NBC Thursday Sitcom Recaps: And We’re Back!

Last night saw the season premiere of NBC’s fall comedy lineup, and Up All Night, The Office, and Parks and Rec are now off and running in their second, ninth, and fifth seasons, respectively. (Only two more weeks until 30 Rock!) We decided to mix it up this year and run all these recaps together in one nice, tidy post, and given that these shows are all in vastly different phases of their existence, why not explore the ways they work together? It’s the height of Leslie’s career on Parks and Rec, Up All Night is embarking on its second season after a complete retooling, and there are only 21 episodes left until The Office is gone forever. So what did last night’s premieres bring to the plate?

Up All Night: “Friendships & Partnerships”

Megh: Last season, Up All Night struggled to find cohesion between The Ava Show and the Brinkleys and decided to ditch the show-within-the-show aspect to focus more on Chris and Reagan’s more heartfelt moments, and early on in “Friendships & Partnerships” we learn that The Ava Show has been very literally canceled and all Reagan wants to do now is “stay home with Amy and eat hot dogs all day.” Oh, she also has another goal that Chris has hired her brother Scott to turn into a reality: “I have always dreamt of having my own spa-quality jacuzzi tub.” Is that so much to ask?

“Friendships & Partnerships” is one big game of affluent upper middle class people playing musical chairs with their employment status — while Reagan tries to preoccupy herself with the illusion of relaxation that is losing her job and having a torn-up bathroom, Chris gets back his old lawyer job only to realize how much he hates it, and Ava freaks out over a TV correspondent audition and blames Reagan when she doesn’t get the gig. For the ladies, the tension culminates with Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen” used as ammo in a stereo blare-off while they pack up their things back at the studio, reunite over an old photograph, and finally attain yogurt commercial-level peace, harmony, and friendship. (Seriously though, did Fage Total pay for that?) Meanwhile, Chris quits his job and convinces Reagan’s brother Scott (played by Luka Jones wearing a fairly convincing subcontractor beard) to do the same so they can start a business together. Scott’s overly passive way of telling his awful boss to fuck off was an episode highlight (“And by the way, you could definitely work on your interpersonal skills because yeah, they are sub-par”) second only to Ava kissing every child on the playground to annoy Reagan. I just wish there were more sublimely bitchy Hallmark-mocking moments like this, instead of actual Hallmark moments.

Up All Night had the challenge of redefining itself last night, and when paired with The Office and Parks and Rec it’s easy to forget how much of a baby this show still is. Will Arnett and Luka Jones have a perfectly awkward-friendly brother-in-law chemistry, but it doesn’t compare to how expertly Christina Applegate and Maya Rudolph portray two real best friends whose arguments are punctuated by statements like “NO, YOU need ME to need YOU!” The humor might have hit a little too softly last night — personally my favorite part was when the lady at the park said “I dislike conflict so much” — but I’m such a fan of Emily Spivey and this cast that I’m interested to see how the show rework turns out. If it involves more pissed-off Ava jamming to Melissa Etheridge in a flaunty sports car, even better.

The Office: “The New Guys”

Megh: To assure wary fans that this final season is going to be different, Greg Daniels returns to write and direct “New Guys,” which definitely brings some early seasons-era electricity and welcome changes: Andy returns to his manager post after a much needed decisiveness-building wilderness trip, Nellie has been reduced to a nervous subordinate at a sales desk, and we finally get a brief glimpse into the motivations of the documentary crew behind it all. There were some sadder changes too — Kelly quit and moved to Ohio, Ryan quit and moved to Ohio for “unrelated reasons,” and Angela has to find new parents for her cat Comstock because her baby is allergic. (Bonus — Dwight is not the father.) Also, Angela’s idea of the ideal adoptive parents for her cat: “An independently wealthy cute couple with a strong commitment to education, black or white. I’m fine with either but not both.” A few other favorite lines:

Kevin: “So cute that you just want to eat them. But you can’t eat cats. You can’t eat cats, Kevin.”
Andy: “What are you still doing here?” Nellie: “Wonderful, thanks.”
Angela: “If you pray enough you can turn yourself into a cat person.” Oscar: “Those guys always turn back, Angela.”
Andy: “If you Toby out, then you’ll feel like a real Nellie.”
Dwight: “They say you only live once and I’m about to prove it. DWIGHT SCHRUTE.”
Creed: “Not bad for a day in the life of a dog food company.”

“New Guys” also has a nice dose of classic Office-style sentimentality that begins when the camera crew interacts with Jim and Pam after a take, and Pam offhandedly asks them why they’re still filming, that “I don’t think anything’s gonna change in our lives now.” The statement visibly shocks Jim, who has been ruminating about a brighter work opportunity in Philly with an old college buddy that could lead to big money. Not only do we finally get a reason for the camera crew’s continued existence (they want to see what happens with the Halperts), but Jim and Pam are finally given what they need to come out of their boring grumpy slumps — an opportunity to leave Scranton altogether. Your bedroom murals deserve more than small town appreciation, Pam!

If I had to make one gripe about “New Guys,” it’s that its most high-tension moment was a little wasted on Dwight’s overreaction to Dwight Jr. (new guy Clark in a promising performance by Clark Duke — we haven’t gotten that much of Jake Lacy as Pete quite yet) trying to take over his clients, but at the same time it’s totally believable that Dwight would construct a weighted bicycle contraption and attempt to ride it over a wire running in between two buildings to prove his worth over a “pudgy 22 year old” trying to take his job. But between the seemingly more assertive and decisive Andy, the onset of Jim’s (and maybe Pam’s) midlife crisis, and Kevin’s summer experience with a dead turtle, I’d say The Office‘s final season is off to an interesting start.

Parks and Recreation: “Ms. Knope Goes to Washington”

Brad: Each season of Parks and Recreation has a different flavor, thanks mainly to showrunner/co-creator Mike Schur and his crackerjack staff of writers (which now includes Megan Amram and Joe Mande) constantly moving their characters forward into new territories, professionally and personally. Last night’s fifth season premiere kicked off a new chapter of the show with changes afoot for just about all of the show’s central characters. The premiere kicked off Leslie’s career on City Council, Ben’s work on the congressional campaign (with help from intern April), Ron Swanson’s role leading the Parks Department, and the end of Tom and Ann’s relationship. It’s been a long time coming for those two, but I have a feeling they might end up getting back together and breaking up another 10 times over the next string of episodes.

It’s hard to tell off of the premiere what kind of structure Parks and Rec’s fifth season is going to take. It’s the start of Leslie and Ben’s long distance relationship, with him living in Washington for election season while she’s back home reigning over Pawnee. The long distance relationship is an obstacle the Office writers threw at Jim and Pam early on in their relationship, and it didn’t quite work for me there, but I’m interested to see how the Parks writers handle it. Making April Ben’s sidekick was a smart move (even if it feels like it was just done for the sake of giving him an odd couple comedy partner rather than out of any sort of character motivation from April), which should make it easier to tell stories with Ben away from the show’s home base than it was for Pam Beesly’s stint in New York. It remains to be seen how long Ben and April will stay in Washington, whether it’s just through November or for a larger chunk of the season, but it’s definitely giving Season Five a different feel with part of the show’s action regularly taking place outside the city of Pawnee for the first time ever.

– Ron Swanson drives a very un-RonSwanson-y car. I expected him to be driving a pickup truck.

– No sign of Jon Glaser (Delocated, Conan), who has a recurring role this season as a fellow City Council member of Leslie’s who becomes her nemesis. He’ll be introduced in the season’s third episode.

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.

Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.

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