I am not what anyone would consider a loyal fan of the NBC Thursday night comedy lineup. I really never have been, but particularly since the final episode of Friends I have lost more and more awareness of what NBC even has to offer on Thursday nights … until now. Writing a regular column about television has forced me to plug back in to what, for many, has become a television-viewing institution. And honestly, I just don’t get it.
Without being a fan, I have kept abreast of this season’s lineup of Community, Parks and Recreation, The Office, and 30 Rock. The shows I have seen each had their moments of comedy but have fallen short of being what I would consider funny overall. All of you who are fans of any or all of these shows, please write a comment and tell me what’s so funny. What am I missing? Have I just seen all the wrong episodes?
Before you write me off with a scathing comment, take note of the fact that I am not finished. Knowing many of you feel differently than I do about these shows, I decided this was the week to give two of them my full, written attention. First, I watched Community. Then, I watched Parks and Recreation. Then, I got confused. Each show presented a perspective on the choices we make in life—each with a vastly different conclusion. Community concluded we have to let the people we care about make their own choices (and mistakes). Parks and Recreation, on the other hand, concluded if we really care about people we will intervene in their lives when they would make the wrong choice.
Which conclusion is better? Should we show people we love them by letting them fend for themselves or should we show our concern for others by staging an intervention? I think the answers are partially revealed in examining the types of situations in which characters find themselves and their responses to those situations. In the case of Community, for example, Jeff (Joel McHale) and Britta (Gillian Jacobs) become concerned about their naïve, teenaged friend Annie’s (Alison Brie) choice of boyfriend. Their response to this concern is a decidedly conspicuous plan to manipulate those around them into changing their behavior, which turns out to be disastrous even on TV. Note to self …
The situation on Parks and Recreation arises when Leslie (Amy Poehler) learns the snack company soon to be taking over city concessions sales will be selling extremely unhealthy foods packaged as health-conscious products. While Ron (Nick Offerman) subscribes to the philosophy that the beauty of America is the freedom of every American to make any unhealthy choice (This is not exactly the reasoning for the existence of our Republic—not that anyone would know the difference looking at many of our cities, our newspapers and our pantries … but, I digress.) Leslie finds evidence of the unhealthy products sold by the snack company and takes them before the public—most of whom still vote to hand over city concessions sales to the ethically questionable snack company. In the end, both Community and Parks and Recreation demonstrate in these episodes that, ultimately, each person has responsibility for their own choices and only their own choices.
However, I don’t think we can definitively state either intervention or lack thereof is a better approach across the board. Community and Parks and Recreation don’t lead us to any such definitive statements anyway. We need a source deeper than television to help us understand with clarity what those around us need from us (if anything). I still believe television often finds its place in making us think about serious things without taking us to a serious place.
I still just wish more of the shows we call "comedies" were actually funny.