Last week, all Thursday night shows except 30 Rock were bumped so Hurricane Sandy victims could get their reality singing competition fix, and last night only The Office and Parks and Rec returned due to another The Voice butt-in. It's probably for the best, though — I'm all for 30 Rock ending later rather than sooner, and the news of Up All Night's forthcoming changes (including more episodes and a live audience) sounds more grim than exciting given how much the show has already tried to revamp itself. But for a small night of comedy, NBC still packed a punch, so let's take a look at these two solid episodes (which both involved sold family sailboats at one point):
The Office: "The Boat"
Megh: Even if I weren't blinded with the Chris Traeger-level emotions toward the coming end of The Office, "The Boat" still rocks it on all fronts. Andy's becoming ever more manly — even through a family crisis that forces him to put up the prized Bernard family boat for sale — and we also get another peek into more Dunder Mifflin/camera crew interaction when Oscar confronts a film crew member about spotting his makeout sesh with Senator Lipton, which Kevin overhears then is asked desperately by Oscar to keep secret from Angela. An advanced level "That's What She Said" temptation game ensues throughout the episode (Angela: "Last night he was so tired he just wanted a little Mexican brought in"), and beyond that I just love whenever Kevin gets more screen time, especially his "I HAVE TO GO TO THE BATHROOM!" clip compilation complete with the shot of him stopping his car at the parking lot exit to run back inside with his hands on his butt.
Lately I've felt a little meh about Dwight, but writer (and newly hired Office executive producer) Dan Sterling must know that Dwight's at his best when all odds are stacked against him to the max, or in this case, when all his coworkers play an elaborate prank on him that reduces him to a shirtless, pantsless, hysterical mess who thinks he's destroyed then saved the existence of Dunder Mifflin via one fake local radio show interview (which is also a great opportunity to see Catherine Tate flex her American accent skills). And we didn't only get a strong Dwight at his best, but that was the case for pretty much all the characters last night — Erin effectively cheers up Andy and in turn accepts a date invite from smitten new guy Pete; Jim and Pam both do a slick job acting as townie radio show guests; Oscar's affair with the senator is moving closer and closer to its explosion point; Andy's the captain of a sunset cruise with his alcoholic brother (a small but cute Josh Groban cameo); Toby's having serious regrets about convicting who he now feels isn't the Scranton Strangler; Meredith is not afraid to make moves on Andy's alcoholic brother or, what the hell, Andy himself. While it's a lot at once, "The Boat" still doesn't end up feeling like The Office writers and producers are trying to tie pretty bows to prep for the near-end of this little world — it feels real, the characters feel revived, and as in some romantic poem, they're blossoming in new directions under the giddy liberated terror kids feel when they head into their last semester of college.
Parks and Rec: "Ben's Parents"
Samantha: No matter how fairy-tale perfect it's been so far, even a "love story that starts in 1882" isn't immune from petty family drama. While Leslie's already hard at work hyping everyone else up for the Big Wedding (making a second office-wide announcement after Chris thinks they've decided to tell him the good news first), Ben's a little on edge. It's not that he's having second thoughts (or because everyone in the department gave him a Sopranos-style warning not to hurt Leslie, OR ELSE) – it's that he's afraid his parents, divorced for 30 years but as vicious as the day they split up, are going to ruin his and Leslie's engagement party (to make things worse, his request for Twizzler centerpieces is shot down: "We're a Red Vines family," Leslie asserts in her first official wifely moment). He's right to be worried – his parents turn out to be bickering nightmares (and it doesn't help that his dad is played by Breaking Bad's Jonathan Banks). Ben calls a getaway cab, just in case, but Leslie's confident she can play the peacekeeper – especially since she's armed with her latest "metaphorical art project," the Knope-Wyatt Unity Quilt ("On three separate occasions I have used quilts to mend fences"). The labor of love turns out to be the spark that sets things off: when there's no square for dad's girlfriend Ulani (Kulap Vilaysack, in my favorite cameo of the year), Leslie hastily makes one, and Ben's mom prompty cuts it off. When the ensuing fight reveals that Ulani is pregnant, and therefore forever a member of the family, Leslie loses her grip on the situation and attempts to kidnap Ben to get away from all the hatred – but, showing how perfect the pair balance each other out, Ben has had enough and issues a reasonable ultimatum: everyone has to come to the wedding, but they don't have to hang out.
Meanwhile, Tom's still amped on his Rent A Swag business – "You Rent It, You Wear It, You Clean It, You Return It, I Get Rich" – and he's practicing his fundraising pitch (who knew: Ron's been hoarding gold since he was 9 and is kind of loaded). Jean Ralphio Saperstein is BACK, thank god, and he's as electrically inefficient as ever ("You just googled 'Amanda Bynes side boob,' what is wrong with you!" is a thing we never thought we'd hear Tom say). Understandably, Ron balks at the investment when he finds out his least favorite almost-assistant is involved, but when Tom shows some responsibility ("I hate to say this, but sometimes you gotta work a little so you can ball a lot") and calls Jean Ralphio out for not being fully into the project, Ron's impressed by his apparent dedication and agrees to bankroll Rent A Swag. Hooray for another ostentatious business that (hopefully?) slowly melts into absurdity! Also, poor Chris: while we started the season ready for whatever his slow descent into depression might bring, his increasingly lonely pleas for help reach a new low this week when he bursts into public tears (several times) and leaves the engagement party, not wanting to ruin it with his "perfect storm of emotions." Ann, as always the "powerful musk ox helping keep things afloat," tasks Andy and April with cheering him up. April is especially great this episode, showcasing her newfound business acumen by giving Tom advice on how to pitch to Ron, and attempting to bolster Chris's spirits with some puppy love (though she's most helpful when she's rattling off a list of gross shit to balance Andy's sunshine-y affirmations). Chris seems like he might finally be back on track, thanks in part to Ann admonishing his tendency to keep things bottled up inside (cue toilet joke). Across the board, everyone's feeling better after the party, especially Leslie and Ben, who celebrate their victory by making out in the back of a cab. Romance!
Samantha Pitchel writes about and watches comedy in Austin and Los Angeles.
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.