NBC’s Thursday sitcoms get a lot of (mostly digital) ink from critics and fans, in spite of being crushed in the ratings every week.
Yes, we know “Must-See Thursdays” is a long-dead idea. Nowadays there’s a lot of compelling competition, what with CBS’s potent line-up kicking off with a full hour of “The Big Bang Theory” tonight at 8. ABC, meanwhile, has the “Charlie’s Angels” reboot premiering at the same time. But if you’re planning to watch that instead of “Community” and “Parks & Recreation,” well… please keep that to yourself.
Then again we understand why many would choose cheap jigglevision over what’s on NBC in the 8 o’clock hour. For many years, NBC betrayed viewers with terrible Zucker-fied choices on Thursdays. We’ll even admit that “Community” and “Parks and Recreation” were far from being at their best in their first seasons, so if you sampled them back then, coaxing you back to the fold now won’t be easy. Please trust us, though, when we say it’s time to give them another shot. What follows are two relatively brief arguments as to why you should drop by Greendale Community College tonight, and stick around for a quick visit to Pawnee, IN., at 8:30.
“Community”: The New Version of the Family You Choose.
Although life at Greendale is funniest when it’s at its most unrealistic, creator Dan Harmon has said in many interviews that he plans to ease up on the thematic stunts and explore the motivations of his core characters much more throughout this third season. That pledge is sure to challenge viewers who loved the surreal, lightweight ridiculousness of episodes inspired by action flicks and zombie movies, but if done correctly it will strengthen the main reason we adore this show.
This may seem like a weird point of comparison, but “Community” is loved by its fans for the same reason people loved “Friends“: at the core of its formula is the idea that once you hit a certain age, your closest pals become just as important to you, if not more so, than the family you’re born in to. You spend more time with them, and their concept of who you are is not informed by who you were during your formative years. “Community” hews to that idea, but adds a little more realism – yes, within those bizarre episodic plots, there is realism – by giving each person barely-tolerable qualities that the gang only overlooks because they genuinely care about each other. Like family, that bond gets strained to its limits, as it was with Pierce Hawthorne (Chevy Chase), who left the study group at the end of the second season.
If that still doesn’t sell it for you, consider this: Michael K. Williams, better known as “The Wire’s” Omar, has a guest starring role as a biology professor, and John Goodman also guest stars as the nemesis to Greendale’s deeply odd Dean Pelton (Jim Rash).
“Parks and Recreation”: It’s a Ron (Swanson)’s World, But He Wouldn’t Be Nothing Without His Leslie
“Parks and Rec” is ostensibly about the struggles and triumphs of Pawnee bureaucrat Leslie Knope, thereby making it Amy Poehler‘s series. Right? Well, by the third season, when the writers found the show’s comedic cadence and produced some of the funniest half-hours in primetime, it became clear that Nick Offerman‘s Ron Swanson, a solidly midwestern meat fetishist with deadpan delivery and a soft spot for his succubus ex-wives, was the beefy side dish “Parks” needed to take off.
It would be wrong to think “Parks” could succeed as The Ron Swanson Show, but given his outrageous appearance at the top of tonight’s episode – and subsequent absence for most of the scenes that follow – one realizes how much the show needs Offerman to maintain its magic. The premiere’s best scenes are the ones shared by Leslie and Ron, of course; as longtime viewers know, Ron’s ex-wives may be his Kryptonite, but its his friendship with Leslie, and her cosmically wacky demonstrations of loyalty, that always pulls him back from the brink.
Next week’s episode compensates for the relatively Ron-light season premiere by having him face down a double dose of Tammy, as in his satanic first ex-wife, Tammy One (Patricia Clarkson) – yes, she’s worse than Tammy Two (Megan Mullally) – and Tammy Zero (Paula Pell), his mother. Do yourself a favor and tune in for both because, um, “Charlie’s Angels”? C’mon.
By the way, you may be wondering why we have not mentioned “The Office” or “Whitney,” the other two entries in NBC’s Thursday comedy block. That’s because a) “The Office” needs less assistance, given that James Spader‘s addition to the cast is bound to generate higher ratings for the premiere; and b) “Whitney,” um, could be better.
Check out our take on “Whitney” in IMDb’s Fall TV Preview by clicking here.