Tag Archives: The Office

Parks and Recreation – “The Master Plan”

“The Master Plan”

May 13th, 2010

I hate to keep driving my “Parks: It’s the New Office!” comparisons into the ground, but I want you to think back to the start of The Office’s third season (which, not entirely coincidentally, picks up right after “Casino Night,” which I compared with last week’s “Telethon”). The show took a pretty considerable risk in introducing an entirely new workplace with Jim’s move to the Stamford branch, and the idea of introducing entirely new characters and “disrupting” the show seemed like a huge risk.

However, while these new characters (Andy and Karen, in particular) were brought into the picture to help emphasize the division within the show, the Stamford branch was comically consistent with the show as a whole. While it was a different environment, and their arrival in Scranton later in the season created plenty of conflicts, we accepted the characters because they fit in with what the show was trying to accomplish on the whole.

What Parks and Recreation did tonight, however, was perhaps even more impressive: they managed to not only humanize a character who is introduced as a point of conflict, but they managed to completely integrate a fairly big star into an existing comedy ensemble with remarkable proficiency. The credit at the start of “The Master Plan” may have jokingly read as “Introducing Rob Lowe,” but both the show and Lowe do such an amazing job of introducing these new characters into this existing group that any sense of conflict within the series’ actual narrative is non-existent, and we’re left to enjoy a pretty fantastic ramping up of both new and existing storylines without seeming distracted or chaotic.

Basically, I’m deep in the pot at this point, so if you’re at all not feeling the love I suggest you leave now before I lose all objectivity.

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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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The Best of 2009: The Shows of the Year

The Shows of the Year

December 21st, 2009

When you’re selecting the Top 10 shows of the year, you reach the point where you have to ask yourself: what would the year have been like if this show hadn’t been on the air?

And this criteria oddly kept a few shows off this list that I thought would have been here, shows which felt like they made a fairly substantial impact at the time but eventually felt defined more by a single episode than by the season as a whole, or by a single performer rather than the entire ensemble. And then there were shows which I love, shows that hold a special place in my heart and held special places within my End of Decade retrospective, but delivered seasons this calendar year which felt as if they were relying on rather than building on previous success. And then there were shows that I know are objectively better than some of the series which are on this list, but yet never felt integral to the year in television as we know it, that never felt as if they had made an impact on my experience with this medium over the past twelve months. Throw in the shows I just don’t watch, and those which just barely missed the cut despite meeting my criteria, and I’m sure there’s plenty of shows which you would contend should have a place on this list.

However, the shows on this list are a reflection of what was a really great year in television, a year where shows with intense fan support proved to withstand critical scrutiny and where shows with strong reputations delivered seasons that demonstrated intense control over their characters and their journeys. It was also a year where we recognize the joys of the Sophomore Season, where a network shows enough faith in a series to give it a second kick at the can and is rewarded with a creative explosion impossible to ignore. And it was also a year where, according to the list below, the network with the worst track record somehow managed to be affiliated with five of the best shows on television, demonstrating that there are some shows capable of transcending industry finagling to simply be great television.

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The Best of 2009: Episodes of the Year

Episodes of the Year

December 20th, 2009

[This is the second of three lists recognizing the best of 2009 in Television: Performers of the Year has been posted, and Series of the Year will be posted tomorrow morning. These other lists will recognize parts of some of the shows missing from this particular list.]

When you review individual episodes all year, you might presume that it’s easy to be able to then categorize those episodes for the sake of an end of year Top 10.

You would be right…and wrong.

See, on the one hand, I have a pretty good memory of individual episodes that really made an impact, ones which stood out from the pack and connected with me. However, on the other hand, comparing an episode of Lost to an episode of 30 Rock doesn’t feel particularly natural, and more importantly you can’t actually create a list like this in a bubble. You have to consider which shows are making it onto other lists, and whether the sum of their parts are perhaps more worthy of recognition than a single episode. And you also need to consider whether a single performance was more likely the cause of an episode’s greatness as opposed to its collective influence. Throw in concerns about nostalgia or proximity clouding your judgment, and you have just as large a challenge whether or not you write episode reviews for the heck of it.

As such, my Top 10 Episodes of the Year are not, perhaps, the best episodes that aired this past year, but rather those which either really connected with me, or felt incredibly important to their individual shows’ success, or those which are on the list so that I’m not so embarrassed as to have those shows represented on none of the lists I put together. It’s not an exact science, but it eventually created a list (which is ordered by air date, in case that isn’t clear) of ten television episodes that really stuck with me this year.

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Television, the Aughts & I – Part Five – “Late to the Comedies”

“Late to the Comedies”

December 17th, 2009

[This is Part Five in a six-part series chronicling the television shows which most influenced my relationship with television over the past decade – for more information and an index of all currently posted items, click here.]

Flipping through the three channels I got using my rabbit ear antennas in my dorm room late one night (okay, early one morning), I stumbled across a very snowy episode of television. In it, a group of office employees organize an “Office Olympics,” which ends up both funny and quite sweet, and I wanted to know more about this single-camera comedy.

Following internet chatter, I heard of a cult-favourite show that my only memory of was my confusion at its victories at the Emmy awards.  Fan response was overwhelmingly positive to the point where my very credibility as a television viewer was in jeopardy if I didn’t join in for its upcoming third season.

Although no one I knew actually watched the show, I heard word of a multi-camera comedy with some recognizable faces that was slowly building a cult following of its own with what it called a “Robin Sparkles,” and since I was wrapped up in a “Save this Show” campaign for a different show at the time I figured I should see if another bubble show might be worth getting behind.

A decade ago, my only recourse in these situations was to find out when the various shows (which, for the unawares, are The Office (US), Arrested Development and How I Met Your Mother, respectively) aired and just pick up wherever they happen to be, hopeful that some day reruns could fill in the gaps.

However, we live in an age where I was able to catch up with twenty episodes of The Office to be up to date a mere week later, and where I marathoned two seasons of Arrested Development to be able to join the Bluth family in progress, and where I spent the summer before HIMYM’s third season learning what a Slap Bet was and watching Barney Stinson own the Price is Right. As a result, I became a vocal supporter of all of these shows, getting in on all of their jokes, despite having been late to the party with every single one of them.

And I’ll admit right now that I probably broke a law or two doing it.

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Cultural Catchup: The Week in Comedy

After a week away in New York, which was really exciting, I came back to a pretty huge backlog. While I might not end up reviewing any individual shows beyond Mad Men (which went up earlier tonight), I do want to be able to comment on the comedy of the past week or so. Drama might be a bit more intimidating (was two episodes behind with both House and Sons of Anarchy), but we’ll see if we get to that in the days ahead (Reality won’t be there at all: Top Chef was predictable, Runway was boring, Survivor was expendable, and Amazing Race was a week ago and similarly uneventful).

For now, thoughts on (deep breath) The Office, Community, Parks and Recreation, Glee, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, Saturday Night Live, Modern Family, Cougar Town, The Middle and Greek (phew!).

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Cultural Learnings’ 2009 Primetime Emmy Awards LiveBlog

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2009 Primetime Emmy Awards LiveBlog

September 20th, 2009

For Cultural Learnings’ complete review of the show, CLICK HERE. For the full live blog, read on below.

I was kind of on the fence about liveblogging the Emmys this year, I really was. Twitter has provided an outlet for quippy remarks and observations that I might have while watching the event, and I ultimately end up writing a huge 2000-word rundown when the show ends so it’s not as if a LiveBlog is going to stand as my only coverage of the big event here at Cultural Learnings.

However, ultimately I want something to be able to refer to when piecing together my final rundown of the night’s festivities, and a LiveBlog seems like the kind of setup that will capture my reaction to the various winners/moments in the ceremony for those who want to know how everything is going down as it’s going down.

So, if you want to follow along with the show or check back later to see my subjective take on a particular moment in the show, here’s where you’re going to want to be. Meanwhile, if you want things elaborate and substantial, check back later tonight for my full analysis of the evening’s winners, losers, and everything in between.

7:20pm: As we wait for the show to begin, feel free to check out my predictions for the big night (the acting categories all link to long analysis pieces of each category): Cultural Learnings’ Full Emmy Predictions.

7:54pm: Enjoying Christine Baranski’s guest spot in a pre-Emmys airing of The Big Bang Theory – an omen for Jim Parsons? Baranski was always going to lose to Tina Fey, but she was damn good in this episode.

8:00pm: And we’re off and running. Television: useful science of the electronic age, indeed. Making fun of Wipeout as “Unsophisticated” is a bit low of CBS, but I guess they don’t have anything quite as lowly…except for Big Brother. Anyways, time for NPH.

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Cultural Learnings’ Complete 2009 Emmy Awards Predictions

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2009 Emmy Awards Predictions

September 18th, 2009

We’ve been predicting the various acting awards throughout the week here at Cultural Learnings, but now it’s time for the biggest categories at all (and the smallest) with our complete, scientific, nondenominational, likely mostly wrong Emmy predictions. For categories I covered previously, click on the category to check out my complete rundown of the category and the justification for my decision, and then stick around for the rest of the awards (including Outstanding Drama and Comedy Series) after the jump.

The 61st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards air Sunday, September 20th, at 8pm Eastern. I’ll be doing some sort of live coverage (either a live blog or some sporadic live tweeting), and then will have a full recap/review of the proceedings once they come to an end.

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

  • Glenn Close (Damages)

Lead Actor in a Drama Series

  • Hugh Laurie (House)

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

  • Steve Carell (The Office)

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

  • Toni Colette (United States of Tara)

Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

  • Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)

Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

  • Hope Davis (In Treatment)

Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

  • Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother)

Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

  • Kristen Chenoweth (Pushing Daisies)

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Predicting the 2009 Emmys: Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

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Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Predicting the 2009 Emmys

And the nominees are…

  • Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords)
  • Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)
  • Steve Carell (The Office)
  • Charlie Sheen (Two and a Half Men)
  • Tony Shalhoub (Monk)
  • Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)

This is a battle that I have spent a lot of time thinking about, and even spent an entire post handicapping the category very carefully. There are three major contenders in this race (Baldwin, Carell and Parsons), and all have really compelling cases for their victory. While Shalhoub has won before (too many times), and Sheen is on a very popular show, and Clement is hilarious in his submitted episode (Carol Brown FTW), they are all out of this race that boils down to the safe, the overdue, and the next big thing.

As you’ll see in my handicap post, I think all actors have something going for them. Baldwin has a gimmicky performance that is integrated into all of the stories in his episode (which would be screened in its entirety for voters), Carell displays a pivotal moment for his character while nicely straddling that line between idiot and genius, and Parsons provides the single-most satisfying scene in the show’s two seasons. When you balance those things out against each other, it’s tough to pick a winner based on their tapes alone, especially as they all have their downsides (like Baldwin lacking subtlety, Carell lacking in broadness, and the rest of Parsons’ submission proving less effective).

So, then, it becomes about stories. Baldwin is a safe choice since he won last year and there are no signs of the 30 Rock train slowing down any time soon. And Parsons is (rightly) considered the next huge comic talent that could really breakthrough with a win here. At the same time, Baldwin is too safe a choice in some respects and his submission isn’t as good as last year’s, while Parsons is still young and one feels he is going to have plenty more opportunities to win this award.

As a result, my mind goes to two years ago. It was Alec Baldwin’s first year competing for 30 Rock, before the show really picked up, and the award seemed like a battle between his celebrity and the celebrity of Steve Carell, who was competing for the second time for his work on The Office. However, to the surprise of just about everyone, Ricky Gervais took home the award for his time on Extras, a decision which genuinely shocked people (even Gervais, who didn’t attend the ceremony).

And, as such, I think Steve Carell is going to pull a Ricky Gervais, just as I thought after watching their three submitted episodes. It’s a likeable performance for a character who some may view as unlikeable, and it’s an emotional performance from a show that some people might think cruel and cold. It’s the kind of performance that proves how vital Michael Scott is to the show and how crucial Carell’s characterization is to ensuring its success. And, while Baldwin might be the safe bet and while Parsons might be the epitome of a dark horse, I’ve got my money on the main in the Woman’s suit.

Predicted Winner: Steve Carell (The Office)

The Michael Scott Paper Company arc was the best thing about a strong season for The Office, and its conclusion was one of those moments where the show’s subtle qualities (especially in Carell’s performance) were on full display.

Dark Horse: Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)

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Predicting the 2009 Emmys: Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

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Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

Predicting the 2009 Emmys

And the Nominees are…

  • Kevin Dillon (Entourage)
  • Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother)
  • Rainn Wilson (The Office)
  • Tracy Morgan (30 Rock)
  • Jack McBrayer (30 Rock)
  • Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men)

The absence of Jeremy Piven really makes this category a particularly difficult one to really “predict” in a traditional fashion. It means that rather than the Academy looking for a change (which I feel would have happened if Piven had been nominated), they don’t even have a choice in the matter, which means their minds could go to any number of candidates as opposed to one logical non-Piven contender.

The logical choice would be Neil Patrick Harris, who I feel will win (and who would have won this award by a hair even if Piven had been nominated). He’s been big in the news with his stint hosting the Tony Awards, and he is also hosting this year’s Emmy ceremony. It’s an example of an actor who people in Hollywood generally like, giving a performance that has been consistently great since his first nomination for the show’s second season. He’s due for a win, and with Piven out of the way this award is most likely to go to NPH.

However, because of the openness of the category, there may be a sense that someone like Rainn Wilson (who like Harris has been nominated multiple times during the Piven era) could be as worthy a candidate. Dwight hasn’t stopped being a funny character between now and Wilson’s first nomination, and that consistency could be his ticket to an Emmy. The supporting categories are always the toughest to predict, and it’s difficult to be able to know how good the memories of voters are, and to what degree they see NPH’s stardom as his ticket over Wilson’s lesser profile.

And that doesn’t even take into account the elephant in the room, mainly the sheer power of 30 Rock in terms of the other awards. Its staggering number of nominations and its sweep of last year’s awards (with Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey and the show all winning) shows that the show holds a lot of support among voters, which brings both McBrayer and Morgan into the fray. I think vote-splitting is likely to hurt them, but there’s always that chance.

As for Dillon and Cryer, I think they’re out of the game: Cryer’s show didn’t even grab a series nod so he won’t have the support to beat buzz-worthy contenders, and Dillon’s time to contend for an Emmy is long gone (although I’ve felt his worth in Season Six of Entourage has been an improvement over Season Five).

Predicted Winner: Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother)

He’s the one contender who has a lot of buzz around him, and submitted a strong performance that highlights the emotional complexity of a character who’s at his best when he appears vulnerable but remains hilarious.

Dark Horse: Rainn Wilson (The Office)

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