Sometime this season I came to a realization: I like Community and Parks and Recreation a lot better than its older and more acclaimed Thursday night companions, 30 Rock and The Office.
On first examination, the premise for Community seems a little too pat: take all the different stereotypes of people who go to community college, stick them in a Spanish study group, and they all become friends. But by hiring some really incredibly funny actors and combining the zany humor with a surprising amount of heart, the show somehow just really works. The Abed/Troy dynamic is hilarious and Alison Brie (Annie) has proven to be one of the funniest actresses around. (And how awesome that she's on 2 hit shows at the same time--she also recurs on Mad Men as Trudy, Pete's wife. There was a reference to Mad Men in an episode of Community a few weeks back that felt really meta.) I think part of the show's success is that it realizes how absurd some "everyday" things actually are and takes them to extremes. Like I love how Greendale's mascot is the "Human Being" in an effort to be totally, completely sensitive and correct. I sometimes do wonder if this is what community colleges are really like--I've always thought of them as more commuter campuses where people are more just in and out without dorms and events and sports teams, but I could be wrong?
While I was hooked on Community from the very beginning, Parks and Recreation took awhile longer for me to get into. At first there was some confusion about whether it was actually an Office spinoff or not and I felt like the similarity between Amy Poehler's Leslie Knope and Michael Scott was strange and I just wasn't that into the whole crusade about "the pit." But something changed in the second season and it just started to get a lot funnier. They incorporated Ann and Andy into the cast a little better, with Ann dating Mark and Andy becoming a shoe shiner at City Hall and flirting with April, and I think Leslie's been toned down a little. She's still a little crazy but it's much more believable that she's a government employee that's actually kind of good at her job. The supporting cast has been allowed to shine more too, especially Ron and Donna. And um, I really love Aziz Ansari. He kind of does the same sort of thing in every role I've seen him in but so far I'm totally okay with that.
My love for The Office has been waning for awhile now. The show has always been somewhat inconsistent...there are incredibly funny moments or occasionally whole episodes, but sometimes things just fall flat or go too far. Michael and Dwight are too often just stupid and preposterous and cringe-worthy and Pam and Jim have become kind of smug and annoying. They're still one of my favorite couples when it's just about them, but around everyone else they can be almost mean. I know that the rest of the Office characters are crazy but I don't like seeing Pam and Jim think and act like they're so much better than everyone else. I mean, there are still some high points: I still like Andy and Erin and I did like the Michael Scott Paper Company from last season. I'm still watching but I'm not laughing as much.
The situation with 30 Rock is a little less clear. It took me a little while to get into this show too...at first I didn't "get" it. But after hearing some good things, I caught up with the first season in a Netflix streaming marathon and I officially became a fan. Tina Fey is awesome and Alec Baldwin is doing the best work of his career but somehow I feel like the show has lost steam a little. There are still plenty of funny moments but I've been underwhelmed by the huge amount of guest casting (I cringe just thinking about Julianne Moore and that Boston accent...and I like Julianne Moore!) and I don't know, maybe this isn't the right expectation for a show like this but I sometimes wish there'd be a little more development in characters like Jenna and Tracy and Kenneth. I feel like they're still basically doing the same schtick as in the first season and maybe I'm getting a little tired of it.
So maybe it's just inevitable that after a few seasons things start to decline? I'm totally loving Parks and Recreation and Community now but perhaps that won't last either?