Each Thursday, Dylan Garsee and Nick Hanover force themselves to watch NBC's entire Thursday night line-up. This is their story.
Dylan Garsee: En Bee See
Nick Hanover: Dylan's brain is broken from the three hours of tv we were forced to watch last night, which just happened to include an appearance by the fifth dimensional imp, Eben.
Dylan: Thankfully I said his name backwards, so he returned to the 5th dimension.
I don't know many Superman villans.
Nick: But you do know the ones that matter, apparently.
Dylan: Solomon Grundy, The 5th dimension one, and Phyllis Diller.
Nick: Mr. Mxyzptlk thanks you for your recognition.
Dylan: An unsung hero of our times.
Nick: Speaking of Mr. Mxyzptlk, there was definitely some 5th dimensional prankery going on in week two of our Must See TV Coverage, as several of the programs completely swapped quality levels.
Dylan: That was probably it. The disturbance in the Swizzy-verse had many unseen consequences, such as making 30 Rock fantastic last night.
"Idiots Are People Two"
Nick: 30 Rock was the biggest surprise because it made a total 180 from last week. The jokes were quick and fast, Kenneth was more or less moved to the sidelines but in a way that clicked and we had the kind of real world bleedthrough that 30 Rock excels at thanks to the Tracy Morgan homophobia controversy.
Dylan: It honestly felt like an episode from the third season. Jenna wasn't some weird sex-maniac, Liz wasn't portrayed like some disgusting gargoyle, Kenneth was nothing more than a servant and Tracy was an idiot. Back to the wonder years.
Nick: There was also an interesting examination of the Jack/Liz relationship here that reminded me more of the classic episodes, with it coming off as more paternal rather than going down the slightly creepy quasi-romantic tones the show threatened to explore not too long ago.
Nick: The episode centered around Liz basically fighting her need to have Jack approve her relationships, especially now that she's got a live-in boyfriend (James Marsden). It was played for laughs, with Jack appearing as a specter, getting in her head but at the root of it was Liz recognizing that Jack really does care for her and wants the best for her, even if he has an odd way of showing it.
Dylan: Everything about this episode was strangely realistic and subdued, in terms of the 30 Rock universe at least. The show's best episodes seem to be whenever the characters try to control a certain chaos, only to make something else go terribly wrong ("Apollo, Apollo," "Rosemary's Baby"). Kenneth trying to help Jenna results in what looks like the murder of Pete Hornberger, Liz trying to fix the homophobic remarks that Tracy spewed resulted in Denise Richards, as it obviously should.
But where 30 Rock succeeds (as it has since the beginning) the very minute details are always the funniest aspects of the episode. Liz asking for her pancakes with M&M's to be made into a German flag instead of a smiley face, Kelsey Grammer playing chess with Super Computer, etc. All the little details make crazy fans like me giggle like school girls.
Nick: This was pretty much exactly what I want from my 30 Rock, a good balance of the surreal humor of tv life, jokes that build off the show's history and real heart at the center. Really the only thing that concerned me this episode was the Kelsey subplot, but only because it seems to indicate that next episode might be Kenneth and Jenna-centric. But that coda, with the Kelsey Bond theme, was pretty amazing, so I'll reserve judgment.
Dylan: I liked the Jenna/Kenneth/Kelsey episode from last season, only because it gave me a new way to air my grievances: "FRAJEEEER!"
Nick: The guest appearances tonight were handled really well, I have to say I was impressed with Denise Richards' willingness to let herself be a throwaway gag, almost like something from Extras, really. And James Marsden was shockingly good as Liz's slacker boyfriend, with just the right amount of broish personality to make you want to hate him, but with enough subtle charm to make you see why Liz would be attracted to him; it was like a hybrid of his Superman Returns and Hop performances.
Dylan: I forgot that he was in Superman Returns!
Scratch that, I forgot Superman Returns.
Yet I strangely remember The Box. What is up with my James Marsden movie recollection?
Nick: I think The Box is more notable for remembrance than Superman Returns, so I think the better question is "what's up with James Marsden's career?"
Dylan: No one really knows. Not even James Marsden.
Dylan: I'm feeling for this episode because it was not only a desperately needed return to form for 30 Rock, but because it was such as drastic turnaround from last week's embarrassment. What do you think?
Nick: That's tough, because this is a two part episode and the next part could totally blow it. So I'm going to play it safe and say .
Dylan: We'll have to see next week!
Although 30 Rock was strangely excellent, the best program of the night was, not surprisingly, Parks and Recreation.
Nick: I'm starting to get worried because I don't know of any comedies that have sustained this level of quality for this long, not even Community. Help me out here, Dylan: when WAS the last time Parks & Rec didn't nail it? Season one?
Dylan: I don't even consider the first season, save the last episode, only because it's so fundamentally different from the rest of the series.
Nick: This episode was better than last week's, so it's not like the show doesn't have varying levels of quality, but this track record is frankly ridiculous. What made this episode especially stand out for me, though, was how it played up the differences between Ben and Leslie, showing how their ideals and ambitions are what make them such a good match, even when those qualities come into conflict with one another. And then in a perfect bit of juxtaposition, we had April and Andy learning about the world of health insurance and showing why their disastrous qualities and immaturity are exactly why their relationship functions in a plausibly impossible way.
Dylan: While last week's episode had many little plots that all contributed to the main story line, this week's A, B, and C plot were totally independent from each other, yet worked just as, if not better, than last week's episode.
I just hope the show doesn't ever flame out.
Nick: That's always a possibility, but I think you can attribute Parks & Rec's sustainability to the fact that they've really developed and built up these characters. Unlike The Office (which we'll get to shortly), Parks & Rec is amazingly loyal to the characters, avoiding the routine sitcom bad habit of sacrificing character development in favor of humor. Leslie may do stupid things– like tackling Ben in the news station– but those stupid acts are almost always the result of her passion and loyalty getting in favor of common sense. Similarly, the supporting characters all have very natural, organic roles and stick to those roles. Like Tom trying to be the intermediary tonight and admitting he really just wants to be on the winning side, which is why when he bets on horses he never loses…because he bets on all of them.
Dylan: The character evolution feels so natural, unlike 30 Rock which turned Jenna from an over-the-top diva to a sex crazed sociopath. It was such a bizarre transformation, and it felt completely unnatural. But I feel the writers of Parks treat their characters as people, and not just characters, per se. There's love felt with each character, and it shows each week.
Nick: Exactly. Even with the guest characters we get that. Paul Rudd tonight was a perfect example, as his character could easily have been a goofy big bad for Leslie to take on, but the writers instead sketched him out as a sympathetic man child, a clueless guy who's only running against Leslie because he wants his dad off his back and doesn't get why Leslie wouldn't accept his offer to let her actually do everything behind the scenes after he wins. It didn't hurt that Paul Rudd played the role of Bobby Newport to perfection.
Dylan: I thought the end with him sort of having a temper tantrum in the restaurant was a little too much, probably because Happy Endings had a character do that last week, and it was just overload for me. I'm not saying Parks & Rec was stealing from Happy Endings, just that I've seen the same gag twice.
Nick: I don't know, it felt pretty real to me. My brother used to throw bigger versions of that temper tantrum all the time, complete with the falling slack against the seat and hitting his head on the couch and then complaining. At first I thought they were going to reveal that Bobby Newport was like Rita, Charlize Theron's character on Arrested Development, and I was a little worried. But I felt this treatment was much better and also more problematic for Leslie, whose niceness was her biggest weakness tonight and in her campaign in general. It's easy to see why an opponent who's basically helpless would be harder for her to deal with.
Dylan: I can't wait to see how Paul Rudd's tenure turns out. All I know is that it will be great.
Nick: I'm especially eager for his dad to enter the picture, since I imagine that he'll be the bigger threat. I'm also excited by the plotline that deals with Ron Swanson potentially taking over Ben's vacant position in the department.
Dylan: This person I went to high school with made me hate libertarians (as well as ska and Fight Club), but Ron Swanson just makes me want to get an Ayn Rand tattoo and say the word "property" a whole bunch.
Nick: Ron Swanson tends to have that effect on people. His way of dealing with the dam situation was the biggest laugh out loud moment of the night. "But…where will the water go?" "Wherever it's going right now, I imagine."
Dylan: I loved his little skip he did when he left the office after that line. Just so happy…
…with shutting down government projects, that is.
Nick: I think Chris and Ron could make for an ideal pairing, they're great foils and I could see both growing alongside each other. And the idea of Ron gaining more power at the same time Leslie is could result in some interesting dynamics as well.
Dylan: The more I think about it, the more I love this episode. I'm going to go ahead and say it: . All 5 of them.
Nick: I'm going , I don't think it was quite a perfect episode, though it was extremely close.
And now on to the biggest disappointment of the evening: The Office.
Dylan: AKA: The hour that NBC forgot.
Dylan: I knew this episode was going to be a stinker as soon as the cold open came on. Meatballs? Really, Jim?
Nick: Tonight's cold open pretty much summed up everything that would go wrong with the episode. We had a mercilessly dull Jim prank that ripped off a prank he'd done before that was itself based off a prank from the original Office, except with meatballs taking the place of Jell-o as the ingredient that Dwight's stapler was stuck in. Cue Dwight and Stanley revealing they're just taking advantage of how much of a clueless asshole Jim has become and they're merely using him as a means to obtain an endless supply of meatballs.
Dylan: It was stupid, just so so stupid.
Dylan: It felt like something a 13 year old would write. "Guys listen! What if we did meatballs everywhere?! Meatballs! MEATBALLS."
Nick: And yet it wasn't anywhere near as stupid as the rest of the episode.
The gist of it was that the increasingly irritating and smug Bobby California has been forced to sell his Scranton "Playboy mansion" due to his divorce. Kevin, in his special way, talks California into throwing one last hurrah at the mansion and we get an office poolparty. Meanwhile, Andy, the world's worst Michael Scott replacement, is holding onto a family heirloom ring that he wants to give to his current girlfriend, because Andy has never met a woman he didn't immediately want to smother with commitment. Complicating things is Erin, who has suddenly decided maybe she wants Andy back because, hey, he kind of stalked her one night. FUCK THIS.
Dylan: Exactly: FUCK THIS.
Jim came across as an asshole, as usual. Dwight, asshole. California, asshole. Gabe, annoying.
It's like every character's worst traits were magnified X1000.
Honestly, I thought the Robert California plot was going to turn into a re-enactment of "The Cask of Amontillado" by Poe, which would have been hilarious, but instead ended with James Spader naked. Just like all of my nightmares.
Nick: How is it that anything James Spader is in automatically leads to him being naked at some point?
Dylan: Because he wants to make Dylan cry.
Creed, Taunting Dylan
Nick: He makes everyone want to cry, that's what he does. There were just so many awkward, stupid elements in the episode. Gabe and Ryan were locked in a competition over who could be the most annoying asskisser, Dwight helped Erin try to woo Andy back by being the world's most annoying pool party hook-up, Darryl fretted about not looking good enough for his new boo, that girl who is not Pam continued to creepily make her interest in Jim known and Jim was an insufferable douchebag who spent the entire night bragging about how good he is at getting out of parties and generally being a condescending asshole towards his coworkers.
Dylan: It was just such a bad episode that I really don't have anything to say about it, except again, I hate Andy's teeth. And Dwight's forehead face glasses.
Dylan: for me, only because I liked Kelly's viking water burial she gave to the lost engagement ring.
Nick: for me too. So sad to see The Office go back to this kind of episode after the highs of last week.
Dylan: Let's go to the final show of the night, the shockingly not bad episode of Up All Night.
Nick: I think what I liked most about this episode of Up All Night was that a large part of it mirrored scenes from Little Children, namely the incredibly awkward dinner scene. But I'm jumping ahead here. This episode mostly focused on two plots, specifically Reagan's frustration that Shayna Muntz (Megan Mullaly), a formerly morbidly obese woman that was forklifted out of her home and saved by Ava, now has her own talk show and has been apparently stealing ideas from Ava and beating her to the punch. Meanwhile, Chris "cheats" on Reagan and watches "their show," Friday Night Lights, with one of the playground moms.
Dylan: I know I keep bringing this show up, but if this episode is any indication of how it's going to be in the future, I think NBC could have its own version of Happy Endings. Not groundbreaking or original by any stretch of the imagination, but still a great fall back from the 30 Rocks and Community's of the world.
Nick: It still didn't really impress me, but I got more of a sense that this show could grow into something better, though I doubt it will grow the same way Parks & Rec did. The dynamic between Chris and Reagan is interesting, but I wish that the Ava/Reagan stuff would get minimized because I'm just not feeling that at all. Megan Mullaly was a treat as Shayna, though, but she's pretty much always fun to watch when she guests on things.
Dylan: Like when she was a guest on Happy Endings.
I'll shut up now…
There was a little scene in the middle of the episode when Ava, Reagan, and Shayna were all having lunch, and Reagan calls her husband, only to have the other two ladies snicker and giggle at the cliche "wife" things she always says on the phone. Moments like that show that Up All Night might be able to become its own entity, instead of the 8:30 filler it is right now.
Nick: Still, I don't think I'd watch this show if we weren't already committed to reviewing the full line-up.
Dylan: Oh no, not at all.
Nick: Which is why I'm only going to give this episode . Nothing terrible, nothing great, just straight down the middle of the road.
Dylan: I'll go , only because I actually remember some of the jokes this time.
Nick: On the whole, I'd say that this Thursday was about on par with last week, but in a different way. We got a welcome return to form from 30 Rock, meanwhile The Office sunk back to its normal low standards. Parks & Rec was excellent, as always, and Up All Night showed some signs of life. I'd really like to see The Office just die already and make room for Community to return, but I guess people still like to watch a show that puts forth exactly no effort.
Dylan: The Office has been on for far, far too long. If only they put Community back on the schedule, I'd only have one show to not look forward to on Thursday nights now. However, I felt this week was a tad better than last week, only because of the surprising return of 30 Rock and the relatively strong Up All Night. So for me.
Nick: I'm going to go , but I am happy to see 30 Rock bounce back, as well. Let's just hope next week maintains that quality level.
Dylan: We need a snappy catchphrase to close out the column.
Party on Wayne.
Nick: GET FRISKY
Dylan: Until next week STAY FRISKAY.
Dylan Garsee is a freelance writer/bingo enthusiast currently living in Austin, TX. He is studying sociology, and when he's not winning trivia nights a pork-themed restaurants, writing a collection of essays on the gay perspective in geek culture. An avid record collector, Dylan can mostly be seen at Waterloo Records, holding that one God Speed You! Black Emperor record he can't afford and crying. You can follow him on twitter @garseed.
When he's not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for "Partytime" Lukash's Panel Pano