Across multiple nights and networks, some of the best veteran comedies on TV returned this week, and the new seasons are filled with promise and a sense that family and community are paramount.
MODERN FAMILY – Wednesdays (ABC)
Fresh off its Emmy win for Best Comedy, the season began with two episodes, one featuring a field trip to a dude ranch, and the other, a big announcement. In the first half-hour the entire extended family takes a trip to a ranch in the American Northwest, where Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) tries to prove to himself and Cam (Eric Stonestreet) that he is manly enough to raise the son they plan to adopt. After Haley (Sarah Hyland) gets an ill-timed marriage proposal from Dylan (Reid Ewing), the family searches for him, and Jay (Ed O’Neil) sees Gloria (Sophia Vergara) get hit on by a cowboy. Phil (Ty Burrell) once again sees comparisons between Haley’s relationship to Dylan and his own relationship to Claire (Julie Bowen). In the second half hour, Cam and Mitchell plan to tell the family that they are going to adopt another boy, but try to figure out why Lily (who has just been recast to be slightly older, and is now played by Aubrey Anderson-Emmons) is so selfish and opposed to a brother. Meanwhile Haley and Alex (Ariel Winter) trick Luke (Nolan Gould) into moving into the attic, against the wishes of his mother, and Jay tries to get Manny to come clean about stealing a necklace from a girl at school. Overall the shows were solid, with the second entry being the stronger of the two. The new Lily does open up more dialogue and new scenarios within the Pritchett-Delgado family, but the show does have very high expectations, and there is already a huge ensemble cast to balance.
THE BIG BANG THEORY – Thursdays (CBS)
The “smartest” mulit-cam sitcom on TV also aired back-to-back episodes to begin its season, and both entries delivered big time. In the first half-hour, the gang dealt with the outcome of Penny and Raj’s season finale hook up. Amy (Mayim Bialik) counsels Penny (Kaley Cuoco) as she debates moving back to Nebraska; her failed acting career and embarrassment of her actions weighing on her. Meanwhile, Sheldon (Emmy Winner, Jim Parsons) tries to lead his fractured crew to victory on the paintball course as in-fighting between Leonard (Johnny Galecki), Raj (Kunal Nayyar), and Howard (Simon Helberg) threatens to destroy their group. The episode also features resolution over Raj’s feelings for Bernadette (Melissa Rauch), and an entertaining video-chat appearance by Leonard’s mother (Chrstine Baranski). In the second half-hour, Leonard tries to make a long-distance relationship work with Priya (Aarti Mann), and Sheldon freaks out when Penny drags a chair in off the street. Both episodes were well-written, filled with classic Big Bang moments and A-game performances from the entire cast. After a less-than stellar season, in which the show seemed to move too far from its prime characters, they seemed to have found just the right balance. There’s good reason to believe the show can get back to its peak.
COMMUNITY – Thursdays (NBC)
After a season in which critics say the show became “too crazy” and “too ridiculous”, Community used an opening song and dance number to poke fun at itself and reassure viewers that this year will be more grounded… but that dance number was all in Jeff Winger’s (Joel McHale) head. This episode was largely setup for the rest of the season, tearing apart the study group before putting it back together again. Jeff has a breakdown after being convinced that Pierce (Chevy Chase) got him kicked out of biology and goes on a chemical-induced tirade. Meanwhile Abed’s (Danny Pudi) reaction to Cougartown being pushed to mid-season leads Britta (Gillian Jacobs) to declare a psychology major and Chang (Ken Jeong), who was underutilized last season, once again becomes an authority figure as the school’s new security guard. John Goodman is introduced as the head of the Air-conditioning Repair School and a foil for the Dean (Jim Rash) and Michael Kenneth Williams (The Wire) as the intense ex-con Biology Professor. With its usual absurd pop-culture references, cartoonish storytelling, and inside jokes that would have casual viewers scratching their heads, it’s clear that nothing is going to change at all… and that’s a relief. Community also stars Alison Brie, Donald Glover, and Yvette Nicole Brown.
PARKS AND RECREATION – Thursdays (NBC)
The fourth season premiere picks up exactly where the show left off. Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) has just been offered the chance to run for public office, a lifelong dream, that will force her to break up with Ben (Adam Scott). Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) runs away to the woods to avoid scary ex-wife Tammy I and Tom (Aziz Ansari) has left to start his new company, which at this point seems to do nothing but produce marketing toys. This episode pokes fun at the Anthony Wiener scandal as Chris (Rob Lowe) and Ann (Rashida Jones) investigate male employees sending genital pictures to co-workers, Leslie debates what to do about Ben, and Andy (Chris Pratt) and April (Aubrey Plaza) debate whether the next step for his career is working for Tom or staying at City Hall. One of the funniest shows on TV lives up to expectations, with its usual brilliant dialogue, unmatched supporting cast, and absurdist take on local politics and government.
THE OFFICE – Thursdays (NBC)
Within minutes of the eighth season premiere The Office managed to wrap up it’s job search, introduce TWO new bosses, two pregnancies, recap the characters’ summers, and turn another absurd internet sensation, “planking”, into another brilliant cold open. Producers made the best possible choice in making Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) the new manager, while integrating Robert California (James Spader) as the new mysterious and creepy CEO. In doing this, the show has sidestepped having to replace Michael Scott, by giving you “Michael Scott Light”, while adding a new branch/corporate character that will keep the show fresh for a while. In classic Office form, a simple two-column list of names divides the office and puts everyone up in arms. As the paranoid staff struggles to impress their new mysterious CEO, Andy struggles to assert himself as manager. This episode does a great job of integrating everyone and reminding you that this show is truly an ensemble. Oh, and if you were wondering, “planking” literally means laying down in weird places for no reason.
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