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Thursday Night 'Lights: End of the Lineup As We Know It

photos of Dwight from the office, Leslie from Parks and Rec, and Jeff from Community

Take a look at the photo on the left. Starting in January, Jeff Winger will be replaced by Liz Lemon. No wonder he looks so dismayed in the picture!

In case you haven't heard, Community is being pulled off the schedule indefinitely (boo) and being replaced by 30 Rock (yay for that, at least). Whitney is swapping places withUp All Night, and in celebration I've decided to pretend the show is already off the Thursday night schedule and not bother to recap it anymore. Hope you're cool with that. Let's get started!

COMMUNITY

"You don't know me."

Shirley says this after demonstrating to Jeff that she kicks ass at foosball, and in a way, she's just not addressing him, but the audience as well. Next to Pierce, Shirley is the least-developed character in the group, whose high-pitched voice and religious convictions have been the only things to define her. A few weeks ago I wrote a post asking which Thursday Night 'Lights characters needed a shakeup, and Shirley topped the list. I'm happy that Community finally presented an episode that gives her some backstory that makes her more human. This is a woman who has known darkness and has fought her way out of it (a season 2 episode revealed she is a recovering alcoholic), but her mode of presenting herself as moral arbiter to the group is also a way to keep her own self on the straight and narrow, always fearful that she could fall back again. That's an interesting person, and I'm glad we're finally getting to meet her.

The most intriguing aspect of the Jeff/Shirley subplot is that the two characters learn they have something in common. (And I'm not talking about the sitcom contrivance that these two knew each other as kids. I thought Community was better than that, to be honest, but since it serves the overall plot in an interesting way, I'm okay with it.) After a lonely childhood that included getting bullied by Shirley (aka Big Cheddar), Jeff cultivated a hipster ironic pose that purposely keeps him at a distance from other people, so he can judge them and maintain his feelings of superiority over everyone else. This is why for most of the series' run, he's barely had a real relationship with Shirley, and often dismisses her piousness to her face. Once they both realize that they both adopt personas in response to their pasts, the friendship they strike up is delightful. Even more delightful is that the two engage in a foosball throwdown that transforms into in anime battle. Here's hoping that Jeff and Shirley continue to deepen their relationship. I'd love them to become so close that they develop their own Troy and Abed-esque handshake.

Random asides:

  • The other subplot featuring Annie breaking Abed's beloved Dark Knight DVD seemed to be used as opportunity for Danny Pudi to trot out his fun Christian Bale-as-Batman impersonation (and briefly, Alison Brie's). But overall it was pretty slight, even when it was calling itself out on its own sitcom trope.
  • Troy was great in this subplot though, especially when he wanted to pretend that Abed and Batman weren't same person.
  • The Germans' "human foosball" move was great, as was Jeff's consternation that the the trio had to carry a soccer ball with them each time they go some place to pull it off. "It's like a $25 bit, its not even that good!"
  • Britta's "Totarola" phone was a hilarious sight gag, but I'm enough of a Community nerd to remember she used to have a white cellphone. Perhaps she had to trade it in so she wouldn't have to get her cat a monocle.
  • Next week will be our final Community episode featured in Thursday Night 'Lights for awhile. Fingers crossed we'll see the show again in the spring, and back in the lineup!

PARKS AND RECREATION

"Thank you so much for making my life so wonderful."

Soon after this show aired, someone on Twitter called it "'The Constant' of comedic episodes." If you recognize that Lost reference, you know that its perfect description for an episode that officially and publicly reunited Ben and Leslie. So far, their romance has dominated this season of Parks and Recreation, which would have been cloying and even a little irritating if Amy Poehler and Adam Scott weren't so charming and affecting in their roles. The moment these two kissed as court stenographer Ethel Beaver recited Leslie's sworn testimony of her love for Ben was done extremely well.

This might be one of my favorite episodes of the series ever, not just for the romantic aspect but because of how all of Leslie's friends rally around her during her ethics trial. Each supporting character gets a moment to shine in his or her attempt to assist Leslie, from Ann texting Leslie every thirty second to let her know everything will be okay, to April acting as a witness in character as Janet Snakehole, to Ron once again acting as Leslie's moral compass and having her face up to the fact she can't avoid punishment for what she's done (bribing city employee to keep quiet about her and Ben's kiss during the Lil' Sebastian memorial). Add to that how the writers weaved in Pawnee history and quirky townspeople like Ethel Beaver and Tammy 2 throughout the proceedings, and the episode was a tidy capsule of not only what makes Parks and Recreation so wonderful, by why it should be able to sustain this excellence for several seasons to come. (I'll address this more when I get to, sigh, The Office.)

Random asides:

  • Chris was used very effectively in this episode—this was maybe his best showcase so far. He was surprisingly harsh towards Leslie in his attempt to prove that she had committed wrongdoing in her relationship with Ben, but it's a welcome side to his character, the one that is professional and takes the rules seriously. Even when he was taking a GNC store's worth of supplements to keep him from being depressed, he was much more grounded and human than we've ever seen him, so his joy for Ben and Leslie after he realized they had genuine feelings for each other was all the more pleasing to see.
  • So now that Ben has resigned to shield Leslie from greater punishment, where does that leave him? Perhaps he and Tom could form a new business venture or he could join Leslie's campaign. It will be interesting to see where he goes from here.
  • Speaking of, this bit of casting news seems to suggest that future episodes will focus on Leslie's bid for City Council, which should be a lot of fun since Leslie will have to have a lot of interaction with the people of Pawnee to win votes.
  • Only to Leslie Knope would a slap on the wrist equal a kick to the nuts. But she does use her ethics trial to her advantage, using it as a chance to pretend she was on Law & Order (which I think we'd all do in her shoes, right?).
  • While the group was poring over Pawnee historical texts looking for a loophole, they discovered a lot of strange laws still on the books. My favorite was when Donna found out that black people were not allowed to use city sidewalks. 
  • Eagle-eyed viewers noticed during the previous episode that when Jerry showed his work ID to Tom, it actually said his name was Gary. The tag was a nice little payoff of that, when under oath Jerry revealed as much to Leslie, who couldn't focus on questioning him after hearing that his full name would be be Gary Gergich.

THE OFFICE

"Last time I had a job, I remember I hated the boss' wife. Of course, she was married to Robert."

When Parks and Rec switched over to The Office and we saw another "Jim needles Dwight" cold open, I felt unsettled in a way I couldn't articulate. Only after the episode ended did I realize it was a feeling of claustrophobia. I'll get to why in a moment.

But let me at least start out with the fact that the show did something awesome in casting Maura Tierney as Mrs. California. If you ever watched Newsradio, you know she is an actress with excellent comic timing, and after her dramatic stints on ER and Rescue Me, and overcoming breast cancer, I was very happy to see her on an NBC comedy again. If only The Office knew what to do with her! She was underused throughout, but the above quote coupled with her overture to Andy at episode's end leads me to believe that that Mrs. California could be a more intriguing person than the one we first met. I hope that we'll be treated to Tierney's talents in upcoming episodes. 

But if the show is even worthy of her is another question. This feels terrible to admit, but I'm starting to really dislike The Office. And this is a series I loved and defined as must-see TV for me in its earlier seasons.The problem, at least for me, is that The Office is too insular, which in turn makes it depressing to watch.

Back to Parks and Rec for a second. The reason why I think this show will continue to remain funny and worth watching after several seasons is that the characters don't exist in a vacuum. Their interaction with the townspeople is vital to their job, which means a lot of the action takes place outside the workplace. The writers have also populated Pawnee with quirky characters who pop in and out of episodes (à la the Simpsons' Springfield), and have imbued the town with enough history that it makes the fictional town feel very real. Meanwhile, The Office's setting of Scranton feels non-existent. 

Of course, on a show called The Office, the characters will spend most of their time there. With Michael Scott, the employees were a dysfunctional family, united in their eye-rolling at their boss' antics, as well as the affection they developed for him over time. Now after spending so many years in the same confined space, they barely tolerate each other. Their disdain for another is palpable, which makes for uncomfortable viewing. The Office set's pitch-perfect replica of a dreary workplace only adds to the claustrophobic feeling. It's simply not a fun place to spend time at anymore. Dunder Mifflin is like the sitcom version of No Exit, with the characters trapped together with no end in sight.

Watching this week's episode, it just proved what a wise decision it was to end the British version of The Office after two seasons. The series' premise just doesn't lend itself to several seasons of episodic television, especially when the show lacks a compelling lead to center the show around. Andy Bernard is just not that person, and for that matter, neither are the current incarnations of Jim, Pam and Dwight. Robert California could be that guy, but James Spader has to want to actually be a part of the fabric of the show (rather than his current "special guest star"-esque status).    

Random asides: 

  • Dwight's idea to start a gym (called Dwight Schrute's Gym for Muscles) is kind of random, but at least Darryl's involvement made it mildly funny, especially when Dwight thought that Darryl was pumping iron for Val Kilmer (rather than Val the warehouse employee). 
  • Jim's elaborate escape plan from Robert California and Andy was worthwhile just to see Creed hanging out on the rooftop. 
  • In earlier seasons, Jim's speech about how much he loves working with his wife and misses seeing her now that she's on maternity leave would have resonated, but this time it made no impact. It felt as if the writers were trying to remind us of the Jim and Pam magic of yore, even though we haven't seen it on our screens in sometime.

Previously: Thursday Night 'Lights: Save Community!, Thursday Night 'Lights: Coalition of the Willing

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Comments

5 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Small note

Love your recaps, fully support your bid to quit Whitney, am cheering Up All Night's move to Thursdays (where it always belonged)

Quick note, Edith Beavers should be Ethel. Previously featured in 'The Bubble' (another Ben/Leslie-centric episode, Ethel works on the fourth floor.)

Good catch!

I made the change. I love Ethel Beaver!

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

"It comes in a six pack!"

I loved Brita's phone gag. I am going to miss Community while it is away. I totally agree with about the office by the by. I think it is about to go the way of House and Bones on my Hulu que. Bye Office it's not you, it's me, I don't think you are funny anymore.

GO BESLIE!

(Yeah, I went there). I think it could be interesting if Ben is judged as a political "spouse", it could cause some issues, especially with all his anxiety about his past as a teen mayor.

*****************************************************************
"Oh don't the days seem lank and long
When all goes right and nothing goes wrong
And isn't your life extremely flat
When you've nothing whatever to grumble at?"

--W.S. Gilber

The Office, sigh

It still makes me laugh on occasion, but the show's time has come. This is, what, Season 8? When it started out, each ep was a freestanding novelty; now, it's nearly all about the workers' personal lives, and nothing compelling is happening there.

Sometimes, I think I should just watch Kelly's Taylor Swift parody for twenty minutes each week instead.

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