Sunday, April 25, 2010
Heading into the final stretch of the television year, it's a nice time to take stock of seasons so far. This way, there will be no surprises when it comes Emmy time and I'm not rooting for your favorite comedy. Besides, I haven't had a chance to discuss a few of these shows here yet, so surprises may await.
10. How I Met Your Mother
The balance is tipping, but this show has bounced back from worse, and maybe it’s just the awfully random scheduling by CBS. “Say Cheese” is a recent highlight, but the show needs another quickly, and preferably one consistent with the series’ characterization and history. The season's been struggling since contrivance drove Barney and Robin apart, but final arcs tend to lift all boats.
9. Cougar Town
The best hangout show on the air thanks to its warm and witty characters and reliably hilarious gags. It had a point when it was about women coping with aging, but then it became an ensemble relationship comedy and lost much of its thematic down. For comforting entertainment, though, Cougar Town is king.
8. The Sarah Silverman Program
Alternately vulgar and profane, with a side of disgusting. The Steve-Brian stories rarely amount to anything interesting, and the Laura-Jay stories are fine, but Sarah Silverman the character is so colossally idiotic that the season has been a riot just following her. Whether acting in a children's show or playing town censor, her stories are always elegantly trenchant, and the show's hilarious subversive quality culminates in the one-two punch of a pedophile rip and a Holocaust parody called "Wowschwitz."
Snappy, sweet, and referential (albeit off-puttingly weighted toward ‘80s culture), it’s become a super-efficient joke factory these past few months. The meshed cast are funny, especially Alison Brie, and the writers comfortably assign them work within their ranges. But if it weren’t for The Office, Community would be the funniest show on the air with no point. The group’s co-maturation is a start, though.
6. Modern Family
Dependably funny, slightly sappy, and a mite inconsistent, but with an ensemble so large and enjoyable, episodes fly by in a flurry of laughs. The only real problem is a want for depth. The cast and writers are clearly up to the challenge. Time to come through with a message less trite than “family makes life worth living.”
5. Party Down
The Veronica Mars cousin (joined so far this year by Michael Kostroff aka Mr. Pope and Steve Guttenberg aka Mr. Goodwood—you’re welcome) is appropriately both witty and an effective downer, but its points of sadness are even and formidable. The slapstick’s subsiding, the better to slam us into reality, and the spotlight on the cater-waiters’ Hollywood dreams is gratifyingly brighter. Three episodes in (1, 2, and 5, btw), this season is shaping up sharp.
4. United States of Tara
An absorbing mystery anchored by a powerhouse new alter centers this season, the loom upon which each of the regulars find themselves in fun, new roles. Enough cannot be said about the best cast on Showtime, consistently matched by story depths both wacky and wrenching.
Mad Men meets James Bond in this uproarious workplace comedy posing as a Cold War spy spoof. Sorry, Chuck, but Archer not only has funnier (and more graphic) antics but more investing relationships. And there’s not a weak link in the cast, a sexually dysfunctional Arrested Development Trojan horse.
2. 30 Rock
Critics keep jumping ship; good riddance says I. Our strongest postmodern sitcom is as funny and alienating as ever, if a hair less awesome than its ripe spinoff BitchHunter. Anarchy governs the plot, style, and tone, but the flighty, prickly shell cloaks a sophisticated look at television imitating life imitating television.
1. Parks and Recreation
The best blend of political satire and romantic comedy on television. When last we left Pawnee, Andy and April graced the cover of the summer catalog. Now we have just four more weeks of Ron’s mustache, Jerry jokes, and Leslie Knope until summer.
Absent are The Big Bang Theory which I gave up on months ago, The Office which aired maybe its best episode of the season this week, Glee which is fun and funny while contrived and brainless, and Nurse Jackie which is a great drama trapped in a Showtime show which is almost as bad as being stuck in an ABC dramedy. I also excluded the fall season of The Thick of It since my goal was to cover the spring shows; suffice it to say The Thick of It is a strong contender for the crown.