What NBC’s Must-See-TV Talks About When NBC’s Must-See-TV Talks About Love

raymond_carverTuning into NBC’s Thursday night of programming this past week, I found myself wondering “Who programs this fine evening of programming? Cupid!?”  (or Eros, depending on your worldview). It happened upon me as I was jotting some notes for my memoirs that a common theme was popping up in my entry “Thursday Night NBC Television 10/8/2009.”  The theme was love. Love? Love!

The Office wedding! Dates on Parks & Recreation! A sort of awkward interaction on Community! St. Valentine himself could not have devised such a spectacle!

The night started off oddly (just how St. Valentine always intended!) with an episode of Community where Jeff tried to dive headfirst into friendship with Britta because apparently she is just not that into him. She does not want to ruin their special friendship. Fair enough. They are called feelings because we can’t control how they feel!

Jeff’s willingness to dive into this role worked against his sarcastic clever demeanor. It was even more confusing given the kiss between Britta and Jeff at the end of the previous episode.  There were funnies in the episode but there was also confusies and headscratchies too.

Parks and Recreation placed a bunch of focus on Leslie’s dates but the episode really thrived on its b-story of the dirt-digging game. That part of the episode could be MVP like Steve Nash! The show continues to deftly separate itself from The Office.  Sometimes, during the first season, I would say things like “Oh, I guess that one’s Michael Scott” and “There’s Jim and there’s Pam and there’s Charlotte and Samantha and there’s Kramer and Frasier” but now the show’s coming into its own (which is odd because the Leslie date storyline featured in this episode really felt like a kinder gentler Michael Scott encounter but luckily, the episode was more than that, like a Nestle Wonder Ball candy)!  It’s a St. Valentine’s Day miracle!

And then there was the big show. We have the Sam and Diane and Kirstie Alley of our generation. The final episode of M*A*S*H of our generation (except, not the final episode of the series, and in October).

Before I get into things, I just want to be honest with The Office. We have a complex relationship. We’ve had good times, we’ve had bad times, we had that week where we slept in separate beds. Sometimes, like in the case of The Office, if you love something you have to set it free and then when it comes back you have to hold an intervention since the thing you love might have a pill addiction. There are times I wanted to intervene (coming from a place of love) in The Office‘s life (mostly regarding, but not limited to, Dwight killing cats, Michael driving into lakes, hour episodes, Pam dropping her artist dream for her sales dream). Despite this, I think they have handled the Jim/Pam romance pretty well. The primary difficulty is how to stretch the basic story from the British version without knowing where the show would end. There are also the pressures regarding the consequence of romantic fulfillment in American television.

The Office is about Jim and Pam, not paper (in the same way The Matrix was really about spoons). A long history of disappointment and “shark-jumping” carried itself into audience perception of The Office. Romance has become integral to television shows even if romance is not the focus (Case in point: The best television show [until Whip It: The New Class premieres] Buffy the Vampire Slayer is about female empowerment, but the forbidden romance of Angel and Buffy added to the appeal of the show. When Angel left for a spin-off, things changed and something was lost. And when Angel was cured of vampirism and contracted amnesia and became an FBI investigator on Bones, something was lost. And then when Angel’s son Connor contracted amnesia and time travelled to the 1960’s and assumed the identity of Pete Campbell and starting doing advertising on Mad Men, everything went to shit).  The Office has romance as the focus and committed wholeheartedly to fulfilling that romance.

So, in a sense, the wedding episode was reemphasized this fulfillment. Jim and Pam are together in front of God and family and man. I think it works because where other shows rest on such fulfillment, The Office continued to explore it. Boy Meets World tried this exploration but it had to fight against leaving high school. Also BMW got really Jesusy at the end. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but it was sort of Left-field Jesusy. I like what The Office is doing though, so hooray for Jim and Pam!

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Kevin gets it.

The episode itself was nice and made good use of its extra time. Everyone (read: my action figures) seems to have an opinion on the episode, specifically, the closing number. I thought it was cute since the show makes a point of appropriating passing pop culture items for its own jokes and character commentary. So go ahead Office, go ahead get down.

Unfortunately, the whole number hinges on Chris Brown’s “Forever” and everyone is aware of the year Chris Brown has had. He needs a vacay! Most of the boat scenes in between the dance were sweet and cute, but the specter of Chris Brown is hanging out, eating all The Office‘s chips and guacamole.

But where does the show go from here? I guess the Erin/ Andy romance? There’s a baby on the way? Maybe a Flintstones crossover?

The night started with a friend-wanting-to-be-more episode of Community and ended with a friend-getting-to-be-more episode of The Office. Maybe that’s an unfair trivialization but it was interesting watching the romance in the first two shows with their story lines and then seeing the culmination of the The Office‘s romance.

I took another look at the episode and I realized that Jim talks a bunch about Pam (the rehearsal dinner speech, the talking head) but Pam is mum on the whole thing. What could this mean? Does Pam really not love Jim? I think that Pam is a secret agent sent to infiltrate rogue paper agents and seduce them. Watch out Jim!

St. Valentine’s display on some enchanted evening of Thursday programming purports a specific view of love that says ladder theory be damned. It also is a little dude-centric (which places the story arc Parks & Recreation in a weird thematic disadvantage). But soon, St. Valentine will cast his eye to other endeavors! And St. Patrick and St. Nicholas and St. Jesus and St. Hallow will have their out-of-season turns at television!

Also 30 Rock comes back this week! The greatest love of all (you know, except for Whip It: 90210 when that comes out).

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