NBC's Thursday Night: A Fond Farewell, For Now

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Last night was season-finale night for NBC's comedies, and each show's sendoff matched its overall vibe: Community was strong and mock-conventional; Parks and Recreation was hilarious and engaging; 30 Rock was bittersweet but solid, definitely showing its slight age; and The Office was so dull and lifeless that it barely qualified as an episode, period. Last night's two hours confirmed that the younger shows are possessed of a fresher look and approach that will play better over time, while the older ones are either beginning to slide or completely over the cliff.

Community continued its tradition of poking fun at TV conventions even as it took them seriously when it came to its own characters. I liked Abed's narration about "the last-day-of-school plot twist" regarding Annie's possible departure for Delaware, as well as his attempts to come up with a corny closing line to say before turning off the lights in the study room one last time. Britta and Slater's fight over Jeff let Britta get in some great jabs ("He's been to flavor country!"), and her announcement at the transfer prom, aka the Tranny Dance, that she loved Jeff was legitimately stunning news. Of course, a show this solid and this enamored of TV history needs a cliffhanger ending, so we got Jeff and Annie making out. I have to remind myself that Alison Brie's 26 but Annie's just 19, so it's pretty skeevy for her to mug down with a guy Jeff's age, but they've been flirting for a while. I think Jeff and Britta make sense long term, but I'm not ready to stop seeing them as wacky conspirators instead of a romantic couple.

Parks and Recreation dealt tidily with Mark's departure -- he was bought out by a construction company when the government shut down, leaving Paul Schneider free to go make movies again -- as well as a host of other relationship issues. Leslie's rally to put on a kids' concert starring Freddy Spaghetti (played by Brian McCann, aka Preparation H Raymond) let her flirt more with Ben, while Tom's new girlfriend was definitely throwing a little heat at Ron, who got lucky on his own with Tom's ex-wife, Wendy. Plus Andy and April finally admitted their feelings to each other in a series of moments so cute my heart grew ten sizes, plus two. Of course, she turned him down out of fear he still loves Anne, and then Andy got in a wreck on his new motorcycle and wound up briefly kissing Anne in the hospital, and when he told April what happened, she stormed out because something just had to go wrong. Can't these kids catch a break? The episode was hilarious, though: Rob Lowe is increasingly wacky and endearing, and I'm dying to know what happens with the government shutdown. Of course, NBC just shoved Parks and Recreation to midseason so they could push Outsourced this fall, so screw them.

I won't lie: All I did with The Office was suffer through it. I try every week to love it, or at least see what it used to be, but it's becoming impossible. It's not a comedy in the funny or Shakespearean sense: The dialogue's "jokes" are so devoid of humor that there's no laughing at them, and the characters are so miserable that there's no pleasure in spending time with them. The whole plot revolved around Andy squealing to the press about Sabre's faulty printers, which brought Jo in on a headhunting mission, but who the hell cares? Michael wound up confessing his loneliness to her, but she was just playing him to get him to ready a public statement and take the blame for the mess so she wouldn't have to. Look at the previous season-enders: "Casino Night," when Jim and Pam kiss; "The Job," when Jim returns and asks her out; "Goodbye, Toby," when Jim's proposal is foiled but Michael makes headway with Holly; even last year's "Company Picnic," with Michael's wrenching reunion with Holly and the news of Pam's pregnancy. Do you see the pattern? Those were big episodes that changed the story in a big way and did it by placing characters we'd come to love in funny but honest situations. This year's finale was turgid and pointless. Nothing happened of any consequence -- Jo said she might transfer Holly back for Michael, but haven't we moved past this? -- and the show's world didn't grow at all. Nothing happened that is worth remembering. More than ever, it's clear that the show's creative days are a fading memory.

30 Rock ended the night nicely, though. Liz's plan to wait for fate to send her a handsome man who adores her work seems to have somehow paid off, with Matt Damon playing a pilot named Carol who loves TGS and gets Liz's jokes. Jack chose Nancy but wound up with Avery after Nancy discovered Avery was pregnant and decided to let them have each other. (It's also probably easier to get Elizabeth Banks as a recurring TV star than Julianne Moore.) The gags were great -- Jenna's boyfriend is named Paul Lastname, pronounced Lass-nuh-may, which is almost as good as Dr. Spaceman -- and the banter was dead-on, particularly Jack's shot at Liz: "A smug, 40-year-old bridesmaid. What a treat for everyone." The show can still bring it. Here's hoping the summer goes quickly, so I can get it and others back soon.

Best Moment of the Night: Hands down, the scene where Pete fires Kenneth for giving an intentionally bad tour and Kenneth places his badge on the desk, then reaches into a shoulder holster and lays down a gun. Classic nod to cop flicks plus a hilarious touch of character for Ken. Well done, Tina Fey.

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