Thursday, April 5, 2012

Tonight's TV Talk: 'Community', '30 Rock', and 'Scandal'...

TV Talk for Thursday, April 5th 2012

Community (NBC, 8pm) - S3, Ep14: "Pillows and Blankets" - The last time this show took on the documentary format, it was to follow Abed's (Danny Pudi) project-in-progress. Tonight, Dan Harmon and Co. took it one step further by presenting this as an already completed documentary with a clear arc, a lot of stock photo footage, and talking heads. I'll admit that my giddiness over the style (things that were awesome: maps and infographics, "All Tomato," the Dean (Jim Rash) encouraging the madness, even though it means no one will go to class, the found footage style of the massacre, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man style weapon Pierce (Chevy Chase) came up with...) helped ignore some glaring narrative issues, most notably that fan favorite Annie (Alison Brie) didn't enter the episode until about mid-way while instead time was devoted to randoms (I'm not talking ancillary characters like Star Burns or Leonard but actual random extras used as "soldiers" in this war). Also, use of so many still photographs kind of made it seem like they didn't have enough actual footage for the episode, as if it was one that was tacked on when the network asked for an additional than the group was originally planning for and many of the actors had been promised a break. I know that isn't actually what happened-- I know the still stylization was to emulate all those PBS and History Channel documentaries, namely Ken Burns', about "real" (read: more widely known) wars-- but there's a reason I don't watch those. I'm sure there were HOURS of material left on the cutting room floor from the scenes staged, and that's what I wanted to see, even if it's just Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) going to town on Chang (Ken Jeong) with a pillow. I feel like the majority of the episode was done Second Unit, and those guys do deserve a chance to shine, so I hope this documentary now lives in the course catalog for "Greendale History 101." Anyway, that being said, the emotional depth of this episode far surpassed my expectations for an off-beat comedy, though, and I was thrilled they "went there" with Abed and Troy (Donald Glover). Through the clever device of emails and text messages to communicate while on opposite sides of the "war," they both said some things they didn't mean to allow to come out but they meant in other ways nonetheless. Troy really does have amazing patience with Abed; he is an acquired taste, and most people wouldn't bother to get to know him past his pop culture references. Abed has always known he's hard to understand (remember in season one when he made the film about his parents' divorce?), but having his BFF slap him in the face with that was just sad. I also feel like this is an episode best watched a couple of times-- to pick up on all of the fun stuff in the background, like Jeff (Joel McHale) refusing to stop filming after the initial pillow blow hit. It's the commitment of everyone from major players to day players that makes this show stand out the most, and I know there have to be some hidden gems amongst all the chaos!

30 Rock (NBC, 8:30pm) - S6, Ep15: "Nothing Left To Lose" - I decided to start writing about this show again tonight because Hazel (Kristen Schaal) was conspicuously absent, and that made me much happier. I generally always laugh at this show, when she comes on-screen, she sucks some of the smile off my face. So getting back to basics, so to speak, tonight (and with Kenneth back in the page uniform) was the show I knew and loved. Revealing yet another one of Liz' (Tina Fey) weird quirks (African American hair pomade!?), unraveling another layer of Tracy's (Tracy Morgan) family issues, Jack (Alec Baldwin) feeling like he helped Liz so much last week he set his sights on an even worse cause this week, and of course, references to work of Jenna's (Jane Krakowski) that better damn well find itself on the DVD extras. And Kellan Lutz being related to our Lutz (John Lutz)!? Amazing. And all from just a throwaway line. I feel like this show got a little off-track earlier this season. As much as I love James Marsden, I am inclined to think that Liz in a healthy, consistent relationship may be to blame for the universe of "TGS" feeling out of balance. But tonight was everything I always loved about the show and then some. Tracy dove head-first into wanting to please Liz when her scent started giving him sense memories of his father, a man who left him and who he clearly still acts out against in many ways. Though it was obvious his good behavior was only going to be temporary, watching him revert to childish attempts at garnering love and praise really wasn't too far off from his usual immature ways. He was just focusing on being positive for once, and it was kind of a nice break. NBC has too much crazy running around its comedies these days!

Scandal (ABC, 10pm) - S1, Ep1: "Sweet Baby" - Oh, sweet Shonda Rhimes, you had me in the opening scene when Columbus Short just spoke so unconsciously fast and cocky. If that's the pace and the tone you're setting, this is not going to be your typical melodrama or procedural, and that's the kind of forward-thinking I like to see on network TV! I personally expected to get invested in Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) pretty quickly and not care much about her specific case of the week, but honestly, this one was so strong and so unique, I couldn't help getting tied up in it-- and emotionally so to boot. Olivia was brash but never unsympathetic when dealing with her client who was clearly so conflicted over how to get himself out of one bad situation only to find himself in one he feared might be worse. But there is no more Don't Ask, Don't Tell, so the fact that she stood by him and told him he shouldn't have to keep who he loves a secret was powerful above and beyond the lengths she'd go to for him as a client. She had to manage his public image; she'd didn't have to advise him from her heart. But despite her speedy clip that gives off the impression she has no time for anything, let alone anyone, her actions prove she does care. And at times, maybe she cares a little too much. Her involvement with the President (Tony Goldwyn) may be a little soapy, but knowing that it's not just the typical affair actually made her a bit more interesting. Usually high-powered women like Olivia are depicted as hard-nosed, career-oriented, 'Screw you if you get in my way' bitches. It's as if in order to be taken seriously in such an important career they can't have a soft side at all. But Olivia has one, and it is one that makes her extremely vulnerable. Because her professional livelihood is all kinds of tied up in this very important man. It makes sense that they'd get so involved after working so intimately together for however long as they have, and it will be equally fascinating to watch how she handles the aftermath of his secondary affair personally, trying to keep its affects on her far away from the office. There were a lot of characters and shady actions by each character to take in for just one episode, but that's just life, let alone life in a world like this. I don't feel like I got to know everyone really well, but this time it didn't bother me. In a world like this, people are guarded and focused on their tasks anyway. I'm not sure we'll ever get to know most of these characters beyond their behaviors or subtle facial expressions and reactions to what they're working on. And I'll take that. Because that's authentic. The one thorn in this show's paw, though not a complete misfire, was the fact that Quinn (Katie Lowes) came into the firm at the start, so she became a device by which the show could explain things they feared may be said or done too quickly for the general audience. I never like that. I like to just be thrown into the action; sink or swim. We're intelligent as an audience. Or if we're not all, it's not the show's job to pander. So I sincerely hope that was just something for this pilot episode and next week Quinn will be up to speed-- literally-- with the rest of them. This show energizes me, and I won't any element slow my stride!

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