Sometimes TV shows are forced to interact with each other in crossovers or network-wide branding initiatives like NBC's Green Is Universal (itself parodied on 30 Rock). But sometimes a group of episodes just happen to be about the same thing, and those happy accidents have a way of tying together a programming block better than anything that could be planned.
Last night it was The Office and 30 Rock, which both dealt with a man trying to make moral decisions about his love life, and watching Michael Scott and Jack Donaghy juggle the women in their lives highlighted the difference between the shows in a powerful way. Jack's philandering has always been a source of comedy on the show, and his pickle with Avery and Nancy has worked because he's been genuinely baffled by a situation he stumbled into and didn't want. However, Michael's affair with Donna may have been the thing that finally eradicated the comedy from The Office by being just relentlessly sad, albeit mature and occasionally moving.
Jack's whole problem was being in love with two women and not having any real clue what to do; hooking up with Nancy felt like a mistake, but one a kid would make. Michael's return to Donna was much rougher on the viewer, though, mainly because he was throwing himself willingly into adultery and coming up with some sick rationalizations for his behavior. There's still a level of wackiness in Jack's romances -- he takes Nancy to Floyd's wedding just to come clean about his lovers and trap her at a mass that her Catholic guilt won't her leave -- while Michael's story was just sad. It wasn't without its moments, particularly his final realization that he had to break up with Donna because it was morally preferable to be alone than to seek happiness with a married woman. But the show's so far from a comedy that it's become a sour drama with moments of attempted brevity.
Liz's tour through her old boyfriends was fun, though there will never be another Floyd. Michael Sheen returned as Wesley Snipes, and he got her to agree to marriage out of sheer desperation. I'm hoping he gets better or she pulls out of it. The last thing Liz Lemon needs is a marriage of pathetic convenience.
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Anyway: We got another parallel story with off-screen break-ups. Michael ditched Donna via text message, and on Parks and Recreation, Anne broke up with Mark between episodes. It was an interesting and helpful way to dispose with the inevitable and jump right into Anne's sloppy drunken makeout at a party with the new government oversight guy played by Rob Lowe, who's been waiting his whole life for a role that lets him be this goofy and earnest and unattached. Watching him play the idiotic leader to Adam Scott's business-minded sidekick was great, and Scott and Amy Poehler had some nice chemistry that I hope turns into something more. (Ron Swanson's man-crush on him was fantastic, as well. "What's a non-gay way to ask him to go camping with me?" was just perfect.) Plus, seeing Tom finally get a girl's number, and doing it by being relatable and not horny and amped up, was great. Andy and April wound up missing each other and misreading signals, again, but I am not worried about them at all. They were written to be together and are a perfect match, so whether it happens in the impending finale or next year, I know it'll work out.
Community continued its homage streak with a nod to Good Will Hunting that saw Troy show aptitude for being a plumber, but the main story had Annie ratting out Chang's fake degree, which meant a legit Spanish professor came in to administer a tougher final exam. Jeff was hard on Annie for most of the episode, which was good to see: He's softening to the group and embracing the leadership role, but he's still a driven guy who really wants to graduate and get back to some version of his old life. The ep was still packed with quick jokes and great references, though, like the way Jeff yelled "She's the Ark of the Covenant!" to Abed so he'd stop looking at Annie and sympathizing with her after she got caught squealing on Chang. Not the strongest episode of the year, but that's because it came after two great ones.
Best Moment of the Night: Trying to go after the Oscar for his EGOT, Tracy gets pitched the script for Hard to Watch, based on the book "Stone Cold Bummer" by Manipulate. I would totally pay to see that.