Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Return of NBC's Thursday Night Comedies



The long cold winter of endless reruns is finally over. We welcome back the classic tradition of Thursday night comedies on NBC, with brand new episodes of 30 Rock and The Office this past Thursday. They are both riveting and in top form, but has anybody besides me noticed something rather peculiar about television comedies these days? 30 Rock and The Office are cleverly acted, smart, quirky and fascinating. Their plots are woven tighter than a Navajo rug. But do you ever actually laugh when you're watching? Is it possible for a sit-com to be successful and beloved without actually being funny? My answer? Who cares, as long as it isn't boring.

30 Rock:
The love-hate relationship between Liz Lemon the producer and Jack Donoughy the TV "Suit" is back and weirder than ever. In this episode, someone has leaked a tidbit to the "Page Six" gossip columnist that Jack is a "Class A Moron". The B story concerns Jack's new hit network reality show, "MILF Island". How on God's Green Earth did the acronym MILF escape the NBC censor's radar screen? Check out the announcer-host on this show within a show who does a spot-on impression of Ryan Seacrest. The C-Story is a harrowing and claustrophobic "man vs machine" moment when Hornberger gets his hand stuck in a vending machine.

The Office:
An exquisite slam-dunk return for the most fascinating half-hour on television (until Flight of the Conchords comes back to HBO at any rate). Michael and Jan host a dinner party that quickly deteriorates into a torturous food-free, Merlot soaked train wreck. From the first creepy moments when a tour of their apartment reveals that Jan forces Michael to sleep on a tiny narrow bench to the domestic disturbance ending where Jan breaks Michael's precious new 12 inch plasma screen TV, this episode is a grab bag of surreal scenes. Melora Hardin as "Jan" is well on her way to becoming this season's breakout character. In fact, contrary to my opening comments above, Jan is astonishingly funny, as a bored professional woman perpetually on the verge of a giant meltdown.
America's office sweethearts Jim and Pam as well as new couple Andy and Angela witness the dark side of Michael and Jan's twisted relationship in a dinner party that is mysteriously lacking in food. The amazing Rainn Wilson, bereft at being excluding from Michael's party, shows up uninvited at the end with a homeless lady that he has plucked off the street to be his "date".

Both 30 Rock and The Office are so quick and inside and multi-layered, you have to watch them a couple times in order to really "get" it all. Fortunately, NBC has made this very easy, by posting all episodes, including the most current ones on NBC.com for all the world to view as many times as they would like. This is very clever of NBC and the Flaming Nose gives them a hearty honk for being so friendly to the Internet.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

In terms of laughing at the shows, actual laughter, I did chuckle at "30 Rock" -- the weird lines about her extra foot, and when she called the page Lil Abner and told him to shut his fried bologna hole -- several times, but the difference with these shows in particular is that they don't work and wait for the laugh lines and thank goodness they're not shot in front of an audience, which so often ruins a show. These are really furious little intellectual farces played out sans laugh track, though the track works for "New Adv. of Old Christine" -- that does have a track, doesn't it? I seem to recall laugher during the show -- and is hilarious in a different way. More squirming than anything else at "The Office" (just like in the Brit version, that hasn't changed!). Such a great hour of comedy -- and indeed, the MILF thing is actually kind of shocking and amazing it got by, isn't it? Definitely not the shows for everybody, I guess! Great post, Jane!