Thursday, September 20, 2012

Thursday Television 09/20/12: Returning shows for three hours of Comedy

Tonight was the 30th anniversary of Fonzie "jumping the shark" in the 'Happy Days' episode that in turn inspired the now well-known phrase. That might be a now infamous moment in television history, but tonight was a pretty happy night of tv for me. You see, I love nothing more than a night of three hours of comedy. Tonight, three of NBC's returning comedies had their season premieres: Up All Night, The Office and Parks and Recreation. Later, I flipped to FX for a dose of 'Wilfred' and 'Louie'. 

Up All Night
During the first season they had trouble balancing the family show about Reagan (Christina Applegate) and Chis (Will Arnett) raising their baby and the workplace sitcom about Reagan working on Ava's (Maya Rudolph) television show. In this first episode of the second season, the writers decided to adress that problem by changing the basic dynamic of the show: Ava's show got cancelled and we end up the episode with Reagan now being the stay-at-home parent while Chris decides to start a business with Reagan's brother (played by Luka Jones).

Because of these changes, the episode felt like a second pilot for the show, a transitory episode to get to the new status quo. As such, it wasn't really a laugh-riot. Actually, there weren't many laughs (that woman on the playground fight was awful). Still, I like the actors on the show. Especially Will Arnett in such a subdued and down-to-earth role. I stopped watching the show midway through last season, but the new balance to the show will have coming back (the fact that it will air between '30 Rock' and 'The Office' will help too). 

The Office
I bailed out on 'The Office' pretty early last season. The show had been on decline for a couple years already, and without Steve Carell, it didn't seem to know what to do. I am back, however, for this last season, because of the return of Greg Daniels. The show's first show-runner (not to mention one of the finest sitcom writers in America) is back for the farewell season of the show and his return sounds promising. 

Watching the show again after almost a whole year make me feel a little nostalgic of the good old years (It also made me remember how much I love Ellie Kemper as Erin). Coming back was also eye-opening to how much the show changed since its beginnings, especially on how the supporting cast has come to the fore-ground. As for how good was the actual episode... On the comedy side of things, it wasn't at the top of its game. I don't get the Andy-Nelly hate relationship (perhaps I didn't watch last season, but it seems to me like a poor man's version of the Michael-Toby dynamic). Dwight has become a character who is just too ridiculous and doesn't seem to be coming back to his more grounded first years. That also seems to be te case with Kevin (that turtle thing was dreadful) and Creed (his final speech was also too much). 

That being said, this episode is a promising start to the season. The writers are establishing the season (and the series) as a journey for Jim and Pam. On this episode, with the arrival of the new young guys, Jim realizes he doesn't want to stay on this job forever and decides to pursue an entrepreneurial venture in Philadelphia. Focusing the narrative on character is almost always a good thing, so here's hoping for a good last season for the show. 

Parks and Recreation
The premiere for this season was titled 'Ms. Knope goes to Washington' and it has Leslie visiting Ben in his new DC job while at the same time being frustrated by government bureaucracy and her new long-distance relationship and.. Ok, enough. The plot doesn't really matter. 'Parks and Recreation' being back just made me incredibly happy. Thirty seconds into the episode, I was already smiling. 

I mean, we got Leslie and Andy touristing in Washington, Ron Swanson being awesome (and having a deep storyline too! in which we see a not-so-perfect side of Ron). We also got Andy and April being the cutest couple ever. And if it weren't enough we also finally got rid of the terrible idea of Ann and Tom as a couple! 

This was the season finale for 'Wilfred'. A show that started out as an amusing show about a guy who interacts with a stoner guy in a dog costume who might or might not be a hallucination, but has now injected its initial raunchy humor with a dose of psycho-drama. On this second season, especially tonight with the freaky twists at the end regarding Amanda's sanity and the picture Ryan supposedly painted as a child, has gone into some very disturbing level. Not unlike what 'The United States of Tara' was doing towards the end of its run. 

The difference between 'Tara' and 'Wildfred' so far is that the latter still has episodes largely dedicated to the ridiculous, raunchy, almost crass humor that a guy dressed in a dog suit provides. The mix of comedy and darkness might not always work, but 'Wilfred' deserves some extra points for trying. 

This was the conclusion to the 'Late Show Trilogy', which had Louie trying out to replace David Letterman in an unusual (for the show) multi-episode quest of epic proportions (for the show) that showed, in my opinion, just how amazing a story-teller Louis C.K. is. The mix of surreal showbiz antics (led by David Lynch as Louie's trainer for the job) and genuine heartfelt moments about what the pressure of trying out for a life-changing job would do to a guy. And the bittersweet payoff to the story was one of the finest moments for the show. If Louis C.K. can submit all three parts of the 'Late Show Trilogy' for Emmy consideration next year, I think he could win it in a cakewalk. 

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