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The Morning After: "A Madcap Musical Romp! Dot-Dot-Dot Fun! Dot-Dot-Dot Good!"

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Spoilers for Survivor: Tocantins, Parks and Recreation, The Office and 30 Rock coming up after the jump: 

If I can send only one message to potential future Survivor contestants, it is this: do not hoard your money in the food auction. Spend it like a sailor; it invariably ends with too much money in to many pockets while someone picks up the nachos and chicken parmigiana for a steal. You have been warned!

I wasn’t surprised by Debbie’s ouster, which I suppose was the best strategic move on the part of the Steven-JT powerhouse; between her and Coach, she was probably the one better positioned to become a swing vote and organize a coup against them next week. But it does raise a question that I have no good answer for: why haven’t we seen anybody even apparently consider taking out either JT or Steven? I can’t tell you. But I can say that seeing Coach joined on the loved-one’s visit by his assistant coach was the weirdest and most telling guest-visit on Survivor ever. It was like Michael Scott going on Survivor and bringing Dwight. 

Which brings us to NBC’s Thursday-night comedies. Last night’s Parks and Recreation did the best job yet of developing Leslie Knope beyond a well-intentioned buffoon. Yes we saw her set out to get the Pawnee equivalent of a power haircut and end up with a men’s ‘do (setting her and Ann up to be mistaken for a lesbian couple by a closeted local politician). But we also saw more of her eager-to-please relationship with her mother, we saw her show character (being unable to follow through on the blackmail Marlene pushed her into) and we saw her actually be perceptive in talking to Ann. “He’s got three crutches. And one of them is you, and the other two are crutches.”

That, plus the increasing enjoyability of side characters like Ron (extolling the joys of bacon-wrapped shrimp: “That’s like my number one favorite food wrapped around my number three favorite food”), makes me look forward to the recently picked-up second season. But really I’d watch the show simply for the throwaway bits about Pawnee’s pioneer history, this time the forefather who was horribly killed by Indians “after trading them a baby for what is now Indianapolis.” I don’t know how many civic murals a town like Pawnee can reasonably hold, but I hope they never run out of room.

The Office, meanwhile, was a simple but very funny episode (featuring C + C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat,” which, with 30 Rock’s “It Takes Two” reference, made for two shout-outs to the dance music of the late ’80s / early ’90s). But beneath the simplicity was something that makes The Office different from slighter sitcoms: it doesn’t forget the consequences of its events. On another sitcom, the Michael Scott Paper Company arc would have happened, been resolved and been forgotten. The Office, albeit in a light way, recognizes that it would have left bad feelings at Dunder-Mifflin, and “Cafe Disco” showed Michael Scott ending up weirdly effective at healing them: “Funk is the problem. And the solution.”

That, plus Kelly and Andy’s dance-off and Dwight’s horse-massage of Phyllis, made this episode a good time. Also, I’m surprised how much the show has done with the initially forgettable character of naive new receptionist Erin: her game willingness to play along—from the disco cafe to Dwight’s prank (“I just won an art contest!”)—gives an extra boost to every story she’s incidental to. 

30 Rock had a strong outing from plot to subplot. (Incidentally, I’ve avoided commenting on the weird Slate charge that 30 Rock has a crypto-conservative message, apparently because it’s not preachily liberal enough, but let me just say: kudos to Slate for finding the one critic in the world who wishes 30 Rock were more like Studio 60.) The B plot about Liz and Pete being unable to tell the ages of black men had a surprising number of payoffs (like the “Happy 18th Birthday” card). And while the C plot involving Jenna’s Patti-Stanger-like character and her catchphrase (“That’s a dealbreaker, ladies!) was slighter than slight, any story that sets up the line “Oh, boy, they went with the chicken birthing on the toilet” is all right by me. 

As for Jack’s long-lost dad, not only was it brilliant casting him with an actor known for small-screen liberalism (welcome, Hawkeye!), but Alec Baldwin has done a fine job balancing comedy and semi-drama as, essentially, the show’s lead character in several recent episodes. (Meanwhile, loved Liz’s geeky excitement that “a Mamma Mia!” had just dropped into her lap.) We’ll see where the daddy-needs-a-kidney story goes. Let’s just hope Jack’s new dad doesn’t end up pushing him out a high-rise window.