Thursday, January 27, 2011

Brief reviews of Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock, and Outsourced tonight

Hey Guys, I'm going to drift off to sleep very soon, so this will be a somewhat loosely written and sloppy reflection on my thoughts of tonight's episodes.
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Parks and Recreation:
Last week, Parks and Rec disappointed me by focusing so heavily on the dating lives of Ann and Leslie that I started to feel like the show was becoming a romantic comedy. Fortunately, things cooled down a little this week as we got classic Leslie buffoonery.

Leslie is starting to remind me pretty heavily of that other quintessential TV comedienne whose name starts with an "L": Lucille Ball. In fact, didn't Lucy Ricardo have at least one episode per season in which she tried to break into Ricky's show while sick? My colleague Cory Barker at wrote that Parks and Recreation is already better than The Office (I don't know if I'd go that far) in part because Leslie is a lovable character that we root for, whereas Michael Scott is inconsistently written.

Moving on, Leslie's determination to give the speech was almost a red herring. It wasn't really about whether Leslie would succeed at the speech but what kind of working relationship Leslie would have with Ben and, to a lesser extent, Tom. Ben proved that he'd stand up for her and that he could be counted on and Tom proved otherwise which stayed consistent with what we already know about him. The plot device was entirely meaningless and treated as such: The money was raised despite the fact that she essentially screwed up big.

P&R is essentially about a strong group of friends at a workplace and that ensemble is rounding out nicely. I'm glad that the cast was tweaked to add some new blood. I only hope that Rob Lowe and Adam Scott weren't bought in just to provde romantic "solutions" to Leslie and Anne. Some notes:

-I have seen Rob Lowe in millions of things. He's a ubiquitous actor who finds his way into Aaron Sorkin dramas, Mike Myer comedies and everything in between. His character on Parks and Recration, however, is the first time I've ever seen him act. I'm very impressed

-It's to P&R's great credit that they navigated through a lose-lose situation by giving him some sort of girlfriend figure at the moment but still not taking away what amounts to an inferiority complex. Tom still is jealous of Ron for dating his significantly hotter ex-wife and he also has that same ineffective desire to please with the guys at the spa. It's both a step foward for Tom but it's not enough of a step foward that he isn't essentially a sad figure.

-I still have no idea why everyone's so crazy about Ron Swanson. It seems, based on reviews I'm reading, that he's already become an iconic character who's transcended the popularity of the show itself. Hell, I don't even know why Tom's ex-wife is even interested in her. I have no problem with adoration for Ron Swanson and Nick Offerman. I do, however, feel that Audrey Plaza is the ensemble darkhorse of the show and just hope those on Team Ron are throwing a little love for Team April too.

-Still undecided about the Andy and April relationship. I don't think it has long-term potential and I suspect most viewers don't. Thus, the question is: Are we rooting for a mistake to be made?

30 Rock:
The Tracy-Liz relationship has been one that existed in an uneasy state of equilibrium but it's generally been a constant. Tracy is annoying as Hell and he would drive most people insane. But Liz puts up with it and that's a big key to the show.

Let me explain: It's part of the framework of the show that this star-studded universe is askew and that chracters like Tracy, Jack, and Jenna exhibit alarmingly unacceptable behavior and Liz gets only a little annoyed as if dealing with mildly irritating colleagues like these is just part of a normal workday and she's supposed to grin and bear it.

If one were to call Liz a straight man, they'd be misidentifying her. A real straight man would be a character like Queen Latifah's congresswoman who walks in there and immediately notices that this workplace is full of extremely abnormal people. The fact that Liz reacts with just a little irritation rather than a genuine fear that someone like Tracy is diabolically insane and the business decisions of the entire NBC programming department is in the hands of someone who makes such irrational decisions (seriously, listen closely to Jack's lines) is what makes this universe work.

With that in mind:
Liz blowing up at Tracy is not consistent with the tone to date. It might be a very realistic course of action if the show were a realistic one but I found it a little jarring.

That being said, 30 Rock's strengths were in plain view tonight. When it comes to satirizing the norms of show business, 30 Rock pushes the envelope better than anyone and you know that the writers have a particularly sharp set of surgical tools with which to pick at their target. Liz and Tracy arguing through the song "Uptown Girls" so the reality show producer couldn't film it was one of the most clever scenes I've seen in a sitcom in ages. (Side note: How meta that Billy Joel probably will get money off of it)

I also had the observation tonight about 30 Rock that I can't think of any other show on television that's better line-for-line. When 30 Rock goes for a joke, it's a multi-layered piece of art. Lines of dialogue are beautifully inverted and subtly placed between seemingly ordinary sentences so when you catch it, it's a hidden treasure. There are a million examples of this but Jack said as the credits closed, "We haven't had ratings this good since that episode of SVU where the detectives watched American Idol." Is that not one of the most brilliant lines of dialogue you've ever heard? I will admit that 30 Rock had a drop in quality in Seasons 3 and 4, but that attention to crafting brilliant jewels and subtly inserting them into every line of dialogue they could is something that never waned. This convinces me very strongly that the writer's room is not full of lazy people.

Last but not least:
Outsourced: The episode was typical Outsourced which was pretty good for a show in its first season. With the strength of Parks and 30 Rock tonight, it was easy to not appreciate it as much (in fact, most other critics have already written the show off entirely) but there was some nice things to appreciate.

There were two pretty good twists I didn't see coming. The introduction of the other lover and the backfiring of Rajiv's plan. I thought the plan would backfire but I didn't see it backfiring that way. Falling into predictable sitcom formulas in the first season is the biggest indication (to me, at least) that a show is going nowhere, so I take this as a good sign.

The episode introduced different pairings too which is the kind of thing Community would do in the first season a lot en route to becoming a cult favorite.

But, let's talk about the big development: Charlie finally found out about Todd and Tanya. It's about time. Also, Tanya is looser than I thought. It was a nice moment of resolution and I think the joke was dragged out long enough.

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