Fact: Must See TV > Comedy Night Done Right
Amy Poehler (center) is the star of NBC's "Parks and Recreation," but her
character is mostly just a copy of "The Office's" Michael Scott. (NBC Universal)
Tonight is finale night forÂ NBC's comedy series like "30 Rock,"Â "The Office"andÂ "My Name is Earl,"Â but these shows aren't living up to their comedy predecessors. NBC'sÂ "Parks and Recreation"premiered last month with a pilot that felt eerily familiar. Created by Michael Schur and Greg Daniels ofÂ "The Office"Â fame, the mockumentary geniuses replicated the critically acclaimed show inÂ "Parks and Rec"Â -- shaky cameras, talking heads, and a naive, crazy lead character played by the impeccability loveable Amy Poehler.Â
TheÂ "Saturday Night Live"Â alum plays Leslie Knope, a chairwoman of the Department of Parks and Recreation in Pawnee, Indiana, who likens herself to Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Sarah Palin. The writers, obviously playing on Poehler's strength in portraying political powers to perfection, use the character to represent the stupidly goofy and naÃ¯ve counterpart to the grounded co-workers surrounding her. It's no wonder she's been referred to as the female Michael Scott.Â
But as I sat down to watch the second episode wondering if the show stood up to it's mediocre premiere, I realized I wasn't laughing nearly as much as I do watching reruns of "Seinfeld." I mean, Knope just tried to convince a woman that nine of of 10 meth users also want a park in her neighborhood. Who doesn't laugh at a good meth joke? Â Oddly enough, the one-liner had me wondering what happened to NBC's Thursday night brand.Â
Huh, meth can help you think.Â
NBC currently devotes hours to the same type of absurd television comedy. "My Name is Earl," "The Office," "30 Rock" (which has never been as funny as the critics proclaim), and now "Parks and Rec" all could have interweaving crossover episodes and the viewer wouldn't notice the difference. WhileÂ "Parks and Rec"Â may be an entertaining 22 minutes, and its ratings not nearly as bad as other shows on the peacock network (the the cancelled "Lipstick Jungle," "Kings," and "Kath and Kim"), its recipe is made of the same ingredients as the shows coming before and after it on Thursday night.Â
Sure, recreating something that works is smart, right? But with NBC's overall dwindling ratings, and most shows merely garnering critical acclaim as opposed to viewer worship, will the comedies last?Â
This brings me to Must See TV.
Remember the Thursday night line-up of solid half-hour comedies? Where art thou live audiences and multiple camera setups? What used to be an iconic night with television classics such as "Seinfeld," "Friends," "The Cosby Show," "Cheers," Will and Grace," "Mad About You" and "Frasier" ("Joey" never happened, mkay?), has now been replaced with trite and forgettable comedies; shows that have made a quick buck but probably won't last the test of time. "My Name is Earl," I'm lookin' at you.
I can't help but miss the quirky, relatable characters of "Seinfeld" and "Friends" because they were true to life. Who hasn't had to deal with the friend who was a shockingly bad dancer (I adore you, Elaine Benis) or a BFF who could only respond to you in snarky borderline insults (Could Chandler BE anymore missed?). Instead, these shows have been replaced with over-the-top comedy; ridiculous one-liners utilized for a quick laugh, and slapstick humor that's predictable and cheesy. Its characters have been traded with unfeeling, unredeemable caricatures. Does anyone really know a Michael Scott or Leslie Knope in real life? And if you do, my deepest condolences.Â
The dialogue of Thursday night TV is filtered with sarcastic, unbelievably naÃ¯ve statements. The storylines are rabidly unrealistic and exaggerated. The half-hour shows are filled with shockingly ridiculous scenarios. It wouldn't matter if this was all showcased in one show, but Thursday night is full of shows with the same type of humor, with "My Name is Earl" on at 8:00 p.m. all the way to "30 Rock" at 9:30 p.m.
"When I was in sixth grade, I was voted best-dressed by 87 votes. And there were only 63 people in my class," said Michael Scott, er... Leslie Knope.
Although Leslie isn't nearly as offensive as Michael, and the lines are smile-crackin' worthy, it's all the same. There's nothing significant that differentiates "Parks and Rec" from "The Office." The humor, the randomness and the facial expressions of each character are reminiscent of the characters at Dunder Mifflin and 30 Rockefeller Plaza. And it features Rashida Jones from season three of "The Office," who may be beautiful but sucks the life out of my television.Â
While it may be too soon to judge "Parks and Rec's" entertainment value, it represents the birth of the same, and the death of snappy and sophisticated comedies of years past.Â
This should be a wake-up call for NBC, as the network has been struggling for years. It has significantly lost Thursday-night viewership since the series finale of "Friends." It's hard to believe this is the same network where 75 million viewers gathered to watch the series finale of "Seinfeld." Co-chair of NBC Entertainment Ben Silverman would say the network is doing well. Anything can be successful on NBC compared to what it's been airing. "Momma's Boys," anyone?Â
Sure, fewer Americans are tuning into television overall. Time Magazine reports that only 27 percent of U.S. households are watching the Big Four networks in primetime. More viewers are spending time with cable and online series, making it hard to measure why primetime programming has decreased.
So I choose to blame NBC.
"The Office" is one of the funniest shows on television, and I'm guilty of owning all the DVDs and quoting Michael Scott on a daily basis. But while "The Office" was semi-groundbreaking at the time, there's no need for a replication in "Parks and Rec," or a lineup filled with the same type of comedy. What we need is a little bit of nostalgia.Â
One significant question remains. Why would NBC choose to stray away from a proven workable formula? "Friends," "Seinfeld" and "Will and Grace," to name a few, all featured a group of friends and their hilarious antics regarding friendship, dating and work.
CBS learned, becoming the most successful network in the 2008-2009 season. Airing such hits as "The Big Bang Theory,"Â the legen-wait for it-daryÂ "How I Met Your Mother,"Â andÂ "Two and a Half Men"(the highest rated comedy on television today... I'm as shocked as you are, Charlie Sheen), the network has taken NBC's previous formula and used it to its own advantage.Â
So, what do you think? Tired of NBC's same old Thursday night comedy line-up? Disagree? Think viewership is down because technology is changing? Leave me a comment below.
FYI: Aziz Ansari (one of the stars of "Parks and Rec") is free to call me to discuss this at any time.Â