Thursday, September 21, 2006

NBC's Must-See Comedies

The two-headed comedic monster that is MY Name is Earl and The Office both had their season premieres tonight and let me tell you I almost ruptured a body part laughing so hard. This double dip is without question THE BEST HOUR OF COMEDY ON TV.

The Earl episode turned out to be a two-parter (not unheard of with premieres but not what I was expecting from this show.) This one was also unusual because it focused on Joy, Earl's hottie/hick ex-wife played to a tee by Jamie Pressly. She gets it in her vacant head that she wants to put a giant entertainment center in her and Crabman's double-wide. But when it won't fit and she can't get a refund she steals a truck from a Big Box store and keeps it for ransom.
This is where Earl and his list enter the picture as he decides to cross off No. 183- 'never took Joy's side.' Unluckily for Earl, taking Joy's side in this case could mean felony raps for grand theft auto, selling stolen property, and kidnapping. See, the poor delivery guy was in the back of the truck when Joy boosted it and now they are stuck with a stolen truck and kidnapped hourly worker. What's a poor Karma-challenged gut to do? Earl tries to get Joy to forget her mission to get her money back and let's the guy get away in the truck. But with Joy's recognizable features she quickly winds up in jail and we have to wait till next week to see what happens.
Not an all-time great opener, but all the elements were present. There were some classic lines, like Earl's comment at Joy's "surprise" birthday party: "C'mon out we've got a pinata full of cigarettes just waiting for you to hit it." Some classic Randy: do you think monkey's are embarrassed by how they look?" And there was of course Earl, that comforting beacon of karma and goodwill shining a couple of watts brighter than all the dim bulbs around him. Can't wait till next week to see how they wrap this up. Oh and I guarantee there's a quality guest star in next weeks show,too. It's just a question of who it will be.

There's a reason why The Office won the Emmy for best comedy this year after only 2 seasons on the air: it is the funniest, best- written show on TV, narrowly edging out Entourage. And the difference maker is Steve Carrell, who is becoming more like the modern day Jim Carrey every year. His gift for line delivery, hilarious facial expressions, and-love-him-but-hate-him pathos is unmatched and an absolute joy to watch. He is one of those comedians who makes me laugh just when he is standing there in anticipation of what he will do or say.
And the award-winning bunch definitely did not rest on their Emmy laurels for the premiere. We pick up the story months after Pam & Jim's infamous long-awaited kiss in the finale. We learn that Jim is now at the corporate office working alongside Jan in an environment similar but not even close to his old office in Scranton. Here they have snobby business types who barely crack smiles, think about things like profits and growth, and most importantly, not a Pam to be found. It was eerily reminiscent of the Seinfeld Bizarro Jerry episode, and I don't think it was a coincidence as this show is now the anchor of the new Thursday night NBC Must See TV lineup like that landmark show was a decade ago.

The shows main focus is a touch subject in today's workplace: having a gay co-worker. Michael tackles the subject of Oscar's homosexuality head-on when he unintentionally intentionally "outs" Oscar to the rest of the crew, setting off a tidal wave of effects: outrage (Jan, Oscar), shock (Pam) disgust (Dwight) fear (Angela) and laughter Kevin.)
The whole mess culminates in another diversity awareness meeting, but Michael takes it to another level when he forces Oscar to declare his orientation to the rest of the office, with painfully hilarious results. After much ridicule and embarrassment, Oscar does what everyone in Dunder Mifflin has been wanting to do for years: tells Michael off. As Michael tries to embrace and kiss Oscar in a sign of unity with gays, Oscar pushes him aside and screams: "NO, I don't want to touch you, ever consider that. You're ignorant, and insulting and small." The look on Michael's face could have spoken a hundred words: shock, pain, anger, embarrassment and confusion are just a few emotions his expression conveyed. Realizing he has wounded his boss more than he intended, Oscar does embrace Michael, and as a horrified staff looks on Michael and Oscar embrace in one of the most painful (and hilarious) on screen kisses in recent memory.A stark contrast to the Jim/Pam smooch of last season. "See, I'm still here" Michael proclaims, but I'm not- I'm on the floor rolling with laughter.
After wiping away tears the ending brought them right back: Michael claims that he spurred social change by addressing this hot-button issue, and also says that he is glad he can put the matter to bed. Followed by his trademark "that's what she said...or HE said." As he looks out the window and sees Oscar getting in the car with his partner, he utters this classic outro:" Oh there's Gil, Oscars roommate ; I wonder if he knows."

This ep was completely over-the-top and hilarious, a new breakthrough in comedic television tackling a taboo but relevant subject in today's workplace in a different way from the Will & Grace or Ellen's of the past.. Only these actors with this script and this kind of talent could have pulled it off without it being completely offensive.
Did Michael & Co. teach us anything about tolerance and prejudice? I'm not sure, but it taught me that this show is not letting it's foot off the gas as the best comedy on television, bar none.

Must see TV indeed.

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