Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2012 edition: 6-4

22 Feb

We’re nearing the end of my ranking of shows that I watched in 2012 – the intro explaining what qualifies is here and 6, 5, and 4 are below.

6.  Parks and Recreation

The cast of Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation isn’t revelatory or mind-exploding; it’s merely a workmanlike comedy which is funny and great nearly every single week, almost never putting out a weak episode.  Like just about every show on TV that has lasted more than a couple of seasons, Parks and Recreation has threatened to tire and run out of ideas over time.  In its case, the biggest concerns have been the potential hammering into the ground of the single dimensionness of some of the characters, including Tom, Ron, April, Andy, and Chris.  However, the show has somewhat recognized this and begun handling this issue in a better way by fleshing out at least some of these characters; Tom and Ron have had their single-minded ridicouslessness mellowed out by Tom’s new store and business ploy and Ron’s new girlfriend, which make both of them seem at least ever so slightly more like real people.  I oft complain about unearned emotion on television; I hate when shows use songs to rev up emotional feeling towards characters that you wouldn’t care about otherwise.  Contrary to this, Parks and Recreation has earned the right to emotional moments through character building over the years; it was hard not to be moved when Ben proposed to Leslie.  Leslie and Ben are both extremely well built characters, and the show reached its peak period when Ben and Rob Lowe’s Chris Traegar joined the cast and the bland Mark Brendanawicz left at the end of the second season.  Ann is multi-dimensional as well, but sometimes has trouble finding anything to do in the midst of the Parks and Recreation employees who have a tighter bond.  Every one of the characters is  capable of delivering laughs, and many of the recurring bits, like the Eagleton-Pawnee rivalry, and the idiocy of the Pawnee residents at town meetings could easily wear out, but are used just sparingly enough, and are written well enough, that they continue work.  All of these elements add up to a show that while not groundbreaking will be considered a classic for years ago to come and hopefully has a couple more seasons left.

5.  New Girl

Jess and the gang

New Girl is also of the Parks and Recreation school of comedy; there’s no dynamite crazy ambitious episode where everything comes together like in Community (or maybe Louie) but rather sheer episode to episode consistency and hilarity.  After taking a few episodes to find its voice, New Girl has really come into its own over the last season or so, emerging to the point that I found myself talking with several other people who agreed that all of a sudden New Girl had to be considered in the top tier of TV comedies.  There are small kinks; mainly that they’re still slowly figuring out how to use Winston and Cece.  The handling of the other three characters, however, is superb.  Jess turned down the quirk just enough after the first few episodes of the first season and has been incredibly entertaining since.  Schmidt has been the break out character, and has certainly earned the acclaim, expertly playing a lovable pretentious douche with just the right amount of obnoxiousness to love.  Nick is the most underrated of the three, but my personal favorite; his smallest lines and movements I find hilarious and worth repeating over and over again; recently I quoted the short vaguely throwaway line, “I’m not a dad guy” constantly around my brothers who quickly grew tired of it, but I never did.  A Nick b-plot earlier in the season in which a homeless guy came into his bar and told Nick that he was him from the future was fantastic, and perfected walked the line of is-this-real-this-can’t-be-real for both the audience and Nick.  Another small flaw is that the writers haven’t quite properly figured out how to use cutaways – too often they get nothing from the flashback that wasn’t already gotten from the description.  Still, this is great TV just emerging, and if you’re not on the bandwagon yet, it’s time to get on.

4.  Community

Greendales

As noted in my Parks and Recreation entry, Community, due in part to its ambition and risk taking,  is more inconsistent compared to New Girl or Parks and Recreation but that’s a trade off for the occasional incredible episode in which everything comes together to produce 22 minutes of unforgettable TV.  Gimmick episodes, which work for some shows and don’t for others, have become the stock-in-trade of Community, probably more so than any other show ever. Several shows have attempted the fake clip show, but no one has done it better than Community, in the episode “Curriculum Unavailable”, in which John Hodgman plays a psychologist trying to convince the Greendale crew that they’re in a mental institution rather than a community college. An entire Law & Order homage episode would have been an insane idea for just about any non-Community show and was cat nip to longtime fans of the program including myself, and featured an appearance by real Law & Order medical examiner Leslie Hendrix and spoke to casual and hard core fans of Law & Order.  Virtual Systems Analysis may have been the best episode last spring, in which Annie and Abed take a tour through the Dreamatorium and explore Abed’s unusual psyche. Though that episode and others, Dan Harmon has shown he is the best since Joss Whedon at packing powerful emotional punches in gimmick episodes.  In any given week, Community is more likely to have a couple of attempts fall flat than the two shows listed before it on this list, and John Goodman’s role as head of the air conditioning repair school was an example of something that never quite worked for me as well as it could have (the plotline had its moments, but often felt like it was just off).   Community is also more likely though to produce that brilliant episode, and while I look forward every week to New Girl and Parks and Recreation because I know they’ll be good, I looked forward to Community because there was a shot at brilliance.

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