Here are some worthwhile pieces on TV from the past week.
• Time's James Poniewozik reviews last week's "Don is back!" episode of Mad Men and makes a good point about the divided fan bases of shows with asshole protagonists: "We will indulge them, at least if we’re not the ones being hurt by them, so long as they are charming and optimistic and capable. Their job is to win and be awesome. [...] This may also, in part, explain why antihero shows like Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, and The Sopranos have a vocal set of fans who love stories about the characters’ areas of competence — be it drug dealing, Mob hits, or advertising — and hate family drama and pillow talk."
• Christopher Guest’s mockumentary series The Family Tree premieres on May 12, a few days before The Office has its series finale. The Boston Globe’s Matthew Gilbert reviews the show here (paywall); he also examined the mockumentary in 2010, as the genre settled into a groove: “They reject the strict artifice of conventional sitcoms — the timing, acting style, and choreography — in favor of real-life atmosphere. […] They convey to us a sense of what it might be like to be in close proximity to rare birds such as puffed-up boss David Brent of the British “Office’ or deluded sitcom has-been Valerie Cherish of The Comeback.”
• NBC's Community is coming back for a fifth season, reports Todd VanDerWerff: "This [...] officially turns Community into the new Rules Of Engagement, in terms of programming strategy. Obviously, Community is a much better show than Rules, but both are produced by Sony Pictures Television, both have seen surprisingly long runs, and both turned into utility players in the face of their networks not really having anything else." A lot of fans just want to put the show out of its misery after a stupefying season finale; I wouldn't be surprised if it comes back with a run of strong episodes. NBC has almost certainly given up on trying to broaden its appeal, and I'm curious to see what the show will be like without any backstage drama.
• The A.V. Club’s Will Harris has a great interview with Jon Cryer that covers working with Charlie Sheen on a never-hip sitcom and doing a Robert Altman movie in which the director flung fake bird shit at him. I’m most interested in the sitcom The Famous Teddy Z, which got critical buzz but didn’t make it past one season. The entire pilot episode is embedded in the A.V. Club interview (as of now). It couldn’t have been helped by the insanely 1980s, Miami Vice-light opening credits, which led into a low-key, WKRP-type workplace sitcom.
• After NBA player Jason Collins came out as gay, former Cheers co-producer Ken Levine revisited that show's episode in which one of Sam's former baseball teammates comes out of the closet ("The Boys in the Bar"). The episode was a hit with the studio audience until the very end: "There’s nothing a writer craves more than hearing big laughs. Now we’re at the end. The two gay guys lean in and kiss Norm, and… Silence. Dead silence. You could hear crickets."
• Jaime Weinman responds to Salon writer Willa Paskin's assertion that The Mary Tyler Moore Show is good but not very funny when watched in 2013. (Paskin compares it only to 30 Rock, so I don't know if she simply doesn't like the pace of three-camera sitcoms.) Weinman ponders how classic TV episodes are usually disappointing to people who didn't experience the thrill of discovering them: "A great episode of a favourite TV show, like a great song by a favourite artist, is one that jumps out and hits you as being better than the level of the person’s usual work (even if that usual level is very high). It is what you’ve come to expect from the work, and yet more than that. You were expecting the normal level of entertainment, and unexpectedly found that it was on a higher plane. That unexpectedness is what burns the experience into your memory."