do a mid-season check-in with the latest incarnation of NBC Thursday:
30 Rock at 8:00 p.m. — A welcome return for the cleverly written award winner. The newsworthy twist is the veiled introduction of a new love interest for Liz Lemon, which could be promising. But overall I found this episode to be a mostly low-key affair, with Jack Donaghy showing a growing paternal softness, Tracy Jordan still flailing (they don’t seem to know what to do with him these days), and the secondary characters still playing their one notes for all they’re worth. The “Kenneth waiting for the rapture” jokes fell a bit flat. Still, when this show finds jokes that hit, they hit hard. America’s Kidz Got Singing was a sharp and hilarious send-up of, you know, everything that’s wrong with TV these days. And only 30 Rock could lampoon the WNBA, by characterizing their halftime entertainment as a ragtag dance team of retirees and middle-agers of questionable physical fitness, and find the right sweet spot between good-natured and mean-spirited parody.
Parks and Recreation at 8:30 p.m. — Parks continues to kill it with startling consistency, week after week after week. I’ve written before about several elements that establish this show as clearly one of the very best we have, including its depth of characterizations and its powerful but unobtrusive promotion of the virtues of civic engagement. Here I’ll just point out the richness of the show’s universe—the fictional town of Pawnee continues to grow as a character all its own. [By the way, if you’re a fan of this show, the tie-in book Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America is well worth your time.] Also, I must point out the inspired visual imagery of the Leslie’s campaign rally scene. The scene, in which Leslie and the gang must walk gingerly across an ice rink because their red carpet has run out, perfectly represents Leslie’s loss of the political establishment’s backing (the red carpet) and the new, improvised, amateurish approach (walking on thin ice) to which she must resort for the rest of the campaign. Best of all, this conceptually stellar scene is executed brilliantly, with excellent physical and visual comedy that rivals the genre-defining lunacy of a Buster Keaton or a Charlie Chaplin. I can say this about only one or two other television shows still producing new episodes—Parks and Recreation is a source of actual joy in my life. Not mild amusement or middling entertainment, a la Modern Family or, dare I say, Community (sacred cow alert), but honest to God joy. I love this show with all my heart.
The Office at 9:00 p.m. — Everything we’ve written about The Office continues to hold mostly true. The show lacks a center and, at best, is treading water. The bar trivia setting offered a few nice moments. The jokes at the expense of Kevin (he’s stupid) and Oscar (he can be an overbearing intellectual windbag) were predictable but amusing. I’m sure I’ll continue to watch the show, probably until it ends, but I’m wishing more and more that they’d pull a Lost or a Breaking Bad, announce an end date well in advance (Spring 2013, perhaps?), and start pushing toward an endgame and a worthwhile, reputation-redeeming conclusion. Barring that, the show needs a radical overhaul, but I just don’t think the creative team and commercial entities involved have the wherewithal to make that happen.
Up All Night at 9:30 p.m. — This is a fine show with a great cast and solid writing. I feel like Up All Night took a few episodes to find itself, but its depth and distinctive voice have become dependable. I hope it finds a foothold and has a nice long run, as the TV universe is better when Will Arnett, Christina Applegate, Maya Rudolph, and Jason Lee have a solid platform from which to display their talents. My wife and I were dying during the scene in which Chris (Arnett) and Reagan (Applegate) were listing each other’s glaring faults on a whiteboard and “banning” those behaviors from appearing during the new year. This show is reliably funny stuff.
The Firm at 10:00 p.m. — Man, that scene where the heroic white lawyer teaches us all an important lesson about racism was awesome and…just kidding. There’s no way I’m going to watch this bunk. I’m sure there was a scene or a theme similar to that, though, given that this thing has John Grisham roots, and I’m sure it was offensively shallow. The only other thing I have to say is that it’s clear why NBC is mired in the ratings basement, if adding new chapters to a 20-year-old legal thriller mediocrity is the Peacock Network’s best effort at a “fresh new idea.” The only thing more unnecessary than a 2012 TV version of The Firm would be a real-life version of America’s Kidz Got Singing.