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Mad Men – “The Beautiful Girls”

“The Beautiful Girls”

September 19th, 2010

Based on its title and a number of the discussions which emerged within the episode, “The Beautiful Girls” feels like a particular gesture towards the women who are often central to the series. And yet, because the episode was so fractured, it doesn’t present itself as a sustained glimpse into any of the female characters central to this story. While Joan, Peggy, Faye, and Sally all face down challenges put before them, all of them end up back where they began: trapped in a loveless marriage, apolitical in a political world, face-to-face with tough choices, and a sad little girl living a life she no longer wants to live.

Regardless of the episode’s argument regarding each character’s struggles, the fact remains that the female characters are the heart of this series, and “The Beautiful Girls” comes together as a sustained statement on their centrality if not a substantial step forward in their individual storylines.

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Parks and Recreation – “Park Safety”

“Park Safety”

March 18th, 2010

While Parks and Recreation rarely shows its roots as a spin-off of The Office, emerging instead as a cousin of sorts, I think “Park Safety” was as close as the show has come to feeling like its predecessor. This is, in some ways, a compliment, in that The Office is a show I enjoy, and this was certainly a funny episode of the show.

However, the show went out of its way to create some very specific situations that brought the show more towards broad situational comedy, something that the show has managed to do a bit more subtly in the past. It didn’t end up damaging the episode too much, as those sequences remained funny, but for a show that has been going out of its way to form its own identity there were parts of this week’s episode that made it seem like the production team from The Office had gone into the wrong office for a day. Of course, there were also parts of the episode that dealt with Parks-specific story types, so the Pawnee charm was certainly not lost.

It was just, perhaps, viewed through a slightly different lens, which seemed purposeful in terms of viewing a running joke in a new light.

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Flight of the Conchords – “Wingmen”

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“Wingmen”

March 15th, 2009

At the end of the first act of “Wingmen,” Murray brings Bret and Jemaine in for an entirely unnecessary band meeting: he had, in fact, only called the meeting so he could tell him that there was no need for a meeting. Murray quite wisely noted that sometimes you fall into habits and patterns, and it’s just hard to break them.

For Flight of the Conchords, that pattern is the structure that the show used in its first season, building episodes around songs, and nine episodes into its second season it feels like it is finally falling into a slightly different pattern. There are still songs, but they’re being used less as the meat of storylines and more as points of introduction or conclusion, letting the comedy fill in the gaps. While “Wingmen” wasn’t a comic highlight as far as the season is concerned, the way it used this structure was very effective, and an example of how the show has found new strength in a new structure.

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