Greene Screenings: NBC’s Thursday Night Comedy Block a Studly Dud

By Rebecca Greene
Welcome dozens of readers who enjoy week-old TV reviews. Zing Bang! In my new column, Greene Screenings (get it – it's my name), I watch and analyze TV shows so you don't have to. For those of you who are already questioning how I landed this sweet deal of a column, check out the graph below. It's more or less the usual ratio of perspiration to inspiration.

Let's kick off the column talking about comedy. Just 4 weeks into the new Fall season, I'm already disappointed in the NBC Thursday night comedy block (oh Parks and Rec, how I miss thee). I've always been a fan of the peacock on Thursday night. Back when there was Seinfeld, Friends and Will & Grace – in my mind, it couldn't get any better. But last season actually came close with Community, 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation. (I lost interest in The Office years ago.) This season, not so much.

Community has permanently veered into "surreality" without a clear path back to TV ratings survival. Last season, episodes like "Modern Warefare" and "Contemporary American Poultry" provided some refreshing dips in the pool of "surreality", but there were also strong human elements that are now missing from this season. There's no longer a compelling love triangle between Jeff, Britta and Annie – or any love interests at all. Abed has become a deflated shell of his former self; not sure where they are going with his character. And how many times can Jeff relearn the same lesson: Being selfish is bad. Friends are what's important? Best part of the show: Senor Chang and the Dean.

This week, the 30 Rock live episodes (East coast and West coast – can you believe it?) got a lot of buzz and provided a 37% week over week lift in the ratings, but it was just another in a long line of gimmicks the show has become dependent on for laughs. But the live episode barely took advantage of its "liveness" – Julia Louis Dreyfus playing Liz Lemon in the flashbacks was the only refreshing bit. Otherwise, it was just the same old 30 Rock but with badly delivered lines, missed cues and poor staging. I've been a big fan of the show since inception, but I've been disappointed lately that the show feels the need to bring in a bunch of A-list actors – Matt Damon, Jon Hamm, Elizabeth Banks, among them – to steal airtime from actual cast members. I feel like 90% of the show is about Jack, Liz and all the cameos their love lives warrant. Jenna and Tracy used to be a lot more central to show – not sure why the writers lost faith them. And what's the point of even having Frank, Lutz, Toofer, and Pete?

The Office has been painfully unfunny for the last two seasons. Dwight is disgusting and out of control – more so than usual (see episodes: "Nepotism" and cold open of "Sex Ed"). Jim, Pam, Kelly and Ryan are barely visible. Michael Scott is his usual up and down self, but I was expecting more from him this season given it's Steve Carell's last. Andy is the strongest character at the moment, and I wonder if the writers / producers are setting him up to be the star after Carell leaves. Not sure if this will work out, though – some star power will likely be needed to fill Carell's shoes.
Parks and Recreation ended with a bang last season, introducing new cast members, Rob Lowe and Adam Scott. But the show unfortunately won't be returning until mid-season, being replaced for now by Outsourced. No comment yet on Outsourced, having only een one mixed episode.
Regardless of the lift 30 Rock gave NBC this week, the network remains light years behind CBS in the ratings. And for once, I kind of agree with the numbers – at least when it comes to The Big Bang Theory. Big Bang has a clear identity that it sticks to and reinforces with every episode. It has a core cast that's given balanced screen time for the most part (the show has faltered with the occasional Sheldon-centric episode). And it appeals to a wide audience – nerd jokes, ethnic jokes, and sex jokes abound in good clean family fun.

If NBC is ever to have a chance in the ratings, it will need a comedy that takes place in the home, rather than in the office. As a woman, I hate to say it, but this is the commonality I see in the recent successful comedies: Modern Family, Big Bang, Two and a Half Men; even Seinfeld, Friends, Will & Grace and Everybody Loves Raymond. All of them are either about a family or friends that become like a family, where most of the action takes place at home. Community, 30 Rock, The Office and Outsourced, on the other hand, all take place in an office or school setting.
That's all I have to say about that. Comments welcome, and stay tuned for next week when I write about Season 4 of AMC's Mad Men.

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