Saturday, September 25, 2010

Premiere Week Part 2

Premiere week is now over, and I still have a lot to watch. But here are some quick takes on all the comedies I watched this week, both the returning and the new. New shows first.

If you listened to most critics on Fox's two new Tuesday night comedies, you'd set the series pass on Raising Hope and figure Running Wilde would be a complete waste of time. But personally, I liked Running Wilde better. It's certainly flawed and far from perfect, but when it comes to which one holds more promise and makes me laugh more, it's Wilde.

From the creator of Arrested Development, starring Will Arnett and featuring David Cross, Running Wilde has very much the same tone as its comedy classic predecessor. Steven Wilde (Arnett) is the rich son of an oil company owner who's never had to work or grow up in his life, and Emmy Kadubic (Keri Russell) is an environmental activist who's spent the past six years in the Amazon. They had a thing when they were teens, and now Emmy's back in town. The show's narrated by Emmy's daughter Puddle, who otherwise chooses not to speak, and the rest of the supporting cast consists of the people who take care of Wilde and his competitively rich frenemy/neighbor.

Like most pilots, this one crams a lot into 22 minutes, so it's hard to tell what a normal episode will be just yet. Arnett and Russell's interactions could use some work, and nobody in the supporting cast has really stood out so well (though I sense potential in the neighbor character). But given the amount of talent behind this show, I bet all of that can be worked out down the line. In the meantime, the pilot has more laughs than most other comedies on TV, the three leads are all likable, and AD's style of humor is very much at work. There's even an overt reference to it with one of GOB's catchphrases.

Verdict: May ultimately go either way, but I'm certainly sticking with it for the time being.

As for the show that airs before it, Raising Hope, I'm betting this falls into the category of decent shows that just aren't for me. From the creator of My Name is Earl, the tone is very similar: sweet and funny, but way more sweet than funny, with a cast of colorful hicks. Jimmy (Lucas Neff) is a young pool skimmer trying to figure out his life's purpose when he ends up in charge of a baby for fairly entertaining reasons. His parents want him to give it away since they barely managed to raise him, but he's determined. So the show's about the three of them not-so-successfully trying to raise the baby.

There's a big missed opportunity by taking the baby's mother out of the picture by the 15 minute mark, since she was one of the better characters. And the pilot's best moment may be an inside joke about My Name is Earl's cancellation. Since otherwise the show's more about awww moments than big laughs. And when it does go for laughs, it tends to be in the broader slapstick direction, especially those involving Cloris Leachman's often-topless senile grandmother. And it doesn't have as strong a hook or characters as Earl did. It wants to be the next Modern Family, but it's just not as clever.

Verdict: I'll give it one or two more episodes to be sure, but this one just isn't for me.

Speaking of Modern Family, it came back this week very true to form: no frills, no crazy plot developments, just simple hilarity. Of the three plotlines this week, I'm calling Mitchell and Cameron the funniest, as Mitchell sets out to build Lily a castle using his supposed college theater abilities while Cameron and Jay try to keep him as far away from the tools as possible. Mitchell defending himself while accidentally cutting down the flowers is classic. But plenty of good stuff elsewhere as well, with the Dunphys taking one last trip in the car they hadn't used in years, and Gloria getting jealous of Manny's study date. MF continues to be the most consistently funny show on air.

On to NBC's Thursday, where Community started off the set with plenty of cliffhangers to resolve. Last year I gave Community three episodes then let it go. But it takes time for a comedy's ensemble to gel together, and when I gave it another shot this summer I ended up really liking it.

The premiere sure makes it seem like this could be a break-out year for the show. With season 1 ending with all sorts of love quadrangle drama, this week addressed everything in a way that stayed funny and set up the rest of the season. Overexposed as she may be, Betty White's guest spot totally worked, and it will be interesting to see how letting Senor Chang into the study group will alter the dynamics.

With The Office and 30 Rock increasingly heading into old age, Community's quickly becoming NBC's top show to watch on Thursday nights.

30 Rock started its 5th (!!!) year with plenty of meta references to the fact that nobody expected it to last this long. It's also no longer top comedy dog now that buzz has shifted over to Modern Family and Glee. Which I think is a good thing, as all the overhyping didn't really serve what's basically a fun little gem. And with lowered expectations, it still delivers.

It does seem 30 Rock is the place to go for dramatic actors trying to prove they can do comedy, as Matt Damon follows in Jon Hamm's footsteps to reprise his season finale role as Liz's pilot boyfriend Carol. Having initially played the role pretty straight, Damon definitely gets laughs as he reveals Carol to be kind of needy. Too bad he can't stay too long if he wants to keep making movies.

Elsewhere, the Kenneth-gets-fired plot continues, as Tracy misses him while he settles in at CBS (sorting the Letterman audience by attractiveness). A bit of a missed opportunity as Jenna is given a producer credit only to give it up by the end of the episode. Would have been fun to see her fight with Liz and Pete on stuff throughout the season. And no sign of Danny, except on Glee. There's a danger this season will continue on the all Jack and Liz's love lives, all the time track it keeps heading on, but so far so good.

Finally, The Office maybe should have ended a few seasons ago (why do they want to continue after Michael leaves?), but it always starts its seasons strong and this year was no exception. Last year we met some summer interns, and this year we got Luke, the new office assistant. Who's also Michael's nephew. And sucks at his job. Which led to plenty of hilarity and great Michael moments.

Even better, a return to the Jim and Pam pranks of old, which had been neglected since the writers decided all Jim and Pam could do was be cute. Unfortunately, Dwight continues to become more of a sitcom caricature with every second he's onscreen. Enjoying Kelly thinking she's smart and professional without backing it up. Sad for Andy that Erin left him for Gabe. And not really sure what the deal with the lip dub thing at the beginning of the episode was about. A take-off on a youtube video I haven't seen?

If this year's like the past few years, The Office has 5 good episodes in it before it starts to drag again. But all the writer interviews I've read say they're stepping it up for Michael's last year, so maybe this will be a return to form. It's certainly possible.

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