Thursday has always been a great night of TV. It’s the night on which NBC has been offering up the greatest sitcoms in history decade after decade (even if you’re a misguided Friends-hated hipster, you can’t argue with Seinfeld); it’s the night that played home to the game-changing Survivor and juggernaut Idol for years; Thursday is the day that Project Runway brought a touch of class back to cable reality TV, where ABC brought back a dramedy dynasty with Grey’s Anatomy and Saturday Night Live braved primetime for special election coverage in 2008. Thursday is a phenomenal day of television, always has been and still is today with CBS sending their strongest contender (The Big Bang Theory) into the Thursday fray to compete with Idol. This past week, Thursday proved why Thursday is where it’s at.
Let’s start on CBS where Howard and Bernadette hit a rough patch after secrets were revealed at his bachelor party. It was a fun episode with some great Mayim Bialik action, Kaley Cuoco one-liners and an excellent bevy of the show’s best recurring geeks- from Sheldon’s reformed enemy Wil Wheaton to comic book guy Kevin Sussman to manipulative physicist John Ross Bowie .
But the greatness was really over on NBC, where it often has been, as determined as we’ve been to ignore that fact. The best show on TV, Parks & Recreation, hosted the city council debate wherein Leslie took on a handful of loser candidates (including a porn star determined that she was “just like Leslie” and Buddy freaking Garrity, or rather Bard Leland playing a Buddy-like cartoon) and her biggest opponent- Paul Rudd. Or, rather, Bobby Newport, a man with Rudd’s handsome face and irresistible charms who is also a complete moron and mildly corrupt (nice guy, though). So Leslie was fighting on two fronts- she was the underdog since Bobby’s father controls the biggest factory in town, Sweetums, but she was also the superior intellect, so any show of aggression would come off as bullying (2008 VP debate, anyone?). That conflict made for a great debate that was unbelievably frustrating (and Adam Scott’s superb facial expressions drove that particular comedy home) and ultimately awesome as Leslie was allowed to do what Leslie does best- big inspiring speeches. That ending speech of hers was so good that sweet, simple Bobby Newport turned to her with his Rudd-y grin and said “wow, Leslie, that was incredible”. The vastly underrated Kathryn Hahn made a reappearance as Bobby’s ruthless/brilliant campaign manager Jennifer, and a strong Chris/Ann story in “the spin room” brought about a really nice moment for Tom. The C plot wherein April, Andy and Ron hosted a fundraiser dinner also brought a few laughs (Andy acting out his favourite films to pass time) and sweet moments (I particularly loved when April listed all the things she cares about: “I care about Andy and Champion … and I want Leslie to win. And I like sleeping.”). All in all, a great episode.
30 Rock was less a brilliantly constructed episode, but it was another live one. Live episodes of scripted sitcoms are never the most structurally sound, because they have to adapt the story to be able to happen with few costume changes and easy set transitions- nothing can be too complicated. And this story about saving TGS from being taped and Jenna getting engaged was suitably simple (though I like that Jenna’s engaged- they’re moving her character forward, which I always appreciate). What made the episode awesome was that it was produced by the SNL crew and guest starred a whole smattering of awesome people, so it was basically “Tina’s Friend Time” on 30 Rock. Young Jack was played by that always lovable Jimmy Fallon (almost as inspired as when Alec’s own brother William Baldwin played the actor playing Jack in a TV movie). Young Tracey, even better, was played by DONALD GLOVER!!! Is there anyone who doesn’t love Donald Glover? While inaccurate as a possible young Tracey, it was nice to see the Donald return to his old stomping grounds where he started as a writer before he even graduated from university. Amy Poehler, similarly inaccurately but similarly thrillingly, played young Liz (again, Always great to see Amy) and Paul McCartney stopped by for a cameo. Will Forte and Cheyenne Jackson reprised their regular roles too but it was, of course, the great Jon Hamm that had me in stitches. Sort of like how I’m fond of Nick Jonas because of his guest star roles and Robert Pattinson because he’s gives witty print interviews, there are multiple people I like mostly because they’re fun even though I’ve never seen the work they’re primarily known for (I love JT but haven’t heard him sing since NSync and am an unabashed fan of Brian Williams though I literally never watch the news). In this vein, I don’t watch Mad Men but I freaking LOVE Jon Hamm. He’s hilarious and brave and never takes himself too seriously and he used to teach highschool drama and Ellie Kemper was in his class! (In case you don’t know, I’m Obsessed with Ellie Kemper. More on that in a minute). On Thursday, Jon did an insanely ballsy sketch that sent up the old Amos ‘n Andy, wearing a sort of semi-black face and putting on a massively offensive persona of “the ignorant black man”. Tracy Jordan did the other character- well dressed, well spoken, embarrassed and angry- and the point was to mock NBC’s shoddy racial history. It was ingenious and laugh-out-loud funny and I’m absolutely certain Jon Hamm and the writers will be getting some major backlash. They shouldn’t, though, because it was funny and it was making fun of the portrayal not who was being portrayed.
Then there was Community. Coming off an insane/brilliant exploration of character last week and a high-tension metaphorical battle the week before, they played it safe-ish this week with an episode that was far more in the traditional Community signature- satirical, fun, goofy but not all that alienating in its oddity. They did a basic Law & Order sendup that was hilarious at worst, clever and insightful at best. The return of unwanted study partner Todd, an adherence to the exact formula of procedural TV case-solving, the *spoiler* Death of Starburns! All of it was great. I particularly enjoyed the Few Good Men-esque rhetoric around Todd’s military trial and the recurring motif of Professor Kane’s principal: “a man’s gotta have a code”. This was the sort of episode that Community‘s always done effortlessly and it may not break ground but it always reminds me why I loved the show in the first place.
On The Office, we’re still stuck in that boring space wherein the writers are a bit unsure how to fully fill the Michael void. I think Andy was the perfect choice and if they worried less about it, the great ensemble of characters would sort out a way of being interesting post-Michael (as they did, beautifully, for those first few months). They will not be at their best, however, unless Kelly and Ryan are actually in the episodes (I’d like a little more Toby, too). Those three are some of the best supporting characters on TV and do a lot towards keeping the show fresh (there’s only so much story pressure Jim can carry on his own- I think he’s at his limit). I know, I know, Mindy Kaling, BJ Novak and Paul Lieberstein are writer/producers on the show so can’t appear all that often. And I do recognize that those three are particularly good writers whose absence from the room would be felt (especially Lieberstein’s being the showrunner and all) but there has to be a better compromise than just having entire episodes wherein Ryan has a handful of lines in the cold open and Kelly doesn’t appear at all. Maybe the show needs a larger writing staff? Either way, that’s my big complaint lately- More Mindy! The episode itself was decent-to-mediocre as we re-explored Andy’s boring and unlikely anger issues at a fundraiser for at-risk dogs. I’m bored of Catherine Tate’s story already, let’s get Andy his job back! She did have an amusing D plot about her attempts to befriend Darryl, which was sweet, but other than that she fells like a time-waster. Oscar’s narcissistic B story about Angela’s husband’s sexual preference was the best of the night, but that’s not saying particularly much. I still love Erin, though (ELLIE KEMPER!!!!), and am glad she’s back with Andy (and I like Gabe’s awkward role in that triangle).
ABC’s Thursdays are slowing down of late with Grey’s hitting a slow patch. Bailey’s been in a silly romance that nobody buys, Karev’s been dwelling on this baby thing that’s been no fun, Callie/Arizona/Mark have been boring with post-baby blah-ness and though Meredith and Derek are actually interesting parents and have improved greatly with age, they’re not exactly carrying the show on their slight stories. So, much of the load has fallen to minor characters like April and Jackson. As largely under-developed characters, that’s not exactly a fair deal, but they’re holding their own. April can be shrill, but she’s funny and her uncool-ness is a welcome change from the overly glamorous others. Jesse Williams (Cabin in the Woods love!), meanwhile, has grown into my favourite character on the show. His romance with Lexie was boring but it was an interesting complication in the show’s best current relationship: Jackson/Sloan. I’ve enjoyed Jackson’s fight against his family legacy and expectations and his relationship with his mentor is adorable, wonderful greatness (I particularly loved their Valentines date and Sloan offering Jackson money as he got on the bus to take the boards). But one of the keys to Greys’s success over the years has been Christina Yang, who has become next to intolerable of late. She aborted Owen’s baby against his will then spent the next few months yelling at him for resenting her then he slept with someone else and now she’s playing the same card every annoying TV woman has played ever- the scorned, innocent victim. My God, woman, you used to be my favourite character on TV but these days you’re just plain emotionally manipulative, tiresome and hypocritical. Last week was the first time in months when I didn’t mind Christina, making it the best Grey’s Anatomy episode in a long time. The reason for that is that it took the residents to California for the boards and left the attendings and interns at the hospital (with Karev, who’s idiotic storyline had him not bothering to show up for the test). Apart from Owen, Christina got to interact with Meredith and they had some nice scenes. More importantly, apart from Christina, Owen got to play out a story with the other most important woman in his life- Teddy. I think Owen and Teddy are fascinating and there’s a wealth of story there that we often don’t see, so it was nice for them to deal with their stuff post-Henry, sans-Christina. I’m secretly hoping Christina gets written off the show when she takes a job somewhere other than Seattle, but chances of that are slim. Other than her, though, I’m hoping they don’t write anyone off- especially not Jackson, now that he’s more than likely failed the boards. Which brings me to, Spoiler Alert– the sex. I freaking love Jackson and April. I think it’s great that the show has maintained their friendship as the only surviving imports from Mercy West and their odd-couple dynamic is always a source of comfort and fun. I even approve of the sex. Usually I hate friends hooking up (it’s such a TV gimmick) but for hot-sensitive Jackson and hot-virgin April, it made sense. He’s the person she trusts most and she was in a state of risk-euphoria, it worked. But here’s what pisses me off- he asked her like 47 times if she was sure, and she was sure, and I’m fairly certain her virginal backstory was established as being about opportunity and academic focus and standards and a matter of timing (which I loved, I thought that was a really interesting dynamic to introduce to the hyper-sexual ensemble). So why then can she get away with throwing some guilt-trip Jesus crap at Jackson right before he takes the boards? I don’t remember that being in her backstory, and maybe I just dont remember it because I didnt think it was that interesting, but either way, April is too logical and competent and kind to completely lose it and throw blame at Jackson like that. It was an incredibly cheap story turn to take. That story’s playing out on mybeloathed Glee right now, and it totally works for the characters and relationship they’ve established. But that was not April’s story. It’s stupid and abusive to pretend it is just to hold Jackson ransom when he did nothing wrong. Way to destroy one of the most compelling dynamics on your show, Shonda. Good job.
Just over an hour to go until the next Thursday primetime. Enjoy!