NBC's Thursday Comedy lineup returned in full force last night. It was the first time they'd had the full lineup on since early November. Looking at the ratings, the country was singularly unimpressed with the return.
As for me, I don't know how I feel about it. I have a soft spot for the network having worked for them for a few years and growing up during the heyday of “Must See TV.” Consequently I watch Earl, 30 Rock, The Office, and Scrubs even when they're not funny. I wouldn't say that was the case last night, but it all felt far more like niche comedy than broader material.
At least the funny stuff seemed more niche. Earl's more, for lack of a better word, broad humor look at the common tropes of the average old-school sitcom (Earl is in a coma and in his mind living in a '50s-style sitcom) was distinctly unfunny. I'm not at all sure why the writers thought it would be clever to show us what happens in every single traditional family-based sitcom. We know that already, don't we? That's like me telling you that one plus one equal two. It may be accurate, but you don't really need me to tell it to you.
I thought last night's The Office was incredibly funny, but it was all squirm-in-your-pants funny instead of laugh-out-loud funny. Michael and Jan sucking everyone else into their deformed, dysfunctional relationship was funny because we've all seen similar things play out (though not to that extent) and can imagine ourselves there having to watch it all.
It's certainly not everyone's brand of comedy, which is probably why The Office doesn't deliver huge numbers. Sure, they're good enough and the show is liked critically, but it's no Friends or Cheers or Seinfeld. How a spin-off of the show works (and there is one on NBC's lineup for next season) I'm just not sure. Again, I'll be there and I'll watch it, but if it's the same sort of awkward humor that The Office revolves around, I don't know that it's really going to attract more viewers. Maybe it'll be more broad, and maybe it'll have a greater mass appeal even if it's not. I certainly hope it does (I don't root against too many shows).
With Scrubs and 30 Rock… those shows I watch much more for the characters than the funny. They both have moments of greatness, but I think the characters on both shows are great. How 30 Rock gets away, week after week, with making fun of television in general and NBC in particular I don't know, but I certainly love it. Last night's show featured a hypothetical program called MILF Island, and I absolutely wonder if after watching 30 Rock some NBC development executive isn't pitching it to Jeff Zucker today as a real idea.
Maybe, just maybe, MILF Island will put NBC back in the lead in the ratings game. Stranger things have happened (but not by much).