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?