The Office was a phenomenon, first in the UK, and then again in the US, because it tapped into the modern workplace’s almost Orwellian kindergarten atmosphere and just blew it up into an absurdity to which everyone could relate. The first season of the show was a six-episode experiment, and it wasn’t really until season two that it firmly found its legs and took off as one of the decade’s best sitcoms. One of the elements that was established right from the pilot, and remained my favorite part of The Office, was Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) torturing Dwight (Rainn Wilson).
Encasing Dwight’s office supplies in Jell-O in the pilot was good, but the brilliance of the prank war Jim and Pam would wage on Dwight’s paranoia first took off in the series fourth episode: “The Alliance”. When rumors of downsizing hit the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, Dwight approaches Jim to form “an alliance”. Jim has no idea what this means, but immediately seizes on it as possibly the greatest gift anyone could have ever given him. It’s not as good as when Jim arranges for Dwight to receive daily cryptic faxes from his future self, but without the alliance, there could be no “Future Dwight”.
Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy is one of my favorite TV characters of all-time. Baldwin’s megalomaniacal, prescient, manipulative, eccentric NBC executive was a hit from the pilot, but really had his first moment of pure “Jacktasticness” (trademark pending) in 30 Rock’s sixth episode. Jack has his overworked showrunner Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) pulling extra duty during an especially busy time writing jokes for a conservative fundraiser at which he’ll be speaking. This scene is the culmination of an episode of Donaghy messing with Lemon for his own amusement, plus it contains the greatest one-line explanation for why a character SHOULDN’T be wearing a tuxedo in entertainment history. 30 Rock went on to become one of the seminal sitcoms of the last 25 years, and in the sixth episode you can already see why.
The state of comedy on television is at its lowest ebb in my life time. It’s odd, given that television drama is in a golden age, that TV comedies are so mediocre that I can’t even think of one that’s worth watching. Parks and Recreation was originally conceived as a spin-off of The Office, though the only thing the shows shared was the documentary-style format. Though The Office plunged in quality at the end of its run, Parks & Rec stayed stellar through all its seven seasons on NBC, during which it was criminally ignored by the Emmys. Continue reading My Favorite Scene: Parks & Recreation Season 3 (2011) “Ron’s Swivel Chair”
With Will Smith atop the box office in a summer blockbuster again in Suicide Squad, it’s almost hard to remember that he started as a rapper. Will Smith’s “Fresh Prince” persona was given a sitcom by NBC in 1990 in which he essentially played himself, taken in by rich relatives in Bel-Air, CA, after he started getting into trouble living with his mother in Philadelphia. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air exploded into popularity because Will Smith wasn’t just a rapper who could act a little, he was and remains a charisma bomb capable of both amazing comic timing and tear-jerking dramatic depths.
Nowhere in the series is this more on display during the fourth season, when Will’s absentee father (played by the great Ben Vereen) shows up suddenly in Will’s life after having missed most of it. Will gets excited, bonds with his father who wants to take him on a trip, all the while under the skeptical gaze of his uncle (the late James Avery). Sure enough, Will’s father tries to make an unnoticed exit again, but this time he faces the wrath of Uncle Phil and his son, who after he leaves gives one of the best, most heartbreaking rants in TV history.
Why do I like Mad Men? It’s a question that’s puzzled me since the show debuted. It’s hard to sympathize with any of the characters. They’re nearly all awful people. By the sixth season (I haven’t seen the first half of the seventh yet) everyone looks like a bloated, washed-out version of their season one selves. Enough liquor is consumed on the show that these people’s livers should be spontaneously combusting, and don’t you dare play a drinking game where you take a shot every time someone lights a cigarette or you’ll have alcohol poisoning by the first commercial break. Continue reading My Favorite Scene: Mad Men Season 1 (2007) “Don’s Kodak Carousel Pitch”