Other TV 7 - 13 Feb 2010

Modern Family - 115 - My Funky Valentine

Boy does this show have potential. I’m pretty confident that the scene with Phil and Claire at the bar was the funniest scene in any show I’ve watched this season. Phil has really grown on me as a character, the writing has kept him just the right side of goofy and here it paid huge dividends. It started back at the house when Claire agreed to the hotel idea and told him to get a nap at work (because he wouldn’t be getting much sleep that night). “I always do” he says in an incredibly sly voice, not realising what he is revealing.

Then once in the bar they were a joy to watch. All she needed was for him to play along but he couldn’t help overact and was hilarious throughout their interaction. First he tries to be cool responding to her compliment that he’s a smooth talker by bragging “I’m pretty smooth all over.” Then he plays into his character and reveals that he’s married. She asks about his wife and he foolishly complains about her relentless list making. It was fun to watch play out but even better they had Claire be reasonable and get beyond his digs at her to continue the date. She returns from the bathroom with nothing on under her coat and he says “this is so much better than cheesy garlic bread.”

Elsewhere Cameron had another terrific scene putting on a Southern accent to conduct a fake survey on Manny’s behalf. He got typically absorbed in his role and exclaimed “tarnation.” And Gloria and Jay had a really pleasant scene where they once more addressed the age difference and how it might affect their relationship.

The only thing holding the show back is the writers attempts to swing for the fences with every episode. The gaggle of people who knew the Dunphy’s and happened to walk past when Claire got stuck in the escalator was a joke too far. It smacked of old fashioned sit com exaggeration and that just doesn’t fit in the documentary filming style. It also puts the actors in a slightly awkward position of having to change acting styles a bit too quickly. I think Claire is excellent in her role when being subtle or normal to put it another way. But she is less convincing when they ask her to do the ultra embarrassed bit here.   

Community - 116 - Communication Studies

It was a rough night for comedy on Thursday, but at least Community continued its solid progression.

The writing really understands the structure of the show and how to do old fashioned sit com stories but dress them up in a modern way. More often than not they have done what they do here with Abed commenting on the story and basically explaining to the audience exactly what the moral of the story is. The key to this not ruining the show is to make each character plausible in their own right. That way the audience will still care about the characters even if they are playing out stories we have seen before.

Abed really came into his own here. He demonstrates his skills as a director by stirring up people’s emotions to make them better actors. By helping keep Jeff and Britta’s relationship on an even keel he also uses the situation to aid his own education as a director. Its clever writing because it is building in motivations for the characters which make their behavior seem believable. Abed also carried the comedy as he worked on his sarcastic inflection and then in his hung over state could only manage to say “Movie reference” in response to Jeff’s question.

The B story was fine, it made Chang seem intelligent and Pierce and Troy honorable men.  

The only slight problem is that the focus was so solidly on Britta and Jeff’s relationship that Michelle felt like an afterthought. Viewers know that Jeff and Britta are one day going to end up together. So in the meantime Michelle needs to be a character we care about or else every story involving her will feel like time wasting. Seeing Jeff lost for words and begging for Michelle not to be mad wasn’t a very attractive state for him to be in. Although his evolution into a nice guy is a fine story, I don’t think all the witty Alpha male attributes should be neutralized like that.

Parks and Recreation - 216 - Galentine's Day

This was horrific. I say that not because it was so bad that I didn’t want to watch, but because it was a show with potential squandering it left, right and centre.

Let’s start with Justin who out of nowhere turns into a jerk. This does happen in sit coms from time to time and it’s an annoying change of emphasis. Clearly in the last few episodes Justin was built up as a good guy who Leslie was happy to be with. And although the seeds were planted of his love of stories, his sudden lack of interest in Leslie’s wellbeing felt contrived. Although many shows have done this with minor characters (notably Friends), it follows a worrying trend from The Office where Jan and Ryan’s characters changed suddenly to suit the needs of the plot. Even Phyllis switches from meek to mean on occasion.

Then we have Tom. Practically everything he did throughout the episode seemed counterproductive. Again the story had been built up that despite his silly playboy antics he had real feelings for Wendy. He was nervous to tell her the truth for fear of rejection. So instead of using that scene to draw more sympathy for him, it was played out in a very weird manner. He suddenly seemed confident and came on to her directly, using the phrase “doing it” as part of his supposedly suave routine. Once she understandably knocked him back, he poured the champagne back into the bottle. In other words instead of using the rejection to focus on his emotions, the moment was used to make a cheap (literally and figuratively) joke.

Later Tom tries to blackmail her into dating him making him look dumb and pathetic. Then when the inevitable reconciliation came it was done without mics from a distance, so the moment we had been building up to was never shown! What a waste. And outside of that story, Tom was dumb enough to mistake JFK for The Terminator and then tried to play the cute bro breakup with Justin. Problem with that was both of them had just come off as jerks so the joke fell flat.

Then we have Mark whose character took another pummeling. He has always come across as the well adjusted and sensible man. Yet now we learn he doesn’t have proper soap or towels in his house and can’t smell a bad perfume. None of which fit his character and seemed like an attempt to undermine him to give Ann an excuse to start losing interest. The writers are probably correct to break them up because there seems little of interest which can be done with them. But did they have to do it like this? Mark ends up desperately seeking Ann’s approval, more behavior which makes the former playboy (at least in season one) seem like a big wuss.

Then there was Leslie’s mom’s old flame Frank Beckerson. Who was quite possibly the worst guest star in the history of sit coms. Of course I can’t back that claim up but I literally saw no value in his entire story, no offence to the acting, this was entirely the fault of the writing. Frank was a walking cliché of awkwardness, inappropriateness and implausibility. He literally did and said the wrong thing at every turn in the least subtle attempt I have ever seen to demonstrate a character who meant to disappoint someone. Everything from his crappy life to his unconvincing panic attacks to his grandstanding exit reeked of recycled, uninspired, bargain basement writing.

Above all this episode tried to achieve way too much in twenty two minutes. Mark and Ann started to break up, Justin and Leslie did, as did April and Derek and Tom admitted his feelings for Wendy and was rejected. That’s already too many stories but then you have Andy attracting Ann again which just shouldn’t happen. Andy has already lied and played childish games and tricks to try and win her back, not to mention living in filth. They are doing a good job of making him into a likeable character whose straightforward nature endears you, but Ann should not be sucked back in by that or she looks like a moron. Finally you also have Ron and Leslie being established on the lines of Jack and Liz on 30 Rock. Where he sees her value because of her morality and decides to help her out and grow their friendship even though they have contrasting attitudes to their work.

It’s all just way too much. It feels like the writers decided to suddenly change course for some reason and rewrite all the character dynamics to reach a new place in the story. They sacrificed an awful lot, including credibility to get there.


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