Three long-running shows are on their final run this season, and each of them have, in many ways, exceeded expectations.
How are they doing during their wind-down period?
Parks & Recreation
It’s easy to forget that at its inception, Parks & Rec was the kid sister of NBC’s heavyweight comedy hits 30 Rock and The Office. Both of those shows sputtered a bit at the end. By contrast, Parks & Rec has evolved into (along with The Big Bang Theory) one of the longest running sitcoms on the air and one of the finest ensemble casts on television.
For its final season, the show took a major risk, jumping several years forward in time, placing its characters, and us, in the year 2017. This has turned out to be a stroke of genius, lending itself to many fun pop culture skewerings (Elton John has bought Chick-Fil-A, Jack Sparrow is now a character on Game of Thrones).
The show also took another risk that many other shows have botched. It placed physical and emotional distance between its core characters, highlighted by a mysterious feud between Leslie (Amy Poehler) and Ron (Nick Offerman). The show uncovered the roots of the conflict in a brilliant episode simply titled Leslie & Ron, which locked the two characters in an office overnight and forced them to work out their differences.
This episode featured tour de force comedic performances from the leads: Offerman showing surprising vulnerability while Poehler was uncharacteristically edgy. Both were also hilarious. The result was poignant, funny and honest and one of the best episodes of a sitcom I’ve ever seen.
Parks & Rec may have started out in the shadow of its predecessors, but its no spin-off. Its eclipsed them both on its own terms.
Whether you’re a fan or not, there’s no denying that Glee was an important milestone in television. First, it invented (brought back?) the genre of a weekly musical on TV. Without Glee, there’d have been no Smash, there would be no Nashville and no Empire.
More significantly, Glee gave a face and a voice to one of the most vulnerable cross-sections of the population, gay high schoolers, who are disproportionately bullied, systemically underrepresented and statistically more at-risk for suicides. And they were virtually invisible on television before Glee put relatively realistic versions of these kids front and center.
It was, therefore, a bit disappointing to see how Glee faltered once it had to adjust to its leads aging themselves out of the high school setting. The show did not do a good job splitting its story between the continuing saga of its more familiar characters in New York (and elsewhere) and continuing to focus on the Glee Club at good old McKinley High School.
No surprise then, that the final season has the show coming full circle. Rachel and Kurt (Lea Michele, Chris Colfer) are back at their old school seeking to reinvigorate the Glee Club (with help from familiar-faced guest stars), Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) now coaches at a rival high school and Blaine (Darren Criss) is coaching our old friends the Warblers. It’s just like Season 2 again! That also means a much more prominent role for Jane Lynch, who nearly disappeared over the last two seasons, but is now back and in rare comedic form.
I suspect it’s no coincidence that Ryan Murphy’s other successful endeavor, American Horror Story, was specifically set up so he could bring back favorite players Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson & Jessica Lange over and over without having to worry about continuity or setting. For all its trailblazing, at the end, Glee simply ran out of trail and had to backtrack. Then again, this season’s third episode featured mash-up songs from Carole King’s Tapestry and Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. With a soundtrack like that, who cares how they choose to wind down the story?
As far as I’m concerned, Parenthood has always been an under-appreciated show, probably because it avoids sensationalized story lines and tries to paint a realistic portrait of a real family and one with honest to goodness family values, like sibling loyalty, sacrificing for your children, communicating with your spouse, putting family ahead of other considerations, and other boring stuff like that.
The end product has been an emotionally rewarding show that features a fistful of excellent performances, in particular from the show’s younger cast members, who’ve risen to the challenge again and again.
If this season’s plot line, with Zeek’s (Craig T. Nelson) failing health dovetailing with Amber’s (Mae Whitman) pregnancy, seems a little too Circle Of Life, well, that’s the price you pay when a 26 episode show wraps its finale in an abbreviated 13 episode format.
Over the long haul, Parenthood, despite getting not nearly the credit it deserved, has been a consistently excellent drama: funny, sad, moving, satisfying and inspiring. In a few years, any number of fans are going to enjoy the hell out of this show in syndication, or by binge watching it on Netflix. Either way, they’re in for a treat.
Hopefully, you got a chance to see Sleater Kinney guesting on Letterman or Conan. Every now and then, rock and roll finds itself in a rut. You never know who’s gonna give it the shot in the arm its looking for. In 1979, it was The Knack, of all people. In 1990, it was the grunge movement. Sleater Kinney started the riot grrrrrl movement and quickly eclipsed it. Back after a decade’s hiatus, they sound better than ever.
Educational TV. Things we learned from watching TV this week: 1) Nicaragua is a kind of Mexico (The Mike Tyson Mysteries); 2) In drag, Carrie Brownstein looks just like Justin Long (Conan); 3) Ann Coulter looks like Freddie Mercury (@Midnight).
By now, you’ve heard plenty of commentary on the Academy Awards diversity killing nominations this year, but let’s examine the snubs just the same. Obviously, both David Oyelowo (Actor) and Ava Duvernay (Director) deserved major consideration for Selma. While it’s been repeatedly mentioned as a joke, The Lego Movie actually got a most undeserved snub for best animated feature. I was also disappointed that Amy Adams didn’t get a nod for Big Eyes and that Gone Girl was overlooked in several categories.
Sons of Liberty begins January 25 on The History Channel.
The Americans airs its season premiere on FX on January 28.
Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder return to ABC on January 29.
The series finale of Parenthood airs January 29 on NBC.
The Key & Peele Super Bowl Special airs on Comedy Central on January 30.
TV’s a big place and I haven’t been to all of it yet. Got a favorite show you’d like me to comment on? Post a comment below, contact me on twitter @RobLazlo. or shoot me an email: [email protected]. I welcome your input! Featured Image Sources: 1, 2,3