NBC Thursday Sitcom Recaps: Bunions, Bidens, and Big Lebowskis
Halloween and Hurricane Sandy are finally behind us, and last night’s lineup returned in full before it goes away again for Thanksgiving break next week. So will Up All Night survive its second retooling? Is The Office keeping up its final season momentum? Did Biden do a good job on Parks and Rec? And most importantly, has Liz Lemon ruined her feet forever?
30 Rock: “Aunt Phatso vs. Jack Donaghy”
Halle: First of all, I need a black coffee. And by that I mean, a Sunkist.
Taylor: Ha! Take that Black People!
Halle: Second of all, I thought it was a hella fun episode…but other than the Jack Donaughy plotline, was kind of something we’ve seen before: Hazel being cray-zel, Liz deciding what to do about motherhood
Taylor: yes, every plot line was a retread. Even Jack being a villain on a movie or TV show has been done. In one of my favorite episodes, Generalissimo.
Halle: oh, you are so right. And Tracy has another fat old lady character: Honky Grandma. Why not just make it a Honky Grandma sequel?
Taylor: But El Generalissimo made fun of BROWN people TV
Taylor: THIS episode made fun of BLACK people TV. So you know. It all checks out.
Halle: Can we agree on the best part of the episode at least?
Taylor: Hazel having a glass of water in her coat pocket?
Halle: When Jenna started singing about Jenna in her own mind?
Taylor: Knot’s Landing?
Halle: “My twin is dead.”
Taylor: That was certainly one of my highlights, and a perfect example of how infallible the timing on this show is. One second shorter or longer and it wouldn’t have been as funny
Halle: Really everything Jenna did last night was spot on.
Taylor: So let’s move past our disappointment that tonight was another non-tanking episode, and get straight to Hazel. Because she’s the story here, right?
Halle Oh man, as a side note, what if Jack was encouraging Liz to focus on family IN ORDER to help NBC take?
Taylor: Oooooo. That would be a pretty villainous thing to do. What if the finale or whatever reveals that all these non-tanking eps WERE tanking eps? They’ll do a Sixth Sense style flashback montage, and we’ll see they were tanking the whole time. Then Bruce willis goes to Heaven!
Halle: I can only hope. As for Hazel..I like Hazel being crazy, but Liz already KNOWS Hazel is crazy. Why would she make her an assistant?
Taylor: Yeah. this is the constant conundrum of sitcoms. Just how much do the characters remember or forget between episodes, because everyone on TV should have learned a long time ago to never go near each other again
Halle: Haha. Okay, true.
Taylor: That being said about Hazel, I thought this was her best episode by far and it appears, her final one. Or at least the beginning of a Hazel caesura. What is a caesura? Did I type that?HALLE MY KEYBOARD IS HAUNTED.
Taylor: What are your feelings on late series character additions?
Taylor: Can a great final episode redeem a Poochie?
Halle: I think they can work. I liked Hazel okay, but I wish they hadn’t made her so totally bat shit AND mean so early on. I wish this had been a crescendo of an episode, versus not much of a surprise.
Taylor: She was Chaotic Evil. The weird dark side of Kenneth.
Halle: I also feel protective of Kenneth
Taylor: Who? I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening
Halle: *car wheels screeching away* That joke is NEVER not funny.
Halle: what did you think of Hazel
Taylor: She was like an experiment that got out of control: “What if Kennth was evil?” And it turns out that that sort of unhinged, non-sequitur spouting detachment from reality gets real dark real fast when you make it mean rather than benevolent. But I loved her last night, when Liz fired her. Liz!
Halle: Man, do u think Liz is going to quit? If only Pete wasn’t completely useless.
Taylor: NOOOO. YEESSSSS
Halle: Yeah, I it feels like maybe she will. But she cant quit, get married and have a baby! Not with Tina Fey in charge!
Taylor: Ugh, what a copout.
Taylor: You hire a nanny and get an assistant at work.
Halle: yes, I’m aware of that. It’s just weird Liz Lemon seems unaware of it, which makes me nervous.
Taylor: Just like Hazel, she has to be or there’ no show.
Taylor: Gilligan has to keep trying to get off the island
Halle: No one wants to see Gilligan take care of a baby. I take that back, of course I do!
Taylor: You know he gonna drop that baby
Halle: He’s going to let the Professor turn that baby into a radio
Halle: See, and I know this is totally pointless to say, but I kind of wish Tina Fey had gone with making Liz Lemon being married with a kid like the real life Tina Fey
Taylor: Me too.
Halle: It’s like, I know how to be a dateless cheese-eating neurotic all on my own.
Halle: now what would it look like…if that person ACTUALLY KEPT THEIR MARRIAGE
Taylor: I feel exactly the same way. I want to Liz succeed at this so very much and I really hope that’s how it plays out. Because it DID play out for Tina!
Halle: Maybe she’ll get her own show
Halle: Oh shit, that’s it.
Halle: No, Liz is going to get her own show where she writes a Liz Lemon character.
Taylor: Oh! Of course! It ends with her beginning to shoot the pilot for 60 Rock or whatever
Taylor: They should let us write this finale. Or maybe not. I’d have them all sitting together in a Church that is really purgatory and they all walk out into a bright light
Taylor: and then every comedy nerd in america jumps off a bridge
Halle: It’s all going to have taken place in a snow globe that belongs to Kenneth
Taylor: We are NAILING it
Taylor: Michale Keaton never fixed the gas leak and Liz’s baby is just a hallucination. OR It’s Liz sitting at a typewriter like Roseanne “Tracy died of diabetes foot two years ago.”
Halle: I just had an orgasm just thinking about it. It turns out what’s his name was entirely fictional
Halle: No, literally, what’s his name? Danny? The young white guy I don’t even think we’ve seen this season?
Halle: according to IMDB he was in last week’s ep, but darn if I remember him!
Halle: okay, well, we’ve done out part
Taylor: No more can be expected of us
Halle: We’ve helped put these ideas into the universe. That’s all we are required to do.
Taylor: And I’ve got a whole Urban Butts Magazine jumble to get through. To the bath tub I go!
Halle: Great, I have to go listen to the theme song from Sanford and Son for 4 hours while mating with a dinosaur.
Up All Night: “Thanksgiving”
Megh: A lot of Up All Night news bombs have dropped since “Ma’am’d” three weeks ago — not only is NBC retooling the show again, but they’re adding three more episodes this season and switching to a multi-cam format, live audience and all. (Perhaps that’s why, during the cold open of “Thanksgiving,” baby Amy is replaced by a baby doll prop wrapped up in a pink blanket — will they hire identical twin three-year-olds for the multi-cam episodes, Full House-style?) Pair that with NBC’s plans to avoid the traditionally “narrow brand” of its more recent Thursday shows, and it’s safe to say that whether Up All Night improves from these changes or continues to flounder, it’ll earn a reputation for being one of the most Frankenstein’d shows on television right now, a freakish experiment transitioning from the strange and innovative to ideas that “invite more than just a few people into the tent.” Still, I can’t deny that this cast might benefit from a more live show type format, and it makes sense considering the ratings jump Up All Night enjoyed after Applegate’s SNL episode. Applegate will flourish regardless — she’s the best thing on the show, staying cute and grounded and aware of her surroundings while the other cast members either over or under-play.
But to the episode. Upcoming changes aside, “Thanksgiving” delivers as much as its surprisingly uninspired title — standard holiday episode fare full of slapsticky womp-womp moments: The Jell-O didn’t set! The turkey gets dropped then run over by a car! There are fingernails in the stuffing! What works best aren’t the show’s set piece guffaws (is any couple so clueless that they would carry a 30-pound turkey down the street on an overly tiny and unsteady oven rack, unfastened? It’s like they want to fail) but instead the little character touches — Ava’s sudden passion for volunteer work (Rudolph is, as always, brilliant with her over-the-topness — “We are the angels you’ve been praying for. We are THE VOLUNTEERS!”), Walter’s dependence on “pocket Craysins,” Reagan’s fluttery “Happy Joy Joy” kitchen singing, and Scott and his “divorced dad bros,” including MADtv‘s Will Sasso with a solid defense of his Hot Tub Nurses porn tape: “Don’t worry, it’s from the 80s, so there’s a real story.” Also: “Keg stand, m’lady?”
Sure, there are some smirk-worthy moments, but this couple still seems trapped in the confines of the show, where characters are defined more by what they are not (adaptable, relatable, interesting) than what they are. Not many people can relate to unemployed but still upscale couples with seldom intrusive children and sprawling modern LA homes who make haughty frequent flyer inside jokes, and if NBC wants to avoid that whole “narrow brand” thing, they should consider Reagan and Chris Exhibit A of sitcom don’ts.
The Office: “The Whale”
Megh: Another thing Up All Night could do to save itself is make its cast and writers watch The Office for pointers on sitcoms done right — a lot happens, and the jokes fly fast in ways Up All Night would probably think are too abstract for its fluffy demographic — Jim gets kicked out of the start-up company, Dwight learns how to sell to (and act like he’s listening to) women, Angela learns her husband’s mistress is actually Oscar, and we finally get to see how the all-powerful Jan Levenson is doing after all these years — after her breakup with Michael, after Hunter, after Serenity Candles, and after the birth of her daughter Astrid. Jan’s just the perfect mix of old-school Office bitchiness and Michael Scott-era drama to keep the buzz going — I don’t think a better early-season character could’ve been chosen to return last night. I especially loved Pam’s bemused indulgence of Jan’s painfully self-absorbed Astrid photo slideshow, which includes genius narcissist lyrics like “Mommy you’re a superstar” and “How could I ever fill your shoes?”
A lot goes down in “The Whale” — referring to the potential sale from the Scranton White Pages that turns out to just be Jan trying to get ahold of Wallace, not that Andy’s cruise to the Caribbean seems to be turning into a deadly journey without drinking water and communication with the outside world — but my favorite takeaway was every single thing Erin says. Like when she leans into the men’s bathroom and yells “EAT IT STANLEY!!” or says “Hi I’m Mr. Hannon, how can I help you?” in her “man” voice or when she tells Pete his mustache makes him look like “a cyclops whose eye fell out” or when she advises Dwight’s listening-to-women technique: “It’s just a regular nod, like a person.” Dwight: “I AM A PERSON. Toby and his “very fertile hair glands” was another great addition — is Mustachioed Toby the new Hipster Erin?
Parks and Rec: “Leslie vs. April”
Samantha: The opening of “Leslie vs. April” is pretty much how we imagine Leslie’s dirtiest fantasies begin: in front of the White House. As she dreams of her 2024 election, Ben surprises her with the one engagement present that’s better than a waffle tower – an impromptu meeting with dreamy VP Joe Biden. When her not-so-secret crush greets her, she gushes, assuming he’s inviting her to take over Hillary Clinton’s post, then gets a little handsy before waving a finger at a guard on the way out: “You don’t let anything happen to him, you understand me? He is precious cargo.” Perfect. Back in Pawnee, Ben’s ready to settle into his new accounting job (“Just call me Bond – Municipal Bond”), but he can’t stop getting offers for better options, from Tom’s proposal that he help make “stacks on stacks on stacks” at Rent A Swag, to Sweetums’ pitch that he head up their new non-profit – he even gets tapped to appear on Small Business Today with Brian Raisins (Paul Rust!), despite the fact that he’s “like The King’s Speech, but the first part, before he’s fixed.” Leslie’s got something equally exciting going on – April’s pitching her first project, a dog park, and her mentor couldn’t be prouder. Until she finds out that the park’s slated to be set on Lot 48, the space adjacent to Ann’s house that she’s (unsuccessfully) been trying to build up for years. Leslie goes to great lengths to deter April, attending her creepy friend Orin’s performance art show, asking Ron how he used to kill her buzz, and suggesting alternative spots (like a lot that “seems like the kind of place a ska band would go to shoot heroin”), but April’s got her mind made up – and she’s even got the support of the hated Councilman Jamm. When the fuzzy haired orthodontist throws everyone under the bus by suggesting the city sell the space to Paunch Burger, the ladies ditch their drama and team up to take him down. They establish an interim dog park on his front lawn (“not illegal technically, but it is a dick move,” Leslie notes), and he breaks, agreeing to a three-month planning period before deciding the lot’s fate.
Ben and Leslie aren’t the only ones with job drama. When Andy’s computer goes missing, he assumes it’s a test of his investigative skills to prepare him for the police academy. He grills everyone in the office (“I can never tell when people are lying to me. Hopefully, that doesn’t come up in my police work”) before Chris realizes it might be an actual crime, calling in the actual police to file a report. The world-weary officer who shows up dashes Andy’s enthusiasm by telling him most police work is paperwork, leading to a complete meltdown (“When I get bummed out I take my shirt off, because the bad feelings make me feel sweaty”), but Chris saves the day – he makes Andy a security guard, so he can test the waters of law enforcement without a big commitment. And, after realizing he’ll always have something to fall back on, Ben ends up quitting the accounting firm before he even begins, leaving more time for Rent A Swag consulting (and maybe even a sweet Urban Outfitters gig).
Samantha Pitchel writes about and watches comedy in Austin and Los Angeles.
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.