1) Twitter universe, you need to stop from freaking out every time an NBC sitcom takes a break from the air. The latest uproar came today, when the Peacock's midseason shuffling revealed that "Parks and Recreation" would take a six-week siesta during March-April. There is basically no significance to this. Network shows do not get 39-episode orders, so the only thing you're not going to see from "Parks" is more repeats.
It doesn't matter if a midseason break is handed to a show that is guaranteed to run the entire year. What matters is whether that show gets picked up for the following season.
2) If you do need a fix of good news for "Parks," you can find it in its timeslot beginning April 19, when it finally gets to air at 9:30 p.m. with "The Office" as a lead-in. I'm not saying it will have a dramatic effect on the "Parks" ratings, but it's certainly better than airing behind "The Office."
Despite declining ratings in its eighth season, "The Office" remains NBC's anchor comedy. There's no better time than the spring for "Parks" to show signs of inheriting that title. (For reference: "Up All Night" lost more than 30% of its "Office" lead-in last week.)
3) The real pressure, of course, is on "Community," though no one could expect its ratings to improve while being stuck in the same 8 p.m. Thursday timeslot for its stretch run, opposite not only "The Big Bang Theory" but also "American Idol." I've been worried that "Community" wouldn't get a fourth-season order almost since its third season began, and still can't understand why NBC continues to pit it against CBS' popular "Big Bang," which (though different in style) caters to a similar demographic.
NBC really should put the known quanitity that is "30 Rock" at 8 p.m. and let "Community" have a more protected slot at 8:30, one that would allow same-night viewers to slide seamlessly from "Big Bang" to Dan Harmon's brilliantly daffy enterprise. Again, the ratings impact isn't likely to be dramatic, but at least "Community" would have a better chance to improve. Either way, it would really be a shame if NBC lost one of its most inventive shows after only three seasons.
4) The past few weeks of "Big Bang" might be my favorite stretch ever. The only competition would be back in late season one or early season two — I'm not looking it up — when the full genius of Jim Parsons was first becoming apparent. And I've definitely been a fan of the way the show has expanded to incorporate its female cast. But the show has just been really strong of late, rejuvenated by the new stage in Leonard and Penny's relationship.
I am wondering when, if ever, Penny (Kaley Cuoco) will get some kind of real break in her acting career. I feel like the time is coming ... or should be.
5) I'll do something here I'll almost never do, which is say something negative about "Parks and Recreation." As excited as I was for the return of Louis C.K., I wasn't happy with how his character Dave acted toward Leslie (Amy Poehler) and Ben (Adam Scott) in the episode — which was basically, nuts.
I didn't doubt Dave's feelings for Leslie — their arc together was one of the early highlights in the show's history — or even that he might be a little desperate for her, but to make him so deluded, if not even slightly deranged, was such a turnoff that it just about killed my desire to see C.K. come back for any future appearances.
That doesn't take away from how good "Parks" remains overall.
6) Similarly, I know there were flaws in the second season of "Downton Abbey," but let's not lose the forest for the trees. It was another rousing year for the (so-called) miniseries. And please don't call it a glorified soap — no soap has the depth of "Downton." Just because dramatic things happen with characters doesn't make a series a soap opera.
Now that the finale has aired, I can properly call out the scene that left me so floored that I've watched it again and again, perhaps more than any other in TV this season: Lady Mary and Lord Grantham discussing her future. Michelle Dockery's performance in this scene (beginning 30 seconds into the clip below), the culmination of her season-long greatness, should make her as worthy an Emmy candidate as anyone around.
7) I was contemplating what the most improved shows of 2011-12 were at this point in the season, though in some cases, I'm not sure if it's that the show improved or I simply got more used to what they were doing. In any event, I'd say the winners are Fox's "New Girl," for the way the supporting cast (especially Max Greenfield's Schmidt) has blossomed, and ABC's "Suburgatory," for the way its cartoon world has become more meaningful and resonant.
8) Don't try to tell me "Modern Family" has slipped. Just don't even try. Because you will fail. It's not perfect, but the first season wasn't perfect, either. Just great, then and now.
9) I agree with the substance of my colleague Andrew Wallenstein's critique of NBC's "Smash." The show simply has problems, not with its basic premise but with its execution — namely its spotty plotting, sometimes overly simplistic, other times utterly unbelievable.
It was after episode four of Fox's "Glee" that I abandoned the show, which like "Smash" I truly wanted to like. That was the episode which involved the football team breaking into a "Single Ladies" dance before kicking a field goal, in an episode that otherwise wanted us to take things very seriously, and while I know "Glee" was never supposed to be the height of reality, this was the scene that verified that it would be way too preposterously all-over-the-map for me. I was done.
I've seen four episodes of "Smash," including next week's, and I'm not close to giving up on it, but it does have so many fault lines that I wonder how much I'll ever really enjoy it.
That being said, I'm a little surprised that the audience for "Smash" has continued to decline. Despite its problems, there is a likability to the show, and I would expect more people would find it rewarding. It speaks to two of NBC's ongoing problems: a) Viewers, by and large, don't seem to give that network the benefit of the doubt, and b) the quality of NBC's 2011-12 shows has not been enough to get critics banging the drum, the way they have done in the past for something like "Friday Night Lights." NBC's rebuilding process is going to take a long time no matter what, but it's going to take even longer if the programs aren't unassailably strong.
10) Which brings us to "Awake," which premieres March 1. Having now seen the first three episodes, I feel confident in saying this is NBC's best freshman show of 2011-12. Its tone is almost lyrically dark — I'm trying to think of a good comp; right now the best I can come up with is "Once and Again," but I'll keep trying — so I can't find any reason to think it will break a 2.0 rating among viewers 18-49. But really, if there's any drama that NBC is going to ride out some rough ratings with, "Awake" should be it. This is a show that's going to need time to build up a base, a show that becomes one that viewers take time to even discover, let alone try out.
11) Wrapping things up, I'll hold off any real critique of "Game Change," the upcoming HBO movie that crams a 50-page section of a 450-page book into a 120-minute film, until after our Variety critic Brian Lowry reviews it. For now, I'll just say that I liked it, and that I can only see one aspect of it that would be particularly controversial. I look forward to talking about it if I don't put myself back on hiatus again ...