Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tonight's TV Talk: 'Community', 'The Big Bang Theory', 'Parks and Rec', 'Person of Interest', 'The Office', 'Always Sunny'...

TV Talk for Thursday, December 8th 2011

The Big Bang Theory (CBS, 8pm) - S5, Ep11: "The Speckerman Recurrence" - I'm not a fan of the douchey characters Lance Barber always ends up playing. That's not to say I believe he is actually a douche, just that he has perfected the comedy of playing one on TV so well he has become typecast. So when I heard that he was cast as the former tormentor of nice guy Leonard (Johnny Galecki) in high school, I rolled my eyes. First of all, I didn't believe they were of the same age to make that pairing realistic. Second of all, I had no interest in seeing him do the same thing again. But since the premise was he reached out to Leonard on Facebook, wanting to meet up for drinks, I knew where the story was headed. He hasn't changed. People never change. He needed something, and since he looks back on high school from a different perspective from Leonard's, he thinks it's okay to call up some old school "chum." The bully always thinks they were just messing around. But what I didn't expect was to learn so much about Leonard, in such rapid fire, in the process. And in learning that, I also learned that it's a shame Sheldon (Jim Parsons) still doesn't understand sarcasm. Because he certainly delivers it perfectly. Also, we all saw mean teenage girl Penny (Kaley Cuoco) coming, right? And we also saw it coming when she ended up wanting to benefit from charity, not donate to it. But I love that her new nerd friends have helped her get a more well-rounded outlook on life now because it set up a dichotomy with the bullying. She sincerely wanted to make amends; she genuinely wanted to try to be the good person she thought she always was. Meanwhile Lance Barber still laughed, even when apologizing, and then ended up taking advantage of Leonard once again, just in a new way. I have had five years to know Penny as a sweetheart; I had twenty minutes to meet Lance Barber from Leonard's (admittedly biased) point of view.
I'm with Sheldon: they should have killed him.

Community (NBC, 8pm) - S3, Ep11: "Regional Holiday Music" - My love knows no bounds for Community, so it doesn't take nearly as much as it does for the study group for me to get swept up in the excitement and "glee" of their adventures, especially when Christmas and music is involved. Put your hands together and you get one of the most ambitious episodes to date. Of course, any time there is a lot of ambition behind the scenes-- in this case, musical numbers to write, record, and choreograph, not to mention over the top costumes-- sometimes what appears on-screen lacks. In this case, there wasn't much of a story to the episode, certainly nothing as emotional and poignant at last year's "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas." Yet I was swept up in the spirit the way these characters were so it didn't matter because I didn't stop to realize not much had happened until the end. And then I was already humming the songs, so I got something out of it anyway. The majority of the episode was spent getting each study group member (one by one by one by one-- which is now stuck in my head, despite the show not using the melody in one of their own original numbers) to fall under the spell and agree to perform at the pageant. So when the tide finally turned and Abed (Danny Pudi) realized what he had signed them all up for, his switch and sabotage seemed to come almost out of nowhere. Or maybe that's just because the episode seemed to fly by so fast because musical numbers take up a lot of time. But at least these musical numbers were fun and fitting. I especially loved that Donald Glover finally got to show off his hip hop skillz on-air. He always said he'd keep Childish Gambino separate, but Dan Harmon is really good about writing to his actors' strengths and personalities. I'm eagerly awaiting Glover's holiday hip-hop album now. And of course, anything that takes major jabs at glee is a winner in my book, just for that.

Parks and Recreation (NBC, 8:30pm) - S4, Ep10: "Citizen Knope" - I thought the best Christmas present in the world was last week when Leslie (Amy Poehler) and Ben (Adam Scott) said they loved each other, but I sorely underestimated this show. No, the real best Christmas present of them all was seeing Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) get teary-eyed. And apparently once you turn on his waterworks, you can't quite turn them off. Genius. Watching not only him but also April (Aubrey Plaza) get into the spirit of the holidays, or at least Ann (Rashida Jones)'s would-have-assumed-they-would-have-assumed dumb homemade gift project was getting to the heart of this show in a way that I feel has been kind of lacking this season. Don't get me wrong, any Parks and Rec episode is better than 80% of the other network comedies out there today, but prior to this (and last week's) episode, I was calling season four sub-par compared to season three. Maybe it was the miniatures that won me over (I'd buy a dozen marshmallow Ron Swansons from the NBC Store, just as I bought a plush Li'l Sebastian last week!). Maybe it was just the perfectly seasonal message that Leslie learned that at this time of year, or all the time, she should be surrounded with those who know her best, love her most, and always have her good interest in mind. The best gift for Leslie was not to give gifts perfect to her friends' personalities, nor a completely edible candy display, but the ability to have her cake and eat it, too, professionally, in running for city council surrounded by her fabulous Pawnee Parks Department team on her campaign. Also, I have to admit that Jean-Ralphio (Ben Schwartz) has totally grown on me, and his "thirty second job" tag was one of the best things I've seen him do since his ill-rhymed rap songs.

Person of Interest (CBS, 9pm) - S1, Ep9: "Get Carter" - I wanted to like this show more than I did. I wanted to love it, if I'm being honest. But I wasn't getting enough mythology, even for a first season show, and they so closely subscribed to the "biggest name guest star" theory that I always knew exactly where each story was going and what route it was taking to get there, so I gave up. But the promo for this one had me tuning back in because of the insane audacity of it. "I'm a cop," Detective Carter (Taraji P. Henson) points out, "my life is in danger every day." She has a point, so shouldn't the machine be malfunctioning when considering all of the cops, armed services members-- hell gang members-- in New York City? But as crazy as it sounds, the fact was, they were finally giving Henson something to do, and so I wanted to see how it turned out. Of course, one episode to placate a big star whose talent is being wasted on a procedural doesn't change the facts: she's still on a procedural. Diving into the personal life of a show's third lead at this point feels a lost cause. It's not going to be permanent; it's not sweeps; it's too early in to be writing her exit episode; and it's an uneven attempt considering they're showing her as this staunch, strong, solo detective, while her partner-- at least across desks-- is a bozo. It's unfortunate. If the show could juggle multiple character stories better, I'd be more inclined to stick with it. The concept was certainly interesting enough, but the formula has made it all too simple in execution. We may have gotten some backstory-- in a sad, Homeland rip-off and a stereotypical non-traditional relationship with a kid she never eludes to-- but one the whole there is not nearly enough mythology or character development for me. Especially for what I've come to expect from J.J. Abrams. And I'm talking mythology of Finch (Michael Emerson)'s machine, not the being-trumped-up-to-being-a-big-bad Elias (Enrico Colantoni), who just seems less important because we are only hearing about him through third parties. The well-woven stories would actually show us what he was really up to if he was so important. Think The Chicago Code or, again, Homeland. And because of Homeland, when we saw the photo of her baby daddy, I assumed he hadn't been killed in combat or was still fighting in a war zone but had his death faked and was now plotting to do something big-- something the machine couldn't detect and something that Elias could never plan himself. But he's no Tom Walker; he's just some model they hired for a photo. Procedurals just don't multitask well; that's why I can't relate to them.

The Office (NBC, 9pm) - S8, Ep10: "Christmas Wishes" - I watched out of tradition-- as much a tradition as one's own holiday party, assuming, you know, I worked in an actual office. But the writers couldn't be bothered to add a plot to this one, so I can't be bothered to review it. Such a shame, considering this came from the usually witty Mindy Kaling, but drunk Erin (Ellie Kemper) was cliche; Andy-as-Santa (Ed Helms) was no match for Michael Scott; and the anti-pranking war between Jim (John Krasinski) and Dwight (Rainn Wilson) was like the anti-Christmas present for me. The one laugh the show got out of me was over Meredith (Kate Flannigan)'s "Caylee" poster in her cluttered van. And even that was outdated.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX, 10pm) - S7, Ep12: "The High School Reunion" - One thing about the Paddy's Pub gang that I have come to know (and love) is that they are all talk. They have big game plans for everything from going to the World Series, playing pro football-- hell, even seeing a simple movie-- and now, enacting revenge on the guys that tormented them in high school. Yes, they talk-- well, they yell-- a lot, but they rarely do anything. So that's why this first half of a two-part season finale seemed so surprising. Dee (Kaitlin Olson) had a plan to get in with the cool kids (most notably guest star Sasha Roiz), and she actually followed it through. I mean, I knew it wasn't going to end well, but at least she's trying!
Can't crush the Aluminum Monster's spirit! And I didn't know Cricket (David Hornby) would be the blame/thank for that, but it was a hilarious surprise. It sounds terrible, but I'm glad his CBS sitcom failed because he's at his best doing this kind of twisted comedy with the rest of these guys, and now he can-- and across more than one of their projects. But really, what I loved most about this episode was how they brought back a cavalcade of guest stars, at least one of which I had forgotten about (Revenge's Nick Wechsler as a pretty scummy guy who both Dee and the Waitress (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) dated in high school and then came back to break their hearts in a much more real way). It felt like something you'd do at the end of a series, not just a season, so it was a nice surprise. And I couldn't help but LOL harder at the fact that they were just ignoring Ellis' big baby bump. Of course, Charlie (Charlie Day) being afraid of yet another thing but still going along with it anyway is always a good time. On the other hand, there was far too much of Dennis (Glenn Howerton)'s mistaken memories because though his delusions are always funny at first, they never go anywhere, and the repetition just made me understand why everyone else hated him. I mean, that's probably what they were going for in a reunion episode, but it totally tainted my view of him after usually being oddly endeared by his grandiose image of himself. I just kept waiting for some big, maybe even Carrie-like stunt to befall him as everyone around him got fed up with him. Or at least a damn swirly, right!? But nothing. So there was no closure. Or action. This wasn't technically a bottle episode, but it felt like one, and that, to me, made it feel "off" from the usual pace and tone. I know this is just a part one of two season finale, so the hope should be that there is closure then. But in full disclosure, I know there's not. I know it only builds up more and more for Dennis and all that happens is he has a shrill meltdown in the hallway where he just can't stop repeating a few key phrases about himself like a broken robot. And you should know by now how much I hate repetition. Also, Frank (Danny DeVito) skeeved me out more than usual. Maybe it's just watching him try to mix it up with regular people so many years his junior and so many more marbles intact, but I think they may need to bench him a bit. The gang fires on stronger cylinders when they're not wasting time explaining things to Frank or getting sucked into his physically dirty ways.

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