I'm not going to attempt to defend NBC in their handling of their late night lineup. Let me just be clear on that right up front. I've never been a fan of Jay Leno; I think his new ten o'clock show is all kinds of awful, and I absolutely loved seeing Jimmy Kimmel rip him a new asshole right there on his own show while Leno - allegedly a wily veteran comedian - just stood their stupidly and took it. NBC's handling of the entire Tonight Show debacle is nothing short of idiotic and their treatment of Conan O'Brien is shameful. Can they really be stupid enough to move an institution like The Tonight Show to 12:00 am? Don't they realize it wouldn't be tonight, it'd be tomorrow if they aired it at midnight? Anyway, that's the not the point.
What I think is unfair, is how NBC, as a network, is being blasted not just for their awful bungling of their late night comedy lineup but as an overall network. The common attitude online and in the press seems to be that the entire network is a total mess and being run by morons, and that overlooks that incredibly good job they are doing developing comedy shows at a time when no other network is enjoying much success in that regard. I currently watch four half hour comedies weekly, and all of them were created by NBC. The Office, 30 Rock, Parks & Recreation and Community, all part of the networks Thursday night lineup, are, for my money, easily the best comedies on television. They all feature strong writing, no laugh-track, excellent casting and each consistently deliver solid laughs. While the huge comeback that Parks & Recreation has made is a big story (it was pretty terrible when it debuted last season as a pale rip off of The Office;) the real revelation in this group is Community. I've posted about the show before; calling it the best new comedy on television; but as it continues to improve each week and finds its stride it may well be the best comedy on television period, freshman or otherwise.
I knew nothing about creator Dan Harmon before the show aired, and I only checked the show out because I was intrigued by Chevy Chase (one of only two cast members I was familiar with before the shows debut, the other being "Dr." Ken Jeung, best known as the naked gangster in The Hangover) as a television series regular. Now, however, Harmon tops my list of people to keep an eye on in the industry in terms of comedy. The last time I was this psyched about a show runner, it was Judd Apatow with his incredible back-to-back run of Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared, and the amazing fact that both shows got cancelled after just one season, despite oozing excellence out of every pore. Much like those shows, the writing and tone of Community is pitch perfect and; perhaps the best compliment; the show improves every single week. This past weeks episode, which featured a guest starring performance from Jack Black and a cameo from Owen Wilson was absolutely hilarious and it had little to do with the high-profile help. The behind the scenes efforts are obviously very important in terms of the series success, but the casting and performances are where the show really has no peers at all.
From the main cast, to the guest stars, to the bit players, this series consistently delivers hilarious comedic performances - even Chevy Chase is funny for the first time since the mid-1980's and I suspect this role is just the beginning of his comedic renaissance, he's too good for it not to be - and while it's hard to single out an individual in such an excellent ensemble, Danny Pudi, who plays the nerdy, awkward Abed, is someone to keep an eye on. If you're not already watching this show, I urge you to check it out. It's nice to know that while NBC has its head up its ass in terms of their late night lineup, they are, at the very least, providing solid Thursday night comedy fare; which has been their bread and butter dating back to Family Ties and The Cobsy Show. In an era when crap like Two and a Half Men is heralded as a "successful" half hour comedy program, the work NBC has done developing smart, edgy funny comedy shows should be acknowledged. Instead, it's being ignored.