Summer is nigh, and with it new seasons of Weeds (June 8), True blood (June 14), and Mad men (August). TubaTV can’t wait, because all these season finales are leaving some serious holes in our week nights.
Last night’s Parks & Recreation stole a page out of the mid-80s Jamie Lee Curtis-John Travolta aerobics classic, Perfect, and reminded us never ever to sleep with a reporter who’s writing a story on you. But if you must, make sure you say “off the record” before you whisper your sweet nasties. Never seen Perfect, you say? That’s what TubaTV is here for.
I don’t know if it’s possible – or even necessary – to go on after that, but here’s an attempt anyway.
So, after what feels like a year of cameos (a month of Idris Elba on The Office, and several months of Salma Hayek on 30 Rock), the guest stars have finally left the building, and NBC sitcoms can now return to whiter pastures. I’m still a little peeved about the wasted use of Idris; Charles’ dismissal from Dunder Mifflin-Scranton was colder than Stringer’s dismissal from Barksdale-Baltimore, and the writers didn’t even have the courtesy of equipping the man with one memorable parting shot. (That’s an average of zero jokes out of the past six episodes, for those of you counting). On the other hand, 30 Rock‘s Salma Hayek, aka La Viuda Negra, got a brilliant exit despite her consistently awkward performance as Donaghy’s querida. Gracious writers that they are, Fey and company gave Hayek the best line of the night:
Lemon, isn’t there a slanket somewhere that you should be filling up with your farts?
No wonder everyone’s signing up for guest roles on 30 Rock (The Chicago Tribune reports that Steve Buscemi, Alan Alda, and a whole bunch of musical guests, including Elvis Costello, are set to appear in the next couple weeks). Stay tuned.
Well, word must’ve gotten out, ’cause the sepia mutiny* over at NBC has swiftly been quashed, with My Name is Earl returning to the 8 spot, and Jonathan nowhere to be seen on 30 Rock. Still, even if our tryst with network destiny turned out to be just a one night fling, it was glorious, man. It was glorious.
Luckily, tonight’s Office and 30 Rock made up for the loss of our emasculated, secretarial brown brother, with two solid offerings: in “Heavy Competition” the Michael Scott Paper Company started to chip away at Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton monopoly, and in “Jackie Jorm-Jomp,” Liz Lemon, after a brief flirtation with the Housewives of the Upper West Side, is back to her normal schtick at Rockefeller Plaza. Parks & Recreation, unfortunately, still hasn’t found its stride, and Knope still feels like a mashup of Michael Scott and Poehler’s Hillary. It did dawn on me tonight that one thing that P & R has that Office doesn’t is a town; and a specific town, Pawnee, full of incensed and lazy denizens (including one sex offender), who, for some completely ridiculous reasons, prefer a construction pit to a park. I’m willing to bite on that improbable plot, as long as the writers start to expand the characters of the town; Pawnee is a promising little setting, manageable enough to fill up with the sort of characters that made a place like, say, Cicely memorable two decades ago. Curious how they play it.
I’m calling The Office FTW. Even if Stringer Bell hasn’t done much since knocking Phyllis’ teeth out a few episodes ago, at least Michael’s fallout has brought a little life and a little bit of drama into the show. Only one more episode with String though, and it’s a shame that Idris Elba, after five episodes, doesn’t seem any funnier now than he did on The Wire. Any hardass could’ve filled in for Elba’s role if all he has to do is get angry at Michael and attract the adoration of Dunder Mifflin’s finest.
*By the way, I forgot to mention the leader of the revolt, Vikram (Ranjit Chowdhry) from telemarketing, on The Office last week.
So the new Amy Poehler vehicle, Parks & Recreation debuted tonight, and critics everywhere are panning it. Critics, in fact, are aggregating other critics, in a collective gesture of panning. Some have admitted to feeling “ticked off.” Some are so angry, they’re drawing historic parallels between SNL and the Ku Klux Klan, through witty reverse acronyms (“TV’s great Kollege of Komedy Knowledge”).
To all these critics I simply ask, what the fuck is wrong with you? Granted, P & R does feel highly derivative of The Office, in form and content (same creators, after all). And in the half hour we’ve seen so far, Poehler’s Leslie Knope comes off like a blend of her Hillary Clinton impersonation and Michael Scott. The thing is, it’s only been a half hour. And newborns, as we all know, are universally ugly.
With all of the discussion of Parks & Recreation‘s alleged failure, these critics missed the more important, debut of the night: NBC’s all-brown lineup! That’s right; for the first and possibly last time in the network’s history (or any network’s history, for that matter), every single show of tonight’s comedy lineup was graced with a desi presence: Mindy Kaling killed it as desperate customer service rep, Kelly Kapoor, hollerin’ at Stringer Bell; Aziz Ansari, the brown delicious wonder himself, obliterated reductive stereotypes of rednecks; and Maulik Pancholy played the emasculated South Asian man to perfection as 30 Rock‘s Jonathan. Never mind that Jonathan was fired in the episode (is GE imposing some kind of brown quota?), and that My Name is ‘Earl’ had to take the week off for it to happen: this was history. Come to think of it, desis were the story on television, all week long. Even if we were the only ones who noticed.
My partner J.C. has been pretty good this past year at tracking the mighty cast of The Wire plunging headfirst into the tepid waters of network television – first, we lose Daniels to Lost, then Marlo to Heroes, and then the brightest star of them all, Michael, to a fucking 90210 rehash. But you can’t blame the actors, really, so much as the casting directors, or writers, or head writers, or whoever decided to squander the talent and rich intertext of The Wire and its players.
So, anyone who caught last night’s Office got to see the latest installment in The Wire meets network television, when one of the most sacred characters in Simonian pantheon made the trek from Bodymore to Scranton, and transformed from Adam-Smith-reading, corporate hard ass pusherman, Stringer Bell, to Adam-Smith-reading, corporate hard ass, paper pusher, Charles Minor. The results? Probably the most unsettling Office this season. Stringer spends his first day trimming the fat at Dunder Mifflin, denying Michael his fifteen-years-at-DM party, dissolving the PPC (Party Planning Committee) and quietly conveying his disdain for his new colleagues, enough so that an unhinged Michael turns in his resignation at headquarters in New York. Experts agree, it wasn’t all that funny. (And here, I’m not sure I ever figured out how much of Michael’s weekly breakdowns were meant for quick laughs or to get at some broader corporate pathos). Still, there is something satisfying about watching just how quickly the white-collared whiteys on NBC buckle under the cold, managerial presence of Charles “Stringer” Minor, and it’s hard for any fan of The Wire not to project that show’s themes onto the jokey capitalism of The Office. The VP of Dunder-Mifflin and the VP of the Barksdale organization: how far apart are they, really?
You know they got the same schooling.