Thursday TV Review: NBC Comedies, Kids Talk Divorce
As I was watching HBO's kids'-eye-view examination of divorce (discussed below), I couldn't help reflect on my own break-ups — TV-related, mind you. Cases in point: I hear Weeds went off the air last weekend, way past its expiration date; I gave up on that one long ago, around the time they were on the lam in the Northwest, unmoored from any sense of reality and continuity or purpose. More to the immediate point, NBC's The Office is returning for its ninth and mercifully final season; I finally broke up with this one partway through last year, around the time it was clear James Spader was a bad fit for the show, bottoming out with those episodes set in Florida (introducing Catherine Tate, who before this I would never have believed could be unfunny).
Always willing (well, within reason) to give a show another chance, especially as the endgame is now in sight, and since NBC was kind enough to send an advance screener, I watched tonight's Office season opener (9/8c), and I wish I could say it was a pleasant surprise. Sorry, Dunder Mifflin, I might come back for your going-out-of-business sale (or whatever constitutes a not-so-grand finale), but for now, you're in fourth position in this time period once everything kicks into gear next week. (Only The CW's laughable take on Beauty and the Beast keeps this from dropping into fifth. Oh wait, Project Runway is still on. Fifth place it is.)
Among the turn-offs: Dwight barfs in the opening reel. (Reminder: Keep begging NBC powers-that-be to rethink a Schrute beet farm spin-off.) New employees are introduced to replace Kelly, who's gone on to a happier place known as The Mindy Project, and Ryan, and the newbies are instantly labeled "New Jim" — his actual nonsensical nickname is too revolting to put into print — and "Dwight Jr." Dwight is even more obnoxious than usual as he tries to upstage the new kid on the block. Andy is back in charge, which is OK (but as before, tends to make us miss Michael Scott), and has undergone a personality transplant that makes him inexplicably unlikable and cruel, even if he has reason to hate Nellie (the poorly used, aforementioned Tate). There is exactly one interesting storyline, as the bland but gung-ho "New Jim" prompts the Real Jim (John Krasinski, invaluably sympathetic as ever) to re-examine the lack of drive that has kept him chained to this dead-end desk. Where that leads I might actually be compelled to follow, but not at the expense of tolerating the rest of this sadly played-out workplace comedy.
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It's a happier state of public affairs on Parks and Recreation (9:30/8:30c), where as the episode title explains, "Ms. Knope Goes to Washington." D.C., that is, with Leslie bringing along the imbecilic Andy to visit their soulmates Ben and April. Things don't exactly go the Frank Capra way for our idealistic and starry-eyed councilwoman, who can almost taste "the sweet sugar of bureaucracy at work." More like poignantly bittersweet, but the cameos by actual politicians are well done. Meanwhile, Ron Swanson cultists will be delighted (or possibly horrified) by his handling of the annual employee-appreciation barbecue, which could result in a new T-shirt declaring, "Everyone, meet your meat!"
In the bigger picture, it was smart for NBC to launch so much of its schedule in advance of next week's onslaught. Getting shows sampled is the first hurdle, and the question is now whether the audience will keep watching strong starters like Revolution and Go On (or, as fake Ryan Lochte called it on Saturday Night Live this week: "Goon"). One returning show that might as well be new is Up All Night (8:30/7:30c), which wasn't available for preview. With The Ava Show now canceled and Chris (Will Arnett) deciding to go back to work, it sounds as if the show is basically starting over again. So why renew it? At least it has the good luck to follow a special prime-time edition of Saturday Night Live (8/7c), which got the great gift this week of Romney's notorious "47 percent" video surprise.
HAPPILY NEVER AFTER: "We had happy happy happy until the divorce," says 5-year-old Sophie, who goes on to reflect how "sometimes you'll never become a family again." With unguarded simplicity and clarity, but most of all honesty, several dozen children ages 5-10 share their insights about their broken homes in Don't Divorce Me! Kids' Rules for Parents On Divorce (6:30/5:30c, HBO). Executive produced by Rosie O'Donnell and directed by Emmy-winner Amy Schatz, this half-hour window into a world of hurt and youthful resilience also includes drawings, animation and music to soften the heartbreak of observations like this from 7-year-old Brooke: "No one invented families. People made families to spread love and caring." As 8-year-old Henry helpfully points out, while handwritten rules of common courtesy and sense scrawl across the screen: "Remember, your kids didn't want this." All that's missing is one of those wonderful Nick News With Linda Ellerbee specials to provide even more context and perspective.
WHAT ELSE IS ON? As MTV's Awkward wraps its delightful second season of twisted teen rom-com (10:30/9:30c), Jenna makes her decision between Matty and Jake public, but just when things appear to be going swimmingly (including a summer trip to Europe), things get you-know-what. ... On Lifetime's Project Runway (9/8c), the challenge is to design for the high-kicking Rockettes. Smash's Debra Messing is guest judge, apparently having been released from tech. ... Synergy alert: It's probably no coincidence that a new episode of Fox's The X Factor auditions (8/7c), featuring Britney Spears, is followed by the "Britney 2.0" episode of Glee (9/8c), which dives back into the Britney playlist to bring class clown Brittany (Heather Morris) out of her funk. Let's hope the show doesn't fall into one. ... To whet fans' appetite for next week's season premieres, ABC repeats the over-the-top cliffhangers of Grey's Anatomy (9/8c), with the perilous plane crash, and Scandal (10:02/9:02c), where just about everything but a plane went down. Who is Quinn, anyway? We'll find out next week. ... PBS' POV takes a very personal look at the rebuilding in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina with Jonathan Demme's I'm Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad, and the Beautiful (check tvguide.com listings), spending five years tracking the progress of a remarkable woman who refused to give up on the devastated Lower Ninth Ward.
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