26. "Bitch Session," NewsRadio (1996)
Welcome to the “100 Best Sitcom Episodes of All Time,” a countdown for 2012. Each episode will get a separate blog post, counting backward toward No. 1. A list of the programs revealed so far is here (and on Pinterest), and an introduction to the project is here.
"Thank you for being my family," Mary Richards tells her co-workers on the last episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Her WJM colleagues, she says, had made her "feel less alone" and "really loved."
But both real and surrogate family members can do something else: shatter your self-esteem with some well-aimed ridicule.
Beth: Presenting "Dave the Insane Maniac," a play in one act, by Beth and Bill. (Bill walks in on his knees, holding a coffee mug) Hello, Dave!
Bill: (in a cartoonish voice) Hello, employee! You look miserable and oppressed.
Beth: I am! We can't take taxicabs home anymore.
Bill: Excellent! That's good news to me. You see, I'm from Wis-cahhhn-sin, where taxicabs are feared and hunted for the delicious meat under their hoods!
As in "Complaint Box," the highlight of this episode involves the WNYX employees in a cathartic activity, giving voice to their most petty and juvenile thoughts. We don't see them work much on NewsRadio, but I can believe that having to produce newscasts that barely change from half hour to half hour, all day long, would drive them bonkers. (How could they know then how lucky they were not to be working for the Huffington Post?) They don't really hate poor Dave. Still, any office manager should take a look at "Bitch Session" and ask himself whether staff meetings are worth the disruption they cause. In my experience, they're always followed by informal debriefing sessions that eat up more of the workday — even if they don't involve imitations of the boss.
Joe: Hey, Lisa, tell us the truth. Dave buys his suits at the little boys' department, doesn't he?
Lisa: Anyway, I think Dave looks cute in that suit.
Beth: Oh yeah, almost just like a real grown-up.
Lisa: No, he really does. He looks like he just stepped out of a Norman Rockwell painting... "First Day At Bible College!"
Dave is devastated to learn what his charges think of him. After phoning his mom (aww!), he confides in blowhard station manager Jimmy James over a liquid lunch. Jimmy tells Dave (aka "pumpkin") to develop a thicker skin — though not necessarily by killing all the nerve endings in his hand, as Jimmy has done. But it takes Jimmy's surprisingly effective hair-of-the-dog strategy, involving another eavesdropping session, to restore Dave's confidence. In all, a smartly constructed and very funny episode.
Jimmy: You know what? Call him "pumpkin." He likes that.
Lisa: That's what his mother calls him!
Jimmy: Yeah, but his Mom's really hot.
• The B story once again is about Joe's insistence on complicating minor repair jobs. (He even makes his own duct tape.) It includes another priceless Phil Hartman moment:
Joe: Did Thomas Edison give up?
Bill: Thomas Edison wasn't trying to invent something that was readily available in a wide variety of stores near his home!
This series gets a lot of comic mileage from forcing one silly character to become a voice of reason when another character acts even sillier. It's as if everyone takes turns being Gracie Allen.