The end of the broadcast network season is upon us, and I've already posted thoughts on "Fringe," "Once Upon a Time" and "Smash." Now, here are a few thoughts on some recent comedy finales (and I'll post more thoughts on various drama finales next week):
"Community," "Digital Estate Planning," "The First Chang Dynasty" and "Introduction to Finality"
So much happened in the final three episodes of "Community's" third season that I'd be here all day if I were to list my favorite moments (though Dean Pelton reacting to being touched by Jeff and an army of baby 8-bit Abeds saying, "Cool cool cool" is way up there near the apex of silly-awesome things). What my favorite episodes of "Community" do is tie the big conceptual conceits to the characters' relationships and, dare I say it, their emotional journeys (though I fear Jeff Winger is going to appear and mock me for writing that phrase). That's generally what happened here, making for a triple play of enjoyable comedy with deeper resonances for the Greendale gang and their futures. Everything that happened built on the show's perennial themes of loyalty; the search for, yes, self-actualization; and the ways in which the group tries to stick together and stick up for each other, despite their personal flaws and some challenging circumstances, including their exile from Greendale. "Community" is at its best when it ties pitch-perfect concepts to themes that touch on how hard it is to get perspective on your life or to reach some kind of cockamamie maturity, and you know a show is on its A-game when it can use a videogame, an undercover mission and a courtroom parody to do all that.
In Thursday's first episode, I can't say I saw Pierce's embrace of his half-brother coming (though it's always good to see Giancarlo Esposito pop up on my TV screen). Not to launch a hundred message-board flame attacks, but the show feels fairly inconsistent to me in how much of an unlikeable, selfish jackass Pierce is from week to week. Putting that aside (as well as the sheer amount of non-PC humor, which, at some point, became a slightly off-putting distraction), the 16-bit episode was an enjoyable lark, and I hope we meet tiny Hilda again (perhaps in Abed's mini-Dreamatorium?). I'm also a sucker for elaborate heists, so everything about the infiltration of Chang's repressive Greendale was delightful (especially the reveal of the hidden plan within the plan, and Chang's sarcastic clapping when he foiled the Greendale Seven). What really made the episode work wasn't just the enjoyably detailed compendium of every elaborate-heist cliche ever -- it was the fact that Chang himself wasn't an overbearing drag on the episode (the broadness of that character sometimes grates), and the fact that the whole quest was tied to Troy's heating-and-cooling Hero's Journey, which continued into the season finale.
Both Troy and Abed's stories in the final episodes walked very fine lines: They were played for laughs, but they were also serious examinations of each character's individual challenges. Troy ultimately made a difficult sacrifice for his friends, and in the midst of that quest, he realized his own strength and was ultimately able to return to the study group as a more confident, resourceful man (who still embraced Abed first, not surprisingly). Dark Abed eventually realized that even Jeff could occasionally show altruistic qualities, thus allowing not-Dark Abed to return and Jeff to keep his arm. Danny Pudi's performance in the season finale is among his best work; his portrayal of Dark Abed and Regular Abed's sadness and confusion was heartbreaking, and Dark Abed's evil speech to Britta ("You're a human white sale!") was masterful.
Thanks to the willingness of group members to give things up for each other and their ability to realize how much they mean to each other -- no matter how screwed up they may be as individuals -- Greendale returned to "normal," whatever that is. Shirley and Pierce opened their sandwich shop, Chang began another devious plan and even Starburns turned up. Troy and Britta weren't able to fully acknowledge their feelings for each other, but the show's got to save something for Season 4, which I hope includes some return visits from Inspector Spacetime and Constable Reggie. Very good stuff.
Rating: 9 "cools" out of 10
"How I Met Your Mother," "The Magician's Code"
"Community" has managed to make a lot of big conceits work, mainly because it switches to a new mode or mood almost every week. "HIMYM" has been working one big conceit for a long time now, but it feels like a much lesser show than it once was (and I agree with critics Alan Sepinwall and Mark Lashley, who wrote eloquent recent pieces on the show's big-picture issues). "HIMYM" doesn't often attempt the kind of structural, character-based cleverness that individual episodes used to display on regular basis, and if I'm being honest, the show just generally feels tired to me. Even if I enjoyed Robin calling Ted on his BS, Barney's absurd magic trick and a few of the smaller moments (Lily and Marshall asleep with their new baby was awww-inducing), everything about the final moments of "The Magician's Code" felt deflatingly predictable. Barney getting ready to marry Robin wasn't much of a surprise, nor is the idea that the show will likely spend part of next season jerking the audience's chain with another go-round of Ted and Victoria (whom we know isn't the mother). Putting aside the fact that the whole mother concept was played out some time ago and is now the show's albatross, it just feels as though "HIMYM" has lost a fair amount of its sparkle and zip. As was the case with "House" (which I gave up on a few seasons ago, so I won't be writing about the finale), I think it's time for me to break up permanently with "HIMYM," and thank it on my way out the door for the good times.
Rating: 5 waitforits out of 10
"New Girl," "See Ya"
I never really believed that Nick was going to move out of the loft; I was a little sad that we didn't get to see more of Thomas Lennon as a creepy potential new roommate; and Schmidt's problems with Cece felt a bit sudden. But I'm enjoying this show so much that the finale still managed to feel pretty pleasing. As Andy Greenwald noted in this excellent piece about the show's growth through its first season, each of the "New Girl" characters feels well defined at this point (even Winston came into his own toward the end of the season), and just hanging out with them and watching them work through their conflicts and reference "White Fang" was pretty fun. Schmidt has deservedly been hailed as "New Girl's" breakout character, but I was equally amused by Nick, whose man-crush on Dermot Mulroney's character may have been the funniest recurring joke of the season. Winston, Cece and of course Jess had their charms as well, and if the finale didn't quite reach the heights of the gang's "Fancyman" adventures, that's not a dig: Those were some of the best comedy episodes of the year. For a freshman show to be as consistently pleasing as "New Girl" has been all season is quite an achievement, and I'm not going to "White Fang" this gang away any time soon.
Rating: 7 out 10 on the True American scale.
"Suburgatory," "The Motherload"
My general enjoyment of "Suburgatory" and my problems with the Eden character are well established at this point, so I'll just say that I appreciated the show's attempts to set up a lot of threads about motherhood while pointing out that the finale didn't really have time to pay them all off in satisfying ways (for instance, Dalia's passive-aggressive attacks on Dallas and the planning of her trip to Israel could have occupied a whole episode, but Dalia appeared very briefly in the finale and was ultimately upstaged by Dreamatorium Yakult).
I also really, really hope the show figures out what to do with the very talented Alan Tudyk next year. "Suburgatory" kept portraying Noah and his wife as cartoonish near-monsters, yet it also wanted us to take his desire to be a responsible father seriously. When it comes to Noah, "Suburgatory" wants us to both laugh at him for being a douche and to take his emotional plights seriously, which just leads to situations in which jokes don't quite land in either of those arenas (and of course, a status-obsessed douche can be made lovable -- "Parks and Recreation" managed it with Tom Haverford).
In any event, while I generally enjoy episodes that showcase the entire ensemble more than the finale did, Jane Levy was phenomenal in the scene in which she realized how much she missed her own mother, and overall, I am very much invested in the George-Tessa relationship and in the rest of residents of this goofball suburb. I look forward to more adventures with them next season.
Rating: 6 crystals out of 10
Note: Ryan McGee and I discuss many of these shows, as well as "Game of Thrones," "Mad Men" and other programs in our weekly Talking TV podcast, which often features special guests and can be found here and here.