At season's end, which comedy was best?

After an exciting comedy television season (that saw its share of drama) draws to a close, the tides of comedy’s top shows have begun to turn. Photo: NBC

OKLAHOMA CITY, May 31, 2011 – After an exciting comedy television season (that saw its share of drama) draws to a close, the tides of comedy’s top shows have begun to turn. Darling single cam sitcom “Modern Family” and NBC’s tenured workplace mockumentary, “The Office,” both skimped on laughs and consistency of late, making way for “Community,” “Parks and Recreation” and “The Middle” to stake their claim atop the comedy game.

Joel McHale and Allison Brie. Photo: NBC

For all the talk “Modern Family” received in regard to TV’s best comedy, the show’s second season hasn’t nearly lived up to the often-hilarious ensemble show audiences grew accustom to last year.

 “Family” showed streaks of capturing the brilliant nuisance of the first season, but the sophomore effort has been wildly inconsistent, at best.

Sometimes, the show seems as if it would work better as “The Dunphys.” Focusing primarily on Claire, Phil and the kids, with Cam and Mitch as the secondary story, with an occasional pop in from Jay, Gloria and Manny.

The Dunphy girls, Alex (Ariel Winter) and Haley (Sarah Hyland), have developed into pretty funny departures from the follies of parents Phil and Claire. Hyland perfected Haley’s “moody, snotty, texting little princess” personality, while Winter nailed the cerebral 12 year-old-going-on-30 tendencies of Alex. Human gag-reel Luke has been appropriately featured, in very little doses.

Cam (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) have had some pretty hilarious subplots this year, and Ty Burrell’s Phil continues to be one of TV’s most dependable, lovable goofballs.

But, this season, Pritchett Family threads have had a hard time organically blending with the A and B storylines. The Jay (Ed O’Neil), Gloria (Sofia Vergara) and Manny (Manny Delgado) subplots, for the most part, seemed forced and shoehorned into most episodes.

Stealing some of the laughs away from “Family” is one of its lead in programs. “The Middle,” ABC’s little underdog comedy that could, may be TV’s most consistently funny comedy, with the most true LOL worthy moments. At first glance, the show looks a little goofy, the too bright colors (reminiscent of the failed Molly Shannon series “Kath and Kim”) seem a bit off-putting, the house too cramped, and the characters too caricaturized. But, upon closer inspection, it’s a pretty realistic representation of the recession hit middle class, middle of nowhere family. And it’s funny and sweet, to boot.

Patricia Heaton’s “mother at the end of her rope” portrayal of Frankie Heck is tops among the year’s leading comedic actress performances, upstaged only by the side-splitting turns from kids Eden Shur (Sue), Charlie McDermott (Axl) and Atticus Shaffer (Brick). From Sue’s super optimistic nerd, to Axl’s whiney thumb sucker slackery, to the sheer weirdness of poor Brick, television has never seen a more bizarrely hysterical group of kiddos.

With standout episodes like “The Royal Wedding,” “Hecks on a Plane” and  “Super Sunday,” the Hecks deliver whacked-out fun that seems both completely absurd, but also absurdly realistic, in a pretty entertaining way.

Staying in the Hoosier state, TV’s best ensemble comedy cast, the “Parks and Recreation” crew was emblazoned on the cover of “Entertainment Weekly” this season, with the lofty praise of “TV’s Smartest Comedy.”

This season, “Parks” did not disappoint. With cast additions of Rob Lowe and Adam Scott, the troupe of Pawnee working stiffs cranked up the crazy municipal antics superbly.

Parks and Recreation. Photo: NBC

Nick Offerman’s Emmy-worthy portrayal of Ron Swanson continues to be a comedic hero of titanic proportions. Easily one of the best non sequitur, one liner delivery machines on primetime. Aziz Ansari’s Tom and Chris Pratt’s Andy are no stranger from scene-stealing performances, either.

Much like Andy and Ann (Rashida Jones), who writers found a way to include in nearly every episode, the same treatment needs to be given to Jean-Ralphio, played by the hilarious Ben Scwhartz. It’s too bad he’s joined the cast for Showtime’s “House of Lies,” so a move to Pawnee is unlikely.           

The live action, satirical cartoon “Community” expertly delivered loads of keen snarky daggers of meta television existentialism throughout its poignant and irreverent second season.  With stand-out episodes like “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons,” “Paradigms of Human Memory” and the two-part paintball finale, the outstanding episodes in season two outnumber those of its uneven first season.

In one of the show’s sharpest barbs against the single camera narrative facility of “The Office” and “Modern Family,” Abed’s (Danny Pudi) pithy explanation in “”Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking” nails the sentiment that “it’s easier to tell a complex story when you just cut people explaining things to the camera.” The episodes main conceit was so spot on, that it really spotlighted what the satirical showcase does best. “Community” destroys stale network sitcom tropes by self-referentially using them, addressing them, and making fun of them, relentlessly.

In a move that smacked of fear of a post-Michael Scott interest drop-off, NBC resorted to Will Ferrell stunt casting, as well as a truckload of big names that popped up in the season finale. Ricky Gervais, Jim Carrey, Warren Buffett, James Spader and Will Arnett all interviewed for the coveted Scranton head position, but audiences will have to wait until September for word from human resources about the hire.

While it was fun to see the many cameo during “Search Committee,” how great would it have been to be taken completely off-guard with surprise guest spots? That’s the trouble with losing a huge movie star caliber TV star like Carell; producers were forced to spoil the surprise by revealing the A-list cameos, in order to draw in audiences who would’ve opted out after the Michael Scott departure. That seemed to be the motive for Ferrell’s four-episode arc, as well.

On paper, Will Ferrell’s casting looked to be a huge shot of energy that would hilariously contrast the emotional departure of the beloved Michael Scott. It’s not often that the biggest name in comedy suggests that he’d love to drop by and show up in a four-episode arc. The problem was, Ferrell’s DeAngelo Vickers character was about as schizophrenic as the cast of characters from “Glee.”

From week to week, it wasn’t clear which DeAngelo would show up. Sometimes he was an oblivious buffoon, at times an ignorant clown, a masochistic weirdo and even a hard nosed, by-the-book stickler.

“The Hollywood Reporter” suggests that British comic actress Catherine Tate, who also appeared in the star-studded finale, is atop the list of possible branch manager replacements, according to the show’s producers. Tate certainly exuded a confident comedic poise on screen, although James Spader’s turn as an ultra-smug prospective boss looked to have great potential, providing a clashing, off-kilter comedic presence at Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton branch.

Finding the right replacement is quite a task. In the finale, one of the staffers asked Jim if there was a frontrunner.  “No, they’re all sort of blending together,” replied Jim. Let’s hope one separates from the pack; good thing we have a full summer to speculate.

Follow Craig Sanger on Twitter.

 

-cl- 5/31/11

 

 

 


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Craig Sanger

A broadcast journalism graduate of University of Central Oklahoma, Craig Sanger is film critic for Oklahoma City FOX affiliate KOKH-TV, morning radio host on KATT-FM, and staff writer at distinctly Oklahoma Magazine. 

Craig is a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

Follow Craig on Twitter.

Contact Craig Sanger

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