September 24th, 2009
Last night’s ratings report, in all of its complexity, has a lot of big stories. Some are positive: FlashForward won its timeslot, Bones held up well against the increased competition, Grey’s Anatomy grabbed what will be the week’s highest demo numbers, and The Vampire Diaries actually grew in a competitive timeslot on The CW. Others, however, are negative, like CSI plummeting to all-new lows while handicapping The Mentalist which struggled to match last year’s premiere numbers in a more high-profile time slot.
However, the real sadness is in the fall of two of NBC’s sitcoms, in particular Parks and Recreation. Community, with its Office lead-in, is in a somewhat safer position and put up solid but significantly lower numbers than last week’s sampling. But Parks, which struggled in the ratings in the Spring, dropped down to the same levels as The Vampire Diaries and is on a sort of ratings life support. In a month, these two shows are going to be sharing this timeslot, and if they’re already struggling that’s only going to get tougher as things move further into the season.
And this is kind of terrible for Parks and Recreation in particular, a show that not only deserves more viewers but deserves to earn back the viewership of those who bailed early in its uneven first season. “The Stakeout” is maybe not quite as laugh-out-loud funny as Community’s sophomore episode, but I’d argue that it was the best constructed of the three sitcom episodes on the evening, utilizing its characters to hilarious effect and confirming just how much better the show is this season. It may be struggling in the ratings, but it’s killing where it matters most (to us, if not to NBC).
I’m a sucker for storylines that appear distinct but then merge into one another by the end of the episode, at least when it’s done well. When you think about it, such episodes should (by and large) feel constructed or contrived, especially with shows that use large ensembles. But what works for a show like Parks and Recreation is that they have a location like The Pit, which happens to be next to Ann’s house, which happens to have had marijuana planted in it, which happens to lead Leslie to plan a Stakeout on the same night as Ann and Mark are having their date. As a result, the show is able to handle Mark and Ann’s date without moving away from Leslie and Tom’s stakeout, and can even integrate Andy into the equation when Leslie and Tom discover him sneaking down into The Pit (where he’s enjoying the vitamin intake). By the time Tom is arrested for antagonizing Officer Dave and breaking into his own truck (and then Leslie’s weird assortment of Stakeout supplies turns him into a potential pedophile), it’s a comedy of errors that comes together better than it has any right to.
But my favourite moment, without question, was when Leslie was talking with Dave at the Police Station, and evoking the name of Ron Swanson. When the shot suddenly cuts to Ron, sitting in the dark unable to move due to a hernia, I nearly lost it. Nick Offerman was hilarious sitting in a chair for a half hour, and all of the little scenarios they developed with April (from the rolling him down the hall as a big finish to the throwing of the highlighter to her test of whether or not he could see her leave and then his paranoid uncertainty if he actually could) provided the kind of laugh out loud moments that the show can provide on the physical end of the spectrum. But then, simultaneously, we had Leslie and Dave’s newfound relationship (hilarious summed up by Dave’s “I was attracted to her in a sexual manner…that was appropriate”), which was sweet and which showed the show’s capable of having a heart.
By the end of it, I just didn’t see any reason why people who like The Office, or who like any other shows in the same comic arena, aren’t watching this show. Amy Poehler is doing some fantastic work with Leslie’s vulnerability and purposeful nature, Paul Schneider and Rashida Jones made what could have been a rather painful “date” scenario quite light and charming as they are wont to do, and anyone who doesn’t laugh at Nick Offerman delivering “I’m Ron F**king Swanson” while trapped in his computer chair unable to move just doesn’t deserve to enjoy television. I can understand that this type of humour isn’t for everyone, but for those who claim to be fans of other parts of the NBC Comedy Block I’m really not seeing how this isn’t firing on every cylinder right now. Every episode feels like it’s not even stretching things too far, letting someone like Aziz Ansari largely sit in the background of this one as opposed to turning him into the center of attention.
It’s well-written, well-acted, and hilarious – if you want more out of your television, who the hell do you think you are – Ron F**king Swanson?
- While Ansari’s “Tom Haverford” (which we learned was an alias) didn’t get a lot of individual moments, the “Rappers as Latin Plant Names” bit in the cold open killed, and I like what his interactions with Leslie are providing this year. Leslie actually seems to win most arguments, and Tom is less the jerk who antagonizes her and more someone who tries but often fails. She gets him to wear black, he keeps her family from focusing, and eventually they drive off in the car with Leslie rocking out to Sting and desiring mini-golf while Tom only wants to go home. It’s a fun dynamic, and I hope we see more of it.
- I love that Andy treats every movie like it’s the Sixth Sense – even when it’s someone else describing Andy’s character, the joke goes from something annoying (predicting the end of the movie every time) but harmless to something that goes over the top (Ratatouille would have been even more awesome if it was a GHOST rat cooking all of that food).
- I’m not entirely familiar with Louis CK’s work (I know who he is, of course), but he really feels like a completely perfect fit for this universe for as long as he sticks around.