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Qualler's Episode of the Month: January 2011

It's a new month in a new year, and one of my new features I am unrolling to y'all today is a simple one. Like the last new feature I debuted, this one is based on the age-old idea of arbitrary awards. Like the obsessive lists I have made since 1993, and the arbitrary award show like the Golden Globes before them, who doesn't love to decide what is the best of the best in every random category available?

The feature: Qualler's Episode of the Month! The focus: television episodes.

For the inaugural month, January 2011, I encountered a month of original programming on networks and cable channels alike. Much of it very good, much of it terrible but terribly entertaining in all the wrong ways (thanks NBC for The Cape and Harry's Law). But thankfully, the five nominees were some low-hanging fruit.

I nominated FX's Lights Out for its Episode 1.01, "Pilot". The show kicked off showcasing what I hope to be a good blend of machismo in crisis and staid, static drama, set to the backdrop of some vicious violence. Showrunner Warren Leight was responsible for the exquisite second season of In Treatment, which is a good sign, and newcomer Hoyt McCallany is very good as the former boxer in denial over the end of his career.

Also nominated was the new IFC Comedy Portlandia, starring SNL's Fred Armison and Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein, for Episode 2.02 "A Song for Portland(*)". Portlandia is a very funny sorta-sketch comedy show in the vein of Kids on the Hall or Mr. Show (with a touch of Tim and Eric, given that some guys from T&E are involved) and the second episode featured a fantastic guest spot by Kyle MacLaughlin as the super-laid-back mayor of Portland, as well as Aubrey Plaza as an exasperated book shop customer. Basically, Portlandia makes me both laugh and feel sad about asking about the source of the chicken I am eating.

(*)Side note: this provides a good opportunity to shout-out our dear friend Laura Knepper. Laura resides in Portland, OR, and was featured on the front page of the Better Portland website today. She runs her awesome LkC Style men's fashion consultant company there. Nice video, Knepzzz!!!

I also nominated NBC's Parenthood, Episode 2.12, "Meet the New Boss". In typical low-stakes drama fashion that we've come to know and love, Crosby has trouble directing Jabar's school play, Haddie gets in trouble for dating the potentially troublesome Alex, and Adam has some troubles at work with his newer, younger boss. But the show goes in interesting, slightly darker dimensions in the beautifully filmed scene with Haddie and Alex on the roof of an apartment building watching movies together, and in the scene with Adam talking to a recruiter, coming to realize that the job market still sucks and he should stick with his job. (Crosby's story still It's all low-stakes, but TV low-stakes is real-life drama.) It's super well done comfort food, and episodes like this one hint at potential greatness.

Yet another pilot nominated was the surprisingly hilarious IFC Onion News Network, Episode 1.01, "Enter the Factzone". ONN does something that fake news shows like The Daily Show have totally forgotten to do: actually satirize the news. Everything about the show is razor sharp satire, from the vicious passive-aggressiveness of Fact Zone host Brook Alvarez (played by former Fox News newsreader Suzanne Sena) and the dopey touchscreen operater Tucker Hope, alongside news stories that fit in with The Onion's general satire. Alvarez (Sena), alongside (fictional) Today Now! hosts brutally roast the hosts of Today here in a story that seems to make no sense as delivered by the Today show, given that the Today show is one of ONN's easiest-to-skewer targets.

But the clear winner for January has to be Parks and Recreation, Episode 3.02, "The Flu". In all honesty, I was going to give the award to Episode 3.01, "Go Big or Go Home", which was the episode that I laughed the hardest at all month long, until "The Flu" dropped. Parks and Rec is firing on so many cylinders right now, this episode drops no less than four plots, all of which deliver laughs. Dropping snoozefest character Mark and adding Rob Lowe and Adam Scott have also helped another snoozefest character Ann Perkins become hilarious with her super-awkward interactions with Lowe's "perfect human man." When Ron Swanson and Andy grilling bacon in Swanson's office is only the third funniest thing of the episode, you know the show is chock full of greatness. It helps that the writing is deceptively tight all the way around, too. But most memorable are Leslie Knope's (Amy Poehler) multiple instant classic lines: "Careful! The floor and the wall just switched!" "My name is Leslie Monster, and you're watching Nightline." "Why is half of your face all swirley?" INSTANT CLASSIC!

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  1. Blogger DoktorPeace | 5:42 PM |  

    I haven't watched a full ep of The Onion's news/sports shows, so I don't know how well the humor sustains, but I like every clip I see.

    Definitely agree that it's filling a void The Daily Show long ago abandoned. I tuck to the left, but I can't stand the show anymore, because: A) Stewart still tries to pretend his show is protected from political criticicm b/c it's on Comedy Central, which is invalid because, B) Network themes are increasingly meaningless (humans on the cartoon network, new reality on TV Land), and C) Most importantly, it's not funny. It's made for agreeing applause instead of laughs.

  2. Blogger DoktorPeace | 5:44 PM |  

    Also, me and Molly watched Portlandia whilst discussing Fred Armisen's uncanny history of celebrity love. Sally Timms, Elisabeth Moss, and now Abby Elliott? Those glasses must work.

  3. Blogger qualler | 11:36 AM |  

    Yeah, I share your political persuasion, but I am tired of Uncle Jon lecturing me about how CNN has ridiculous news priorities. It's like, we get it, Uncle Jon. I don't watch CNN. It's cool.

    Both ONN and SportsDome are funny, but ONN is a little more consistently funny to me, whereas SportsDome is a little spottier. Much like The Onion vs. The Onion's Sports Page, where the Sports Page seems to be written by jocks who decided in college to get into indie rock.

  4. Blogger chris | 1:58 PM |  

    Excellent new feature. I would concur with your choice, because "Flue" was more consistent than the first ep, but the Pyramid of Greatness almost inches the latter ahead for me. So awesome. I read it everyday as my desktop wallpaper and laugh.

  5. Blogger AisforRandom | 11:42 PM |  

    O wow, I wish I had known about you guys when my tv only got 6 pbs channels.

  6. Blogger Josh Duggan | 3:33 PM |  

    Maybe you're not watching these as I am, as I'm a DirecTV subscriber, but Friday Night Lights's 11th episode of this fifth season "The March" was better than "Flu Season." The only thing I think was better in the last month was the Lights Out pilot.

  7. Blogger qualler | 3:36 PM |  

    I'm waiting until the DVD for FNL so I'll include those in later months when it comes out. I can't wait to see the fifth season. I need to watch the next couple Lights Out eps too but I loved the pilot. Also can't wait for Justified's return this Wednesday.

  8. Blogger DoktorPeace | 5:04 PM |  

    I'm readying myself to cry at the FNL finale this week. Tim Riggins is just... so... beautiful!

  9. Blogger Papa Thor | 5:57 PM |  

    Onion News Network? I call it "Funyum" News Network!

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