NBC Thursday Sitcom Recaps: New Job Jitters

Welcome to Week 2! Maybe it’s just last week’s [archaic and inaccurate] ratings, but a foreboding shadow invaded last night’s lineup of shows. A facing-reality theme haunted every storyline, between Chris’s helicopter husband issues and Ava’s creative clashes with an old frenemy on Up All Night, Jim working up the nerve to tell Pam he’s gone all-in on a dodgy start-up on The Office, and Leslie Knope collapsing under the pressure of implementing tax measures on Parks and Rec. The fun and glory of season premiere time has ended – did last night’s episodes hit the ground running or linger too long?

Up All Night: “Home/Office”

Megh: Last week’s Up All Night launched some retooling: Ava is no longer a TV talk show host, and Chris and Reagan’s roles reversed back to the old-fashioned norm of the stay-at-home mom and businessman dad. Predictably, no one involved settles easily into their new job (or lack thereof), and the lines blur further when Chris and Scott use the garage as a makeshift office while Reagan remains determined to care for Amy without help from Chris. But no matter how hard Chris tries to focus on starting a business with Scott, he can’t help but sneak back in the house for some baby time and backseat parenting (“I hope Reagan didn’t invite Mr. Pricklepants … I hope she remembered to cut the sandwiches into tiny bites”), and Reagan can’t get through one week of at home without destroying the “delicate ecosystem” that is staying on good terms with the neighbors, not to mention locking herself out of her house with the baby inside.

All these changes might need a little more time to settle, but there’s still a rift between the Chris/Reagan storylines and Ava, who comes to terms with losing her top-rung power since The Ava Show thanks to a delightfully cheesy mattress store warehouse jingle recording session with her old would-be show band leader Walter (played by Sean Hayes, who made a perfect singing partner for Rudolph). The only thing holding these totally separate storylines together is Reagan and Ava’s friendship, but with Scott now in the mix (Luka Jones was more of a background actor than supporting character this episode), “Home/Office” ends up feeling a little cluttered. Thankfully, Maya Rudolph’s perfect delivery saves it – like when she uses “Dreamgirl” as a verb or fondly remembers one of her favorite Ava episodes: “Journey Through Ava’s Large Intestine.”

The Office: “Roy’s Wedding”

Megh: My favorite part of last week’s Office was the growing angst and worry between Jim and Pam now that they’re married with a kid and feeling jaded about their boring lives, and what better way to further rouse that tension than Roy’s wedding? Jim and Pam only witness a snippet of Roy’s new life – which includes a $50K sports car, beautiful house, tastefully planned wedding, and restaurant owner wife – but the changes are enough of a shock to Pam that she realizes her life with Jim has run out of surprises. (Jim, referring to the startup business with his college buddy, says “I’m not gonna tell her until it’s real.”) The Jim/Pam storyline reminded me of their interaction with the documentary crew last week, and even though we didn’t get a glimpse of them this episode, the heightened awareness of them (and their interest in what happens to the Halperts) adds a whole new meta-like level of suspense to Jim’s secret, which could potentially lead to the new stories and experiences these two so desperately need.

The writers wasted no time shaping new guys Clark and Pete into a true Dwight Jr. and Jim Jr., and the main plot of “Roy’s Wedding” follows Clark as he cons Erin into “auditioning for a newscaster job,” which really means coming over to his house to let him film her, which just seemed too light on the funny and heavy on the creepy. It’s also creepy when Andy and Darryl (who Andy has made Assistant Regional Manager) hold a “voluntary meeting” to discuss Erin’s body and Andy says “I want her to be very comfortable in her sexy skin.” At least Pete (AKA Jim Jr. AKA Plop) suavely hijacks Clark’s plans and – whether part of his master plan or not – manages to whisk Erin away on a one-on-one date. All phases on The Office’s circle of life are now set – the new kids are getting comfortable, Jim and Pam are approaching meltdown-level restlessness, and all Creed wants to do is “work with Jimmy Carter and help build gnomes.”

Parks and Rec: “Soda Tax”

Bradford: Ever since Ann got her new gig working for Pawnee’s Health Department, we haven’t seen a whole lot of her in action, but in the second episode of Parks and Rec’s new season, Ann teamed up with Leslie, who’s kicking off her City Council reign, to fight Pawnee’s sugary soda problem with a new tax. Leslie’s first day on the job doesn’t go quite as she planned as the tax puts her at odds with Pawnee’s citizens and she’s threatened with a recall right out of the gate. It’s nice to see Leslie and Ann get a storyline together, especially one that involves both of their careers instead of their personal lives, since theirs was the show’s central relationship when it began in 2009. I’d argue now that Leslie and Ron are now Parks and Rec’s main pairing, and we got some strong moments from that always-dependable duo in this week’s show, as well.

We also got our first look at Ben’s new occupation this week, which mainly consists of babysitting college interns and making awkward references to the 80s new wave band Devo. Ben tries to whip his interns into shape until he learns they’re all descendants of powerful politicians and shifts his focus to try to win them over with Frisbee, pizza, and embarrassingly faux-slang that would make Paul Rudd’s I Love You Man character cringe.

While Ben is struggling to train his interns, Chris and Tom are training Andy for his police officer exam.  Chris is there to share his infectious enthusiasm for fitness, while Tom is tagging along just as an excuse to drive around a tricked-out Tokyo Drift-inspired pace car. Last year’s season finale teased the idea of Andy pursuing a career in law enforcement, and it looks like this season will deliver on it. He’s always had a fascination with bustin’ perps dating back to season 2 when he created his alter ego, Bert Macklin FBI, and it’s nice to see Andy finally have some direction in life after four seasons spent shining shoes, milking his recovery after breaking both his legs, and playing in his band MouseRat. It’s an episode of fresh starts for the Parks and Rec gang as Leslie, Tom, and Andy all embark on exciting new journeys that’ll continue to carry their characters into new terrain in Season Five.

–I’m glad Ben wasn’t pushing calzones on his interns, as he seems to have learned that pizza is way cooler.

–The guy who played Pawnee citizen Pearl (the guy who doesn’t pay his taxes) in the town hall scene is Mike Scully, Parks and Rec writer and a long-time writer for The Simpsons during its glory era.

Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.

Bradford Evans is Splitsider’s Associate Editor.

NBC Thursday Sitcom Recaps: New Job Jitters