Last fall, I wrote about my expectations for the new TV season here and here. Now that the season finales are all wrapped up I thought I would go over the shows I initially reviewed to see how the shows, and my comments on them, panned out. I’ll go over the freshman shows at a later date.
The Office: With the departure of Steve Carrell I still had high hopes that the show would continue putting out the same high quality comedy even though the departure of its main star forced the show to switch gears. As I said last fall…
Although I have been a loyal Office fan, I admit that my interest has waned a bit the past few seasons. I mean, how long are they going to film this documentary? But the addition of James Spader’s Robert California has breathed new life into the show. Spader showed up in last year’s season finale as an interviewee to replace Michael Scott as Manager. The couple of minutes of screen time was so compelling, that I would consider it Emmy worthy. Truly, great acting as Spader’s character shows himself so supremely confident that he intimidates the search committee into selecting him. As the new season opens Jim’s to-the-camera interview reveals that Robert California immediately drove to Florida and talked the CEO out of her job, a concept that seems totally plausible given how Spader is portraying the character. I think James Spader is a great addition to the show, and actually may have been the only direction the show could go into that would continue to make The Office worth seeing.
So what happened? I lost interest. Spader was not on the show frequently enough to retain my interest, and I stopped making the show a “must see” program. From what I’ve heard from other Office fans, my opinion is fairly widely shared. Andy (Ed Helms) taking over as manager struck me as kind of a clunker. Although the character is entertaining in small bites, I never was enamored with the character and couldn’t care less about his relationship with Erin. Maybe that’s just me though since the show will be back next fall. Perhaps my mood will change by then.
The Big Bang Theory: My theory that Leonard and Penny would get back together panned out, although in extreme slow motion. I’m not sure a couple who had been together, broke up for over two years, and then got back together would actually get back in such careful, baby steps, and in such a totally unromantic way that these two did, however the romance/non-romance of Leonard and Penny is one of the key building blocks of the show, so if you really want to stretch it out over several episodes, this is the way to do it.
Otherwise the general quality of the show remains strong and entertaining and I’m enjoying the budding romance, if that’s what it is, between Sheldon and Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik). Although they have been technically dating for two seasons, the relationship has only been one of convenience, to keep both of their parents off their backs. However now Amy Farrah Fowler (for some reason it feels more natural to use her full name) wants to bring that relationship to the next level via B.F. Skinner-like operant conditioning. I can see that some fans might have some hesitation that a real romantic relationship for Sheldon could change the character, but my gut feeling is that even aspies need love too and a Sheldon romantic relationship could work. We’ll see how this plays out next season.
Two And a Half Men: Since I wasn’t a regular viewer of the show, I probably wouldn’t have even commented on it other than the very public mental breakdown (what else would you call it?) by Charlie Sheen, that lead to him being fired from the show. It was still a popular moneymaker so CBS wanted to continue it, adding Ashton Kutcher to the cast, in what I felt was as TV-plausible way to integrate him into the cast as possible without hiring some prize winning novelists to carefully craft a high concept season opener. But high concept isn’t what this network show is about. Still, it’s not the same show, and the ratings for this show have been steadily declining all season. Not declining so much that this show won’t be back next fall. But I doubt if it can eek out any more seasons after that, and that’s probably for the best.
Community: Community is of course my absolute favorite sitcom. It follows in the tradition of Arrested Development in that the show has a sometimes sophisticated and complicated storyline, requiring the viewer to actually pay attention, and has lots of Easter eggs that will pay off several episodes later. Also, like Arrested Development it suffers from perennially low ratings. That’s to be expected of course. A majority of people are not interested in paying close attention to a sitcom. They’re popping popcorn in the microwave, and fielding homework questions from the kids at the same time.
The low ratings lead to Community being taken off the air in November of last year until finally returning to the schedule in March after a fan protest. When the show returned in March, it was evident to me that the producers had already decided that they were probably going to be cancelled. I mean nobody; NO BODY does a parody of Ken Burn’s Civil War unless they know this is their last hurrah. That episode, awesome as it was, would have been totally impenetrable to an outsider. And that’s the problem with Community, and similar shows like it. At a certain point, the inside jokes, self references, and knowledge of the characters become so obtuse that only a hardcore fan would get the jokes. Any casual user would be flummoxed. I’m not the only one who’s made this observation. It’s a real problem for a struggling show trying to attract an audience. What new audience could sit down to watch an episode like Virtual Systems Analysis, and have any idea of what was going on? The average guy sitting down on his couch to channel surf would have not understand this episode in the least. If they were familiar with Star Trek: The Next Generation’s holodeck, they might understand what the Dreamatorium is supposed to be, but the finally detailed psychological profile that the show has built up on Abed for three seasons would be incomprehensible. And the fantastic acting by Danny Pudi would probably go unnoticed. Pudi played not only several versions of his own character Abed, but a version of Jeff Winger, not as he was, but as Abed imagines him to be. That’s not only heavy writing, but heavy acting. If you know what he was trying to do.
In spite of Community trying to sabotage itself for the last part of the season by doing some of the most brilliant avant garde comedy on television, it got picked up for another season for a 13 episode order. How the show can push the envelope any more than it already has I don’t know, but I’m perfectly willing to watch and see.