Make ‘Em Laugh: Bulges, Babies, and Bastards

When we last left Parks and Recreation (8:30, NBC), it was a promising but struggling comedy. Now it’s a powerhouse–probably the funniest thing I saw tonight, and the most daring. This week Leslie Knope holds a marriage ceremony for two penguins at the Pawnee Zoo–two gay penguins. If Knope is bemused and seduced by the support she’s developed in Pawnee’s burgeoning gay community, she’s perplexed by the rage it’s provoked amongst wingnuts. Both sides of the argument come off as “wacky”–but while the gays holding “Knope” signs appear harmless and naive, the conservatives manifest as malicious and aloof. Leslie’s decision to move the penguins to Iowa, where gay marriage is legal, pains me. At first glance this seemed like the show was washing its hands of the issue. That may still be the case, but Leslie’s decision deepens the central tragedy of her character. She’s a caring person who lacks common sense, eloquence, and could stand to grow a backbone as well.

The Office returned tonight with an episode that could probably match any other for awkwardness. Michael feels left out of the office gossip. When he finally discovers some fresh information (that Stanley’s having an affair), he gleefully spreads it around the office without concern for the consequences. When Jim brings Michael to his senses, Michael begins to spread false rumors in an effort to invalidate all of them. Of course, some of his false rumors turn out to be true, while others cause characters to reconsider their life choices. Pam really is having a baby, she admits, and Andy begins to wonder if he is gay. We’ve spent a lot of time with these characters, so this episode served as a nice reminder that we don’t really know them that well. I would never have picked Stanley as the cheating sort, but I can’t exactly say that it’s unlike him or out of character, either. All I know about Stanley is that he likes his crossword and he likes free pretzel day. This episode also made me think, for the first time in a while, about the cameramen and the documentary they’re creating. Even if Michael had succeeded in covering up Stanley’s affair, the information was still recorded. While I’m not sure The Office is ever going to address its central conceit again, the documentary frame is always there, bursting with suggestion.

I’m not sold on Community yet, and I think it offered the least amount of pure humor. But then, it had the most stage business to get through, introducing eight characters and setting up their motivations and weaknesses. Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) is a lawyer caught practising without a degree–his college degree. So he’s forced to enroll at Greendale Community College with a motley crew of fellow fuckups. When Jeff gets the hots for Britta (Gillian Jacobs), a fellow Spanish student, he forms a study group. There’s a lot of plusses here. McHale knows his way around a line, Jacobs makes me a little weak in the knees, the cast is refreshingly multicultural, and the setting is worthy of tackling. Unlike Glee, another bouyant comedy, I’m not at all worried about losing track of some of the cast here. One caveat–what will they do at the end of the semester? What will they do when characters  should be earning their degrees?

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is probably the most inventive comedy currently on the air. They’ve got an excess of ideas delivered in rapid-fire manner. Sometimes the plot elements collapse, but the results are occasionally sublime. Tonight’s episode was particularly anticonfluential. Frank’s plan to capitalize on the troubled housing market never really went anywhere interesting, and Dee seems unusually out-of-touch while trying to be a surrogate mother. As usual, Charlie comes to the comedy rescue, sputtering and muttering all the way. His attempts to grapple with a lawyer are bravura performances. With so many ideas, though, we don’t get to see some scenes we’d probably enjoy. Don’t you want to see Charlie fight a duel?

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