March 6, 2014

What happens now? Character departures on my two favorite NBC sitcoms

Call me unpatriotic, but I was excited to see the Olympics come to a close, if only because it meant I got my Thursday night NBC lineup back.

Community and Parks and Rec both returned last week, but neither is exactly what it was - mostly because of goodbyes we recently said to some of our favorite characters. Before the events in Sochi, Community's Troy headed out to sea, and Ann and Chris left Pawnee, Indiana. Now, television shows have survived massive character departures in the past, (Season 9 of The Office was one of its best, long after Dunder Mifflin lost Michael Scott), but I must admit I was concerned to see what would happen to  these last remaining remnants of what used to be a great night of comedy on NBC. After all, when Rob Lowe leaves a show, who knows what's gonna happen? We can at least agree that The West Wing didn't go uphill after Sam Seaborne left the White House.

So yeah, I wondered what would happen to Abed without his best buddy Troy. I'm happy to report that in the two episodes since the Childish Tycoon set sail, the writers haven't coddled the character. Instead, Abed was harassed by Britta, betrayed by a  new love interest, and handcuffed to a filing cabinet by the study group's new resident old guy, Professor Buzz Hickey.

I imagine that Abed's a tricky character to write and to play. How do you keep a neurotic, anti-social, media-obsessed community college student from becoming a caricature? Despite claymation, muppetization, and a season without Dan Harmon, Abed has remained a solid, yet growing, character. In the latest episode, I was particularly impressed by his emotion. He clearly missed his friend, but in a very Abed way - compensating by doing alone what they used to do together, cosplay for going to the movies. But the best part of the episode was when Abed didn't get his way, and how that led to his bonding with an unlikely new friend. I get the sense that Community is still finding its sea legs this season, but nonetheless, it's a fun ride.

On Parks and Rec, Leslie Knope lost her best friend, too. Sure, Rashida Jones always played it straight on this comedy, but as she's been with the show since its inception, she'll clearly be missed, and not just by Leslie. And Pawnee will never be the same without the perpetual good mood of Chris Traeger. This comes right on the heels of another loss for Leslie, loss of her place on the City Council, her dream job. Hasn't exactly been a red letter year for everyone's favorite public servant. If you ask me, that explains why this season has seen the show suffer a bit. (Excepting, of course, the episode "The Cones of Dunshire" which an especially funny Adam Scott made one of the best episodes ever.) Parks and Rec thrives on joy - the little happy moments that lift the spirits of the viewer. When things begin to turn around for Leslie, they'll also turn around for the show.

Parks and Rec will be fine, though, with guest stars like John Hodgman and great one-liners from Tom and April. And the new faces in the Parks Department, most notably Craig, played by Billy Eichner, may not fill the void left by the Perkins-Treager's, but they'll bring the funny.

So what happens next? I'll be tuning in tonight to see. It sure looks like we're in for a good time.

PS: In what I think was the best subplot of this season of Community so far, Chang believes he may be a ghost. If you haven't watched "Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality," it's worth your time for a single shot of a photograph near the end.

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