Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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End of the Road: Comedy Night Done Right

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 30, 2008

Will TV ever TRULY be must-see again?

I had about a half-hour to kill late this afternoon, so I decided to pull out a new-ish episode of The Office I had downloaded recently. It had been a few months since I’d seen the show, and I was curious to see what the gang was up to since I had last checked in. The episode was last week’s I think, in which the Dunder-Mifflin employees are distressed about being forced to park in a far-away lot, and in which Michael tries to move on from Jan by becoming infatuated with a girl in a chair catalogue. It’s entirely possible that neither of these were the episode’s central plot point, but I wouldn’t know, because I turned it off about five minutes in–it was all I could take, pretty much.

What happened? Not only did this used to be one of my favorite shows on TV, but thinking on it a minute, I realized that The Office wasn’t the only show I’d soured on recently–all four of NBC’s Comedy Night Done Right regulars (Office, 30 Rock, Scrubs, My Name is Earl) had fallen out of my regular-watching favor. There was a time not that long ago–last year, in fact–that I barely ever missed a single episode of these shows, and when I did, I always caught up with Torrents by the end of the week. Now I don’t even know when these shows are airing new episodes or not. Part of it is due to the disruption Writers’ Strike, part of it is due to the fact that I work Thursdays now, but there has to be something more. Let’s break it down by show:

  • My Name is Earl: Of all the shows that have fallen in standing with me, this is the one that I find the least disappointing. I don’t really like Earl any less than I ever did, I just realized that it’s more of a show meant for re-runs. I’ve come to realize that this is an important distinction for shows, and not necessarily an insult–shows that arc less, have very self-contained per-episode plots, and are consistently enjoyable without approaching obligatory viewing just happen to lend themselves more to re-runs. The golden standard for this, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, is King of the Hill–a show that’s on TV constantly, has enough episodes that you’ve got a farly good percentage of seeing an ep for the first time whenever you watch, and is almost always enjoyable enough to be worth watching. My Name Is Earl, already a breath of fresh air in TBS re-runs, is probably only a few seasons away from reaching similar status.
  • Scrubs: This one was the longest time coming for me. Of course it wasn’t just the new episodes that I stopped digging–it was the show in general, which after a period of about six months in which I watched the show maybe ten times a week (which, believe me, is only a fraction of the # of times I could’ve watched it if I’d really set my mind to it), went from charming to grating in all areas in about a heartbeat. It’s funny to watch nearly everyone I know who fell in love with the show around the same time I did go through the stages–the initial crush, the ballooning to near-obsession, and then the sudden, inexplicable cold shoulder. That’s not to let the new episodes entirely off the hook, though–one can only watch these people go through the same relationship motions so many times before it starts to feel like Grey’s Anatomy, and plot devices like the Musical episode and having Laverne die just weren’t doing it for me. The good news for me is that recently I became able to at least watch the old episodes again, though I’m trying to keep it in moderation this time, and maybe one day I’ll even catch up on how the series eventually ends.
  • The Office :What it is here is that the plot stopped being important altogether. I didn’t even really realize it until it wasn’t there anymore, but a big reason as to why I watched the show is because I legitimately wanted to see what happened with Jim and Pam–it wasn’t just a background plot to anchor the series a little bit, it was the big emotional pull for the show, climaxing in what I still believe to be maybe one of the greatest and most jaw-dropping scenes in TV history in “casino Night,” the S2 finale. But now that they’re together and happy…what is there left to watch for? Jan and Michael? Andy and Angela? Creed and his mung beans? It’s the eternal televisual connundrum–the consummation of the sexual tension between the male and female romantic leads, which you wait the entire series for, but once it actually happens, the show’s never quite the same again. The best the show can hope for now is to follow Earl‘s lead into King of the Hill re-run gold territory–or maybe more like late night replays of Cheers.
  • 30 Rock: This one I feel the least comfortable denouncing, because, to be fair, it’s still been a while since I’ve watched it last. The relationship between Jack and C.C. (Edie Falco) wasn’t really holding my interest, Liz’s plots were feeling a little redundant, and reliable supporters like Jack and Frank hadn’t really hit any home runs recently. But I don’t know if I can say for sure that the show’s had an across-the-board drop in quality, and a particularly inspired mini-arc, a quality guest spot or a good new running gag might be able to right this show in the space of an episode or two.

And of course, it’s worth mentioning that a lot of this is due to the fact that not only have the shows changed since last year, but so have I, at least in my TV habits. Partly due to a highly subpar new TV season, the ends of the short seasons to Friday Night Lights and The Wire, and the fact that I’m spending such a large percent of my TV watching on the NBA playoffs these days, there’s really very little on right now that I’m making a point to awatch–the unexpectedly compelling fourth season of LOST is all I have right now as a priority, augmented by occasional viewings of new episodes of How I Met Your Mother (also getting a little repetitive, but still fairly watchable, even if the whole Britney thing didn’t turn out too remarkably).

I’m actually fairly curious what readers out there have to say about this. Am I not giving these shows a fair shake? Have any of them picked it up recently? If not, what else new are you watching on TV? There’s gotta be something out there, right?

11 Responses to “End of the Road: Comedy Night Done Right”

  1. Sonja said

    How I Met Your Mother is definitely picking itself back up after the writers’ strike. I’m hopeful for the return of comedy in the Office…

  2. Asher said

    Last week’s 30 Rock was brilliant. Otherwise you’ve pretty much nailed everything, although since they’re all still in the top 6 current TV comedies, I feel morally bound to watch every one.

  3. My name is Kenny said

    Watch that particular episode of The Office all the way to the end and see what you think of the Jim/Pam saga then.

  4. Jack said

    Scrubs leaves me really cold now. I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened, but I reached a point where I just don’t care – AT ALL – about anything happening on the show. I don’t have an explanation either, which is really frustrating. I used to love this show, and used to absolutely OD on the DVD sets, and now I just don’t give a crap. I don’t get it, and (obviously) I’m perplexed.

    As for The Office, I thought the pre-strike Season 4 episodes had been really good. The couple of episodes that have aired post-strike, however, have been thoroughly meh. And the “Jim is incompetent” subplot that’s been running throughout this season has been odd. I’m nowhere near as soured on it as I am Scrubs, but I’m concerned about how the show seems to be trending downward.

  5. intensities said

    The thing with Scrubs I think is that it’s like any serious relationship–you spend too high a concentration of time with someone, and everything that used to be endearing about them suddenly makes you really irritated (especially for a quirky show like Scrubs, where the line in between the two is so thin to begin with). The good news is you probably just need some space–give it a half-year or so off and you’ll at least be able to watch re-runs again.

  6. Dan said

    How is Jack’s scene with Tracy Jordan, when he gets rid of Tracy’s daddy issues by imitating the entire cast of Good Times, not a home run? And Edie Falco was hilarious. I don’t think the problem is that the shows are getting worse (except Scrubs, though it has been on a run in the past couple of weeks), but that you, for some reason, simply like the shows less. And How I Met Your Mother is funnier now than ever. The Office has also picked it up recently, since the Dinner Party episode and last weeks episodes were so good.

  7. Dan said

    One more thing: I’m not sure if all these episodes are still being affected by the Writer’s Strike. 30 Rock has had some plots that would have been cut in a normal year (Pete getting stuck in a vending machine, for instance) and the Office writers haven’t had enough time to come up with great storylines for the supporting characters (except Toby in last week’s episode). I feel that if these shows had not been rushed into production, they would be slightly better.

  8. Victor said

    Scrubs has always sucked.

  9. Al2 said

    I’ve always thought the Office was about replicating the painful truth that you can’t really choose who you work with and in most instances you hate you work with. And how dealing with an awkward, painfully unaware boss can be the slowest torture of all. So, for me, the Pam/Jim stuff has always been the sideshow, and the best parts of the show are the small, awkward moments: Like the lyrics to Hunter’s power ballad obviously referencing an encounter with Jan durring “Dinner Party” or Michael’s questions about how his blind date collects rent checks, during “Chair Model” or Toby hopping the fucking fence in the last episode after groping Pam. Frankly, I think the show is hitting on all cylinders right now, as it is darker than ever and perhaps darker than any network television comedy ever(?).

    I also love 30 Rock but the formula has been wearing a little thin lately. And I am apparently the only one in the world who does not find Will Arnett all that funny.

    Scrubs has always been a soul-sucking suckfest. It’s a cut and paste television comedy, similar to Friends. Each character has a number of facets. Carla is bitchy. One subplot will deal with her being less bitchy/more bitchy, etc.

    My Name is Earl was amusing at first, but now seems overwhelmingly condescending. I particularly can no longer take Jason Lee’s measured line readings.

  10. Dan said

    Scrubs, The Office and 30 Rock were all really good tonight

  11. Haley said

    I am not sure about everyone else, but Ryan’s subplot as a drug addict really threw me off… unneccesary to anyone else? I could always see him turning into a smug little bastard, but druggy? I do agree that the darkness of the humor is a pleasant change, but not too dark now.

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