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Thursday Night 'Lights: Ho-Hum Halloween

Joel McHale, Rainn Wilson, and Amy PoehlerIt's always fun to see how our favorite shows celebrate Halloween. This week's comedies featured wacky costumes and even ghost stories, and yet all felt like a bit of a letdown. Let's take a look at how each comedy tackled the spook-tacular holiday.

COMMUNITY

"Why are you so determined to have us relax and put down all our weapons?"

Britta's newfound interest in psychology is used as an excuse for the gang to tell each other spooky stories, each showcasing their own personality quirks. Her fear that one of them has homicidal tendencies after they take one of her psych tests yields fun variations of cliched horror movies. Of all the stories, I enjoyed Britta's and Abed's the best: Britta's because her story was fuzzy on the details in a way many of us tell stories ("And he's mental on the loose and stuff and has a thingy with a hand") and Abed's for being completely logical (I wish all characters in horror characters awaiting the boogeyman stood back to back holding knives with a fully charged cellphone).

While the episode was enjoyable, it also felt a little slight. The other ghost stories told us what we already know about Troy, Pierce, Annie, and Shirley without being surprising or even very funny (although I enjoyed how Annie's dream seemed to be a bizarre mix of vampire romance fantasy and a PSA about illiteracy). There was a lot potential in this premise but it instead felt like the writers went for the obvious jokes, like Shirley's sermonizing and Pierce's lechery, which we've multiple times before. It was kind of saved by the revelation that all of the characters except for Abed have homicidal tendencies—at the very least it explains why they would hang out together.

Random asides:

  • Nice to see the Halloween version of the opening credits again.
  • The beginning of the episode showed most of the group dancing. Perhaps this should be a staple of every episode?
  • Poor Britta. Not only has her name become synonymous with making dumb mistakes, but Troy's opinion that "ruining a Britta party is like letting poop spoil" is unfortunately accurate.
  • Best costume: Dean looked quite fetching as the Devil. Otherwise, not a lot of costumes to choose from in this episode.

PARKS AND RECREATION

"Mary Pickford said that failure isn't falling down, but the staying down. Tom won't be down for long."

I wanted to love this episode, and there were a lot of reasons to do so: A Halloween party at Andy and April's seemed very promising, especially because it guaranteed the return of creepy Orin (last seen during their wedding). But instead we saw the characters going through the motions, doing variations on things we've seen in past episodes. So there's Ron (and Ann, still trying to win his approval!) fixing things around the house, Tom being annoyingly over-the-top to promote the flailing Entertainment 720, and Ben looking perplexed as Andy holds him in headlock to get him to express his anger about the party. None of these subplots were terrible, but they weren't as good as what we've seen earlier this season.

What was interesting was seeing Leslie get truly angry. She called Tom a "bastard" and a "dick" for ruining her meet and greet with the Pawnee business community, although once she discovered the reasons for his antics, she quickly softened. Like the above quote attests, although she recognizes that Tom doesn't have the most common sense, he has unfailing energy and loyalty that will always keep him in the mix. Their relationship is strengthened again by the end of the episode, but we're left wondering how Tom will return to the Parks and Recreation office. Perhaps he'll be Leslie's campaign manager instead?

Random asides:

  • I love that Leslie has her standards. She says she'll chase votes, but won't go so far to eat salads and "other gross things."
  • Unlike Ron, I think a flashlight filled with jellybeans is essential for anyone's tool box.
  • The best part of the Halloween party was when April changed the expression on Jerry's Mr. Potato Head costume from a smile to a frown after he witnessed Chris and his daughter all over each other.
  • Favorite costume: April as a sumo wrestler after he's lost weight, although Donna looked pretty great as a cop too.

THE OFFICE

"I have three simple rules: Don't be offensive, don't be cliched, and don't take the first two rules too seriously."

A couple of weeks ago, I said that I didn't miss the character of Michael Scott. Well, I miss him now.  While watching this week's show, I remembered Michael's child-like joy in celebrating holidays like Halloween, and his wholehearted embrace of them is what often made those episodes so memorable. Without him at Dunder Mifflin, now we're just left watching...an office party. Everything that occurred was pretty dull. Jim is aghast that Pam believes in ghosts? Erin suddenly remembers that she likes Andy, and wants to date him again? None of this was interesting in the slightest.

The show's writers attempted to use Robert California to instigate the action by having him ask all the employees' their worst fears and then weaving them into a ghost story to creep everyone out. It wasn't much of a payoff, because we still don't know much about him beyond the fact that he likes messing with his employees' heads.

As I watched this episode, I began to realize what made The Office such a great show in its early seasons. We were given reason to truly care about the core characters, and even when Michael was at his most annoying, he was still someone to root for. Now all the characters are being drawn in broad, cartoonish strokes, and there's little at stake for any of them. Jim and Pam's will-they/won-they storyline was compelling because we saw them evolve as individuals over the course of several seasons. By contrast, Erin and Andy don't seem like people, but just walking punchlines. No matter how much the writers draw out their romance, they will never be Jim and Pam 2.0 for that reason. Right now, The Office is kind of like a mummy: the basic shape of its former self still exists, but it lacks a beating heart. 

Random asides:

  • Anyone else baffled by why Robert California would bring his son to a Halloween party at Dunder Mifflin?
  • Sometimes I forget that Gabe is still on this show, but I enjoyed his "Cinema of the Unsettling" video.
  • Best costume: Erin by far. She was an absolutely adorable Wendy. (She'd also make a convincing Pippi Longstocking.)

WHITNEY

"Isn't this completely illegal, immoral and insane?" 

"This is perfect for you."

This week's episode of Whitney decided that Alex was way too likable compared to his girlfriend, and gave him a condescending tone to drive Whitney up the wall. Since Alex doesn't believe he speaks that way, of course we need a surveillance camera to catch him in the act.

Actually, I feel like Whitney is improving in the sense that I could envision a variation of this plot on an episode of Friends. And everyone in the cast was able to participate this time, with the four friends gathering to watch Alex and Whitney's latest game of chicken. Just like previous episodes, Alex finds out about Whitney's plot and then finds a way to embarrass Whitney on camera to force her to admit what's going on. Whitney's lap dance was actually funny, although Alex was kind of smarmy asking her for it when knowing about the cameras. For the first time, thought, I feel like I understand why Alex and Whitney are together.

It's easy to bag on Whitney for a lot of reasons, but I give the show credit for slowly finding its legs and working towards its strengths. It's still not something I'd choose to watch, but at least I can watch it without also watching the clock, waiting for it to end. 

Random asides:

  • Hard not to agree with Whitney about Alex needing to wash his jeans. Ick.
  • Ken Marino's character didn't add a whole lot to the episode, but it was nice to see the Party Down alum on a primetime comedy. 

Previously: Thursday Night 'Lights: Which Characters Need a Shake Up?, Thursday Night 'Lights: A Fun Night Out

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Comments

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I miss the time when

I miss the time when Community was my favorite show out of the NBC Thursday lineup. It just keeps going downhill and the writers seem to be in a rut. I'm really over watching the group fight every.single.episode.

Agreed on many points.

Community wasn't as good as it should have been, and not just because it was half an hour of "Tee-hee, crazy people!" ableism. The characters appear to be devolving into obnoxious cliches--Shirley's story just made her seem like a vile person--and I am WAY not okay with Community's rapid transformation into The Jeff/Annie Show. Annie's story disturbed me, as it played on the vampire-as-sexual-predator trope while arguing, as vampire romance so often does, that such characters just need love. Britta's presence as a concubine (who's okay with sex minus love, horrors!) was slut-shamey in a way that Community seems to increasingly be, positing Britta as bad for being sexual and political and Annie as good for being absurdly innocent and simple. (Seriously, she could be 13, and nothing would change except for Jeff looking like even more of a creep.)

The twist at the end of Annie's story, though, made me feel a little better, as did Britta's storytelling and Troy's adaptation of The Human Centipede. I'm surprised you didn't mention the revelation(ish) that Abed has a crush on Britta. Are we headed for a Troy/Britta/Abed triangle, I wonder?

As for The Office, I also had the feeling that Erin/Andy is supposed to be Jim/Pam 2.0. It doesn't work at all, largely because the only thing holding them back seems to be Andy's own fear of happiness. I love Erin, but it's a terrible use of her. Aren't she and Kelly best friends anymore?

Andy, meanwhile, is stuck in limbo between Jim-type protagonist and Michael-type adversary-but-we-also-feel-kind-of-bad-for-him. I miss these days:

Bob: I honestly don't know how you can work with that jackass. And that other jackass and the new jackass.

Phyllis: He means Michael, Dwight, and Andy.

Pam: Oh, we know.

Speaking of Dwight, though, I found his exchanges with Robert's son pretty charming.

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Bitch, you complain about

Bitch, you complain about alot of things, but is it really necessary to dissect the thursday night NBC lineup? I mean, modern movies and tv shows pretty much suck all around. Thursday night comedy is the only thing I have left. Okay, yes I did notice that the Halloween themes were a bit sup-par and the whole story telling theme on Community reminded me of watching reruns of the same overplayed Simpsons' Halloween episode after school. But come on, their not so bad!! (except Whitney..)