Posts Tagged ‘NBC’

Right now the cynical part of me wants to say that television today sucks.  I want to say that the shows on television not only can’t compare to the shows of the late ‘90s and early 2000s, but also can’t even compare with themselves a couple of seasons ago.

However, despite my waning opinion of most of the shows that I have enjoyed over the past few years, there are still enough bright spots left to make the sweeping generalization that television sucks seem fallacious.  These are the shows that, in the face of declining fortunes across the board, help me keep faith in television.

It sounds weird to say that one has faith in television, doesn’t it?  But think about it.  Television is reliable: our favourite shows come on at the same time each week and we could set our internal clocks by them if we so chose.  Television gives us joy: it can pick us up when we are feeling down or just ease the stress of a tiring day.  Television requires talent: to keep shows going for seasons can re-affirm our belief that hard work and talent will someday get us somewhere.

Given that, losing our faith in television is kind of a big deal and to think of that fate being dependent on a few shows is kind of scary.  What will happen if every show worth watching is suddenly cancelled?  Where will our faith be then?

30 Rock? Community is the best comedy currently on television (or not).

Luckily for me, NBC didn’t go the whole nine yards when pulling Community from its midseason lineup, assuring viewers that it was only on hiatus and not cancelled completely.  Despite being left like J.K. Rowling’s Nearly-Headless Nick insofar as it’s neither cancelled nor on-air, Community is still one of television’s bright spots.  I recently re-watched most of the first season and the third season—the current one—still compares favourably even though the first six to ten episodes of Community are among my favourite of all time.

Case in point, let’s look at Community’s offering from two weeks ago: “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux.”  On the surface this episode had the makings of a flop: re-treading already worn conceptual territory (see Episodes 205 and 216), an uninspiring synopsis, and being broadcast in the harsh light of NBC’s hiatus announcement.  But somehow, and saving the fat from the fire has become a recurring theme with Community’s writers and producers, the episode pulled through.  While the episode mainly focused on the trials and tribulations of Dean Craig Pelton, the writers were able to create stakes for all the other characters and, unlike a lot of other shows, created an environment in which the actors could show the full range of their talent (see Joel McHale’s Dean Pelton impersonation).  There were also enough funny moments to remind us that while Community is smart and dramatic it is still primarily a comedy series.  Add in to this the continued ability to weave storylines over multiple episodes and you have to wonder why NBC would want anything else on the air…ever?

It might be animated and it might be vulgar, but ignore it at your peril.

Another bright spot on the television radar is South Park.  Yes, South Park, the same South Park who debuted in 1997 with the poignancy of a poorly-timed fart.  Despite the early seasons being marked by vulgarity and jokes about the American Civil War, South Park—now in its fifteenth season—has evolved into the smartest show on television and Trey Parker and Matt Stone into screenwriting geniuses.  See, somewhere in between season three’s “World Wide Recorder Concert” (317) and season six’s “Jared Has Aides” (601) the show stopped being about how to get the entire third grade class of the United States to poop their pants and became a striking social commentary, always on the lookout for something in society to wholeheartedly mock.

But let’s fast forward to the South Park of today, because Messrs. Parker and Stone would be the first to take anyone who rests on their laurels down a peg or three.  The fifteenth season of South Park was marked by a rather mediocre series of episodes including “Crack Baby Athletic Association” (1505), “City Sushi” (1506), and “The Last of the Meheecans” (1509) before redeeming itself in the closing three episodes.  It is this redemption that makes it one of television’s bright spots; that the show can still produce relevant and enjoyable content after fifteen seasons lends it a certain Simpsons-esque quality.

Of particular note is the episode titled “1%” (1512).  I should preface this by saying the following: over the last month I have heard way too many ‘Occupy’ jokes.  They have ranged from the mildly tolerable to the completely dreadful.  Saying that, South Park actually managed to do something original with the Occupy Wall Street movement in this episode where so many have failed before.  The show managed to poke fun at the movement by comparing it to a grade-school fitness test while making smart social commentary with the episode’s conclusion.  Too few shows today manage to do this: they either stray too far towards the commentary side to stick the punch line or lose their social voice by making too many jokes.  South Park walks a fine line and after fifteen seasons is yet to fall off.

They drink in the afternoon. On the job. How can they get any more awesome?

I would be remiss in my coverage of what shows are left to save our faith in television if I didn’t mention Mad Men.  It, like Community, is currently on hiatus (there seems to be a pattern there).  However, showrunner Matthew Weiner is signed on for at least three more seasons, ensuring that television’s premier drama is set to continue for the foreseeable future (three years is a long time in the television world).  ‘But what sets Mad Men apart?’ you might ask.  Simply put, in the plainest way I can manage, there is no point during an episode of Mad Men where the viewer stops and says, ‘What?’  Everything, dialogue, acting, sets, costumes, concepts, everything is done flawlessly.  As a viewer I never question the way the show is run, shot, or written and that is the mark of a truly good series.  Contrast this with a show such as Breaking Bad, where I have to stop every few seconds and ask how people don’t notice that a high school chemistry teacher spends his entire week cooking methamphetamine in a multi-million-dollar bunker when he should be teaching classes, and you can understand why Mad Men is so brilliant, especially when casting itself as a period drama instead of being set in the present day.

Time will only tell though whether these shows can reach the heights of such television giants as Friends, The Simpsons, or The Sopranos.  But the fact of the matter is that of everything on television at the moment, these three shows have the best shot.

Whether any of them will challenge Due South as the greatest television show of all time is a completely different question though…