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Friday, April 10, 2009

Commercial Interruption: It's an "Office" sandwich, with "Parks and Recreation" filling and a side of "30 Rock"

Sometimes there's just too much television for one Channel Surfing blogger to handle. That's when we need a break to sit back, relax and indulge in some friendly back-and-forth (via email, of course — we don't actually like to speak to one another in person). Bloggers Thomas Rozwadowski and Sara Boyd set up camp and tuned into a Thursday night line-up for the ages -- including Amy Poehler's new show, "Parks and Recreation." While we agreed that certain shows definitely hit the mark ("The Office" and "30 Rock"), we can't seem to agree to disagree on the premiere of "P & R." There's only one option left -- cage match. Last one alive wins.

Sara: When I heard the premiere of "Parks and Recreation" was going to be sandwiched in between two brand spanking new "Office" episodes and capped off with a layoff themed "30 Rock," I had to rub my eyes in disbelief. Did Christmas come early? Was this what that fortune cookie meant when it said, "Good things arrive when least expected?" After a first round of "The Office," I thought perhaps it was all a wonderful dream come true. The slow creation of the Michael Scott Paper Company was quite hilarious -- even if I'm still a little bugged that it's happening in the first place. Seeing Michael's leaning tower of French toast and watching Dwight toy with a Jim lie in front of bossman Charles Minor was all pretty classic. The episode was solid, good ol' "Office." I had high hopes going into Poehler's much-anticipated "Parks and Rec." Perhaps too high of hopes.

The show fell flat for me. I'm a big Poehler fan, but watching her reprise a "Michael Scott"-esque role, big gaping smiles to the camera included, just didn't leave me laughing. Aziz Ansari, however, was the saving grace for me. Any laugh produced during the half hour show was from this man and his character Tom Haverford, who you might call "a bit of a redneck." Ansari was spot on and gave me enough of a reason to try again next week. But as hyped as this premiere was, I don't think it delivered. I give it a "bleh."

Thomas, you clearly have less refined taste in television and would think a farting monkey could have its own show, so I understand why you liked "Parks and Rec." But why don't you explain your reasons for our readers ... just for fun.

Thomas: Mark it down, Boyd. 2:33 p.m., Friday, April 10. I have nothing negative to say about "The Office." NOTHING. In fact, it was the funniest dose from Dunder Mifflin (or the office building's dank closet-next-to-the-bathroom, really) since Season 3's "Branch Closing," which I had mentally marked as the last time I laughed out loud so many times. I know you don't love the plot direction of Michael Scott Paper Company, but now that it's an inevitability, the key is how they're deciding to run with the comedic elements involved. And they're striking the right balance. The new intro that showed all of them in their cramped office, the way Pam and Michael both had mental breakdowns but brought each other back to sanity (Michael's seriousness in Pam's moment of weakness really delivered) ... even the way they wrangled douchey Ryan into the fold as a helpless, hopeless former prodigy, almost like he was a former child actor/loser scraping for any reality TV exposure possible. It was pretty spectacular. My favorite part was the Dwight-Andy bromance and Mr. Schrute finally getting the upper hand on kissy kiss-up Jim. "Oh, the new boss doesn't think Jim Halpert is adorable." Brilliant. The "Take Me Home, Country Roads" face-off was also masterfully done. I'm beaming! BEAMING!

So enough "Office" love for now. It's probably making you wretch. Onto the more controversial of the evening's comedies -- critical whipping boy, "Parks and Recreation." Frankly, I think the national bash-a-thon for this new Poehler project has been pretty lame, especially when it comes from "Office" lovers (I won't finger anyone specifically ... er, that's what she ... nevermind) who STILL think the show has been better than ever through Seasons 4-5. I can understand why YOU didn't like it, and I also didn't think it was the second coming of "Seinfeld" or anything. But I thought "Parks" had at least five big laughs, and I also think there's an important distinction to make between Leslie Knope and Michael Scott.

Yes, they're both socially oblivious. But Michael so badly wants to be liked by everyone, which turned into such an annoying trait long term. Leslie, meanwhile, just thinks she has the world's greatest job and one day will be able to make a difference on the level of Hillary Clinton. Personally, I think a lot of comedy can be spun out of that type of delusion, which frankly, I don't find too far-fetched to have. I'm not a huge "SNL" fan, so I'll admit that my love for "Upright Citizens Brigade" sorta makes me a Poehler apologist. But she's a great facial comedian. She sells a lot with her mannerisms, and I thought when she took a header into the pit of doom, that was pretty rock solid. Ultimately, I found Leslie to be a likable eternal optimist who will be a strong enough character to build an entire show around. I hope the creators prove me right, and maybe at some point, look to diversify the mock-formula after the show finds its legs. I also want to see more cameos by Loudon Wainwright. Man, I love Loudon Wainwright. In fact, I'm gonna go listen to "Strange Weirdos" right now.

So Boyd, do you think having realistic expectations for "Parks" helped me form a more objective opinion? I mean, yes, "The Office" similarities are obvious, but I really didn't find myself comparing notes throughout. In fact, I deliberately avoided doing that ... too unfair. I think the format can thrive in multiple settings, and for a pilot, they hit a lot of high notes -- much higher than "The Office" Brit-rip off pilot ever did. I just hope "Parks" follows the "30 Rock" route and sticks to zany comedy -- Kenneth the page as a murder suspect, Liz sporting Trix up her sleeve -- and saves "caring about characters" in a deep, emotional way for the 8 p.m. hour.

Sara: Hey T-Roz, maybe you and "The Office" should get a room. If you love it so much, why don't you marry it? T-Roz and "The Office" sittin' in a tree, K-I-S-S- ... OK, I'm done.

And yes, I agree that as stupid as this plotline is, and as harshly as they've killed the true character of Pam, (remember when she and Jim bonded over the fact that Michael was an idiot and deserved behind-the-back mocking?) I do think they're making strides. But don't call it a comeback just yet. I laughed out loud, and in recent "Office" form, that's saying something. But still, time will tell whether or not this competing paper business has longevity for laughs. That said, "Pam is a lot more fun when Jim's around ..."? Hilarious. Kelly's attempts to get Charles to "want her" -- spot on, my friend. And I enjoyed that Pam finally admitted -- even just for a moment -- that her decision to quit and leave a job where she had health benefits and sat 10 feet from her fiancé could be her greatest mistake. But then again, hey, at least she took a risk and stopped her vanilla lifestyle, huh? That's what we're supposed to think, right?

Now let's get back to the "Parks and Recreation" smack down. I expected more from you, Thomas. You used to join me in a bitter rant about how comedy shows weren't producing laughs and now ... now? You're just a ball of love. What happened to you? You justified a show that was a "C+" at best by saying it had five laughs. Wasn't it that exact same reasoning that made you "Office" bitter in the first place? I'll admit, the show didn't make me want to gouge my eyes out with a rusty spoon as some other shows -- I won't mention any names ... *cough* "Office" *cough*-- have done in the past. But it wasn't good. It was just OK. I don't like Leslie in the way that I started off liking Michael. I find her delusional arrogance annoying and not lovable. Not yet anyway. I also think it didn't help that the show premiered in-between two solid episodes of "The Office" and paved the way for a hilarious "30 Rock." Liz Lemon just soars past Leslie Knope -- similar to the way Tina Fey's Sarah Palin rocketed past Poehler's Hillary Clinton. It's like eating filet mignon and then having to settle for Texas Roadhouse's beef tips. It's alright, and you'll eat it, but it's not what you would order if you had the choice.

I'll definitely tune in next week to see if they can change my opinion, but for now, I have to wonder -- where can it go from here? I don't see a lot of potential. Everyone knows it's much harder to go from a "C+" to an "A-" than vice versa. Especially T-Roz.

Thomas: Boooooooooooo. You're probably one of those impulsive critics blaming Obama for the poor economy! Gotta give "Parks" a chance and instead, form a realistic comparison ... you know, like "Better Off Ted." I watched one episode of that "comedy" and laughed zero times. So five BIG laughs -- and several small snickers -- that's pretty darn good for a pilot, even a hyped one. No more Best of "The Office" comparisons for now. If "Parks" doesn't form an identity over time, then it can be rightfully bashed. But right now, it has some solid footing and should at least be in the B+ range on the cusp of earning honor roll status on the ol' DVR.

We can at least agree that "Parks" was better than "Baby Mama," right? Oh, and Texas Roadhouse is gonna so spit in your food ...

Catch "Parks and Recreation" at 7:30 p.m., "The Office" at 8 p.m., and "30 Rock" at 8:30 p.m., Thursdays on NBC.

-- Sara Boyd, and Thomas Rozwadowski,

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