February 26th, 2015

How 'Parks and Rec' Transcended its Mockumentary Roots

benwyattNBC’s Parks and Recreation ended its seven-season run Tuesday night and will go down as undoubtedly my favorite sitcom of its era. Created as a spinoff of The Office by writers Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, the first season mostly mimicked that mockumentary style and even slotted in the characters in very familiar tropes created by the show from which it was spun. Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope was a Michael Scott-type — well-meaning but ultimately grating and not adored by her coworkers — and Aziz Ansari as Tom, Rashida Jones as Ann, and Nick Offerman as Ron slotted into the Jim, Pam, and Dwight roles cleanly enough, of course bringing their own personalities to the roles. The results… were fine. Looking back I actually quite enjoy those first six episodes of Parks, the primordial stew phase of Pawnee that would eventually evolve into a uniquely developed world, but there was a flatness not well served by the mean-spirited mockumentary style of The Office.

When the show returned for its second season, gone was Leslie’s contempt for the smalltown bumpkins she served in her work (and Ron’s ill-fitting suit) and in its place came a deep love, capability, and commitment to her work that Michael never brought the Scranton (and Ron’s signature tucked in polo). As Schur says in an interview with the AV Club, “we realized early on that Leslie is not performing for anyone. Leslie is completely authentic through and through, she doesn’t care what people think of her, necessarily, or whether she comes off as cool, or any of the stuff Michael Scott or David Brent cared about.” Thus, when Schur realized that Leslie did not need to be performing for a camera, the conceit that she was being filmed fell to the wayside. READ MORE

Epix Is Developing a Half-Hour Comedy Starring Nick Nolte

Comedy legend Nick Nolte might get his own Epix show. According to Deadline, the premium network is currently in negotiations for a 10-episode, straight-to-series order for Graves, a half-hour comedy starring Nolte as a former US president "who has an epiphany, realizing that some of his policies have brought damage to the country. He embarks on a quest to right the wrongs while his wife is pursuing a career in politics." The series was created by Joshua Michael Stern (Swing Vote), who will also direct if the project lands a series order and co-executive produce with The Hurt Locker's Greg Shapiro. The series pickup is reportedly "pending," but once it's finalized, Graves will make the first original scripted series on Epix.

Our Favorite Harris Wittels Podcast Appearances

The comedy podcast universe is ever expanding, not unlike the universe universe. We're here to make it a bit smaller, a bit more manageable. There are a lot of great shows and each has a lot of great episodes, so we want to highlight the exceptional, the noteworthy. Each week our crack team of podcast enthusiasts and specialists and especially enthusiastic people will pick their favorites. We hope to have your ears permanently plugged with the best in aural comedy.

Last week, the comedy world lost one of its own when standup and Parks and Recreation writer/co-executive producer Harris Wittels tragically died at the age of 30. To celebrate Wittels' life and work, this week we're dedicating our podcast roundup to some of our favorite Wittels podcast episodes over the years: READ MORE

This Week in Web Videos: 'Assassin Banana'

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Casting celebrities does not a good project make, and thinking otherwise is a huge mistake. That's my web video rhyme. Seriously, though. Too many creators think that all they need to do to send a project into the stratosphere is attach a recognizable name, and that's so misguided. Celebrities, just like any talented performers, are great when they have great material. The key to making the most of talent like Scarlett Johanson or even Will Sasso is creating a project that can stand on its own two feet– or banana peels as the case may be–without them and then presenting it confidently to the famous folks you hope can help give your masterpiece its proper, deserved due. Banking on big names to save something from obscurity will never work. Success is driven by passion first, and the people on the marquis should come a distant second. If you build it, they may come, and if they don't, you've still got something worthy of the world's attention. Just ask Assassin Banana co-creator Jordan Rozansky. Well, we asked him, but you can read about it. Here… READ MORE

Trevor Moore and That Awkward Conversation with Your Parents About Your Comedy

trevormooreTrevor Moore, founding member of The Whitest Kids U' Know, returns to television at midnight on March 6th with a brand new one-hour Comedy Central musical special, High in Church. The show was recorded live at the Gramercy Theater in New York and incorporates a full band, backup singers, dancing girls and some truly hilarious music videos featuring Presidential cat assassinations, drunk texts and Moore and his pals accidentally tripping balls at a midnight mass. I talked to Moore about the special, his conservative upbringing, and the latest news on The Whitest Kids U' Know. READ MORE

Colin Quinn Thinks Bill Hader Is Too Kind to Be Trusted

Here's a clip from Colin Quinn's visit to last night's Late Night, where he and Meyers talked about his new web series Cop Show, upcoming book, some of the Oscars jokes he offered Neil Patrick Harris during Sunday's ceremony, and his stance on nice comedians: "I don't trust kind people in comedy. There's something weird about it." Unsurprisingly, this makes Bill Hader the most untrustworthy person in the world.

Conan O'Brien Tells Jon Stewart About His Trip to Cuba

Conan O'Brien visited The Daily Show last night to talk about next week's Conan special in Cuba, and it turns out that O'Brien and his crew almost didn't make it into the country and got stuck in a tiny building watching Gilmore Girls in Spanish. Thanks to some luck and friendly Canadians, the whole trip worked out just fine. The Daily Show also dedicated its Moment of Zen to O'Brien in a throwback clip of him on The Jon Stewart Show in 1994: READ MORE

Conan O'Brien and Howard Stern Talk Depression, Late Night, and 'SNL'

To promote his upcoming Conan special from Cuba, Conan O'Brien stopped by The Howard Stern Show this morning, and the result is a lengthy and fantastic interview that covers O'Brien's entire career, from his first days in college to writing for SNL and The Simpsons all the way to his choice to rebuild his new TBS show Conan rather than continue the bits he made famous during his NBC years. O'Brien also opened up about his struggles with depression — here's a particularly great quote about his early days on NBC late night:

This is an absolute true story: It was the first couple weeks of the Late Night show and I was seeing a new therapist here in New York because I had moved back to New York to do the Late Night show, and I went in and I'm lying there and I said "You know, man…I really think no one likes me, I think people hate me, I think people think I'm not good at what I do, and I think people want me to go away." And my therapist said "Listen, these are voices in your head, okay? We all have those negative feelings, but they're just feelings — they're not real." And I said "Fuck you, it's the cover of USA Today!" [laughs] And I held up the magazine. That's the greatest thing you can do to a therapist. I said "Oh no no no no — it's right here."

Listen to some excerpts from interview below: READ MORE

Tig Notaro Wants to Be Next Year's Oscars Host

This year's Oscars ceremony was…well, not so good, so before the Academy starts planning next year's big comeback, standup Tig Notaro has offered her services as 2016's potential Oscars host. Notaro posted an open letter to the Academy on her website this week titled "Tig Notaro To Host 2016 Oscars," in which she outlines 11 reasons why she'd make a great Oscars host. Here are some highlights:

  • I’ve been known to perform topless just like Mr. NPH did.
  • I live relatively close to the theater and wouldn’t be late.
  • I’m drop-dead cute in a suit.
  • Several years back I was hired by comedian Aziz Ansari for an entire day to write for The MTV Movie Awards when he was host and then -BAM!- the next year writer/executive producer Jill Soloway hired me for an entire half day to write for the Emmy’s when Jane Lynch hosted, so I really know the ins and outs of the whole process basically.
  • Might as well hire me now before the Latin Grammy’s catch wind of my availability and scoop me up.

Notaro makes some pretty solid points, and she's asking fans to get the word out with the hashtag #HashTigOscars. Read the rest over at Notaro's website.

Amy Schumer Plays a Hipster Drug Ring Leader in Colin Quinn's 'Cop Show'

Colin Quinn's fantastic new web series Cop Show premiered last week, and the second episode featuring special guest Amy Schumer was released this afternoon. Schumer plays herself, who is in turn playing the leader of a "female hipster drug gang," albeit a little reluctantly. Hopefully Quinn appreciates the favor.


Taran Killam Is a Big Fan of Dakota Johnson's Dad

Dakota Johnson makes her SNL hosting debut this weekend, and NBC just released the first promo reel featuring Johnson and Taran Killam, who is a big fan of Johnson's father Don from his groundbreaking work on Miami Vice.

This 20-Year-Old Amy Poehler Pilot Is the Stuff of Comedy Nerd Dreams

Welcome to The Second City Archives, in which we post an exclusive clip each week of some of comedy's biggest superstars performing early in their careers on the legendary Chicago stage. Second City has generously given us a glimpse into their extensive archive of live performances, and over the coming weeks we'll be sharing some rare and retro comedy never before seen on the web.

If you're mourning the end of Parks and Recreation today, Second City dug up an extra special clip for us this week that will help ease your sadness — a compilation of Amy Poehler scenes from a never-before-seen pilot from 1995 she starred in with Matt Dwyer and legendary Second City improv guru Del Close called RVTV. Not a whole lot is known about RVTV, so we reached out to Dwyer for some details:

I honestly do not recall where the concept came from. I know it was written by Adam McKay and Tom Gianas, who both went on to write for SNL and of course film and TV. Tom co-directed it. We shot it for a week up in Toronto.

Also, Del improvised constantly and was throwing in tributes to old greats like his Ken Nordine. I think Amy and I may have improvised less, but as with any group of improvisors working together, improvisation is going to happen. Del was constantly throwing in references to Lenny Bruce and the others of that era. The target audience for that show probably would have no idea who he was talking about, but I personally loved it. It was a a great deal of fun and I remember both Amy and I were thrilled to be working with Del. Del was an icon to all of us.

Dwyer says that despite not knowing why the pilot didn't move forward, "the one thing that was great and important to Adam, Tom, Amy, and myself was that we all got to work closely with Del, who shaped everything we did and everything to follow." This particular RVTV compilation includes some trademark Poehler freestyling, spot-on YouTube and Internet Age prophecies, and perhaps most importantly, a scene of Poehler getting Close to admit that he masturbates to Janet Reno whenever she's on television. Enjoy.

Will Ferrell to Star in 'The House' by 'Neighbors' Writers

Will Ferrell just landed another big-screen role. Deadline reports that Ferrell will star in an upcoming film called The House by Neighbors writing team Brendan O'Brien and Andrew J. Cohen. Ferrell will play "a guy, who, with his wife, blows their daughter’s college fund. Desperate for cash, they team with some neighbors to open an illegal casino in the suburbs." The film is currently slated for a summer 2016 release. O'Brien and Cohen are also behind the upcoming film Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates starring Adam DeVine and Zac Efron.

The Gospel According to Barley

nathanbarleyNathan Barley is like treasure. It’s a British sitcom that aired ten years ago, with six sweet episodes eviscerating urban tech-chic culture. I’m talking diamond-hard satire, the kind that makes you laugh with the bitter taste of bile in the back of your throat, and re-shapes your view of the world in the process. Before we had the word “hipster,” before YouTube existed, before smartphones and Facebook and Twitter, Nathan Barley drove a hot iron spike into the heart of our narcissistic, trivia obsessed, self-promotional, media-laden times.

But nobody seems to have heard of it.

On the North American side of the pond, anyway, the show never took off. I’m not saying that it’s as popular as One Direction over yonder, but Barley is respected enough that its tenth anniversary prompted an insightful and in-depth essay in The Guardian arguing for its continued cultural relevance and downright spooky prescience. Despite being a decade old, the show is just as cutting today. If you replaced the flip-phones with iPhones and tightened everyone’s trousers the show could’ve been shot in 2015 instead of 2005. READ MORE