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Thursday Night 'Lights: My Funny Valentine

Leslie Knope on a Galentine's Day cardValentine's Day is a tricky holiday for TV shows, no matter if the characters are coupled or single, happy or miserable, or somewhere in between. The TNL lineup (and last week's Parks and Rec) all tackled February 14, with mixed results. Here's what worked, and what didn't in the Thursday night comedies' approach to Valentine's Day.

PARKS AND REC (episode aired last week)

Hearted

Galentine's Day. Of course Leslie Knope hosts an event to celebrate all her female friendships, a concept Parks and Rec first introduced in the season 2 episode with the same name. It's rare for TV shows to do a V-Day plot unrelated to romance, and so very true to Leslie's character that she would invent the holiday.

Un-Hearted

Ann Perkins needs a man. Ann, as the only single female character in the main cast (not counting the fabulous supporting cast member Donna), is now poised to enter a romance with Tom. And this is after already having had relationships with Andy, Mark, and Chris. I don't have a problem with an Ann/Tom relationship per se, it's just that Valentine's Day was used as a device to make Ann feel bad about being single (starting at the aforementioned Galentine's Day when the women went around discussing their V-Day plans) in order to have her end up dating yet another person in the cast. I don't think Ann—or Tom, for that matter—needs to be in a relationship to be a vital member of the ensemble. There must be other storylines to give these two besides pairing them up—it just feels too neat, too predictable. Too sitcom-y. 

30 ROCK

Hearted

Criss Cross. His goofy name aside, James Marsden's character is a nice foil for Liz, in that he doesn't get put off by her massive insecurities, and also calls her on her crap. His laidback approach to Valentine's Day, and reaction to their Ikea-induced fight, makes me hope that 30 Rock's writers decide to keep him on long-term. Because despite Liz's awful behavior in this episode, I think Criss can humanize her and help her grow up a bit. Plus, Criss' idea of mashed potatoes in a martini glass? As Dwight Schrute would say, perfectenschlaag.

Un-hearted

Everything else. I've already gone on record about the problems with Liz Lemon, so I wasn't surprised that her fatalistic approach to Valentine's Day (not completely unwarranted, given her track record as seen in flashbacks) had her acting so unlikable and self-destructive in her relationship, only to realize her mistake and apologize to Criss two minutes before the end of the episode. There were other ho-hum storylines going on (by the way, must Kristen Schaal play yet another adorable stalker like she did on Flight of the Conchords? She can do so much more), but the "lonely Lutz" plot was by far the worst. Tracy and especially Frank have never been very likable, but I was still taken aback that they would advise Lutz to prey on women by making them feel vulnerable (in the most stereotypical ways imaginable, I might add). That's creepy stuff, and coupled with Liz's drama, Jenna's usual self-absorption, the stalking foreshadowing, and Jack's icky attraction to his mother-in-law, watching this episode was an overall unpleasant experience.  

THE OFFICE

Hearted 

Valentine's Day was just a day. On this week's episode, a lot of the action was centered on Dwight's special project, and which Dunder Mifflin employees would take a business trip to Florida. So it was nice just to have the holiday as a backdrop to the goings-on, like Darryl's thwarted gift exchange with Val, or how Erin and Andy's discussion of their heart pins leads her to decide the best way to move on from Andy is to leave Scranton permanently.

Un-hearted 

WTF Kathy? This doesn't really tie into Valentine's Day at all, but how random is it that Kathy has decided that Jim's marriage is on the rocks, and wants to seduce him during the business trip? This would be an alarming development, if Jim and Pam were still the characters we knew from season past (i.e., the Michael Scott era). But they're not—in fact, now that they have a family, they seem almost like strangers, since their family life takes place off-camera. Having Kathy want to create yet another Dunder Mifflin love triangle seems like a cheap way to raise the stakes on The Office's central relationship. 

UP ALL NIGHT

Hearted

Romantic ennui. It's hard for a new series to take on Valentine's Day when your core characters are a couple, because so many other shows have explored the topic from every conceivable angle. So while Chris and Reagan's realization that their marriage no longer had the spice of their early days was hardly novel, seeing them go through the motions of non-eventful Valentine's Day was pretty funny. The sequence of Chris and Reagan in bed, talking about whether or not to have sex in a matter-of-fact way was amusing because it was relatable and true to life. Even as they negotiated whether Chris should "pack it up now or pull it out later" or if Reagan could keep her shirt on, the scene deftly demonstrated their solidity of their relationship, even if it lacked their former passion.

Un-hearted 

Kissing in the rain. I blame The Notebook for convincing everyone that the height of romance and grand passion is making out in a downpour. I guess it's an easy way to communicate that Chris and Reagan have rediscovered spontaneity in their love life, but it also feels contrived. After the earlier memorable scenes, it was a cliched way to tie up the episode.

***

I'm sad to say that this will be my last recap for Bitch. I have to bow out of recapping duties, but it was an honor to write about these shows this week for this site. Big thanks to my editor Kelsey Wallace for inviting me on board, and for being amazing to work with. And thanks to everyone for reading, and those who've shared such smart and insightful comments.

Previously: Thursday Night 'Lights: Four Ways for Up All Night to Fit Right InThursday Night 'Lights: Does 30 Rock Need a Shake Up?

 

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Comments

5 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Loved the 30 Rock episode!

Kirthana,

I must respectfully disagree with your critique of the hour-long episode of 30 Rock. The dark humor of IKEA potentially breaking up Liz's current ill-fated romance with an inappropriate partner coupled with the subplots of Lutz getting horrible pick-up lines from Tracy and Frank, Jenna and Pete working on a live production of America's Kidz Got Singing, and Jack's taboo connection to his mother-in-law made for a full laugh-out-loud hour, at least in my living room.

Also, I beg to differ on your description of Liz's "unlikable" and "self-destructive" attitude toward Criss. She is his major caregiver and financial support system, so when tensions arise between them she is likely to feel inclined to point out that she's paying for the new table and most of the food, utilities, and other physical items used in the relationship. Liz's statements serve as a foil to Criss' comments about Liz's age, 41, and her bad relationship history. Granted, neither character comes across as angelic, but when a couple-- especially a newly formed one-- takes part in a stressful activity on a tight timeline (and the woman is menstruating) unkind statements may slip out of months from time to time.

My overall takeaway from this particular episode is that 30 Rock can still, in its sixth season, create fantastic comedic moments out of surreal and uncomfortable situations.

Ann

So yes, I'm super with you on the Ann needs a man storyline on Parks and Rec last week. It felt weird to have Leslie trying to force Ann into a relationship. On the other hand, it also felt totally within Leslie's character. Because Leslie has Ben and she's deliriously happy and Ann is single and also a bit sad about being single so OF COURSE Leslie would want Ann to be as deliriously happy with a man as she is with Ben. And I don't think for Leslie it would be coming from that weird patriarchal place of "A lady must be with a man or she will DIE SAD AND ALONE" but rather from that "I'm happy and Ben is part of what makes me happy and Ann should have a Ben too" place. Also, I'm kind of in love with the idea of Ann and Tom trying to awkwardly make a relationship work between the two of them and then sort of realize it's not going to work right and awkwardly break up. I'm not sure why I love this. Except Tom is always asking Ann out and I'm sort of secretly happy she's going to give him a chance at last? And can I also mention womp womp I hate it when Chris is sad?

I would like to believe that

I would like to believe that about Leslie's motives, too. Well-meaning friends often say they just want you to be happy. Self-reverentially and dismissively assuming that what makes one happy will make others happy is not a virtue. Not to mention, Leslie called Ann a spinster.

Steamroller

That's true. I think Leslie means well (Leslie always means well) but it's also I think important to point out (which I realized almost as soon as I posted my comment I didn't) that Leslie is a steamroller. And that's one of her major character flaws. And that's the sort of painful way her character works. She means well but she also sort of just runs with whatever her well meaning idea is to the exclusion of anyone telling her not to.

Will ANYONE be recapping?!

Thursday night lights is one of my favorite columns, and this week's did not disappoint. I understand, as a freelancer myself, when the time is right to recuse yourself from a project. I am NOT upset or complaining. I was just wondering if anyone was going to pick this column up. Thanks Bitch, for answering this question and just plain being awesome.