Two years ago — back when we thought 100 comments on an article was a stratospheric, shoot-the-moon kind of event — the A.V. Club ran a feature on Simpsons quotations that are useful in everyday life. Maybe while we're hiding in our own little corner over here, Newsradio clubbers, we can create a similar list of NR quotations we tend to deploy in specific situations. Here's mine:
Quote: "And for Lisa, a plain donut."
Episode: "Sweeps Week" (5/9/95)
Context on the show: While visiting Dave, former girlfriend Nancy from Wisconsin endears herself to the WNYX staff by bringing them pastries chosen to match their personalities. This is the first inkling Lisa gets that Nancy may not be as sweet and naive as she seems.
Real-life uses: After a particularly well-executed cut-down; while giving (or receiving) less-than-thoughtful gifts.
I've been saying "And for Lisa, a plain donut" for over a decade now, but I haven't seen the episode since the show was on the air. "Sweeps Week" was the last episode of the seven-episode mid-year replacement Season 1, and the gimmick (transparently referenced in the episode title — no, it's not Sweeps Week at WNYX) is that Janeane Garofalo guest stars as Nancy from Wisconsin. And seriously, when's the last time you saw a sweeps-related celebrity guest star as well integrated into the episode as Garofalo? Granted, it helps that she is just generally outstanding (or she used to be … she fell off my radar when she became an earnest Air America host). But as Nancy, the apparently wholesome small-town girl from the midwest, wearing potato-sack dresses and cardigans and clunky boots, Garofalo has the perfect combination of cuteness and menace.
For a menace she certainly is, at least to Lisa's peace of mind. In a wonderfully subtle twist on the usual ex-relationship plotline, Dave is jealous of all the time Lisa spends on the phone to her ex-boyfriend Stuart ("I've seen tobacco company lawsuits settled more quickly than this interminable security deposit"), a concern which Lisa deflects by asking about Dave's ex and encouraging him to call her to "get healthy." However, apparently … Nancy in Wisconsin didn't get the message that Dave's move to NYC meant they were broken up, and she heads down for a visit. Although apparently … she isn't as clueless as she seems, since she takes the opportunity to warn Lisa and Beth (never letting her effervescent smile break for an instant) that she will kill them if they get any ideas about Dave.
That little speech — "I'll kill you" — doesn't get many laughs from the studio audience, but it's the best of its kind on television, for my money. The stereotypical way is to play that line with sudden bug-eyed craziness, a schizophrenic vibe. Garofalo acts like threats of murder are all part of being a Midwestern sweetie-pie. In fact, "Sweeps Week" is a master class in committing to the premise and selling the bejeezus out of it. You have the enthusiastic response of the entire staff to Nancy's presence, especially Matthew's ubiquitous camera (why is it extra-funny that it's a disposable camera?), the braying laughter that ensues the moment anyone gets on the phone with Lisa's ex Stuart ("Is that Stuart? Let me say hi to him!"), and Dave's hesitant, half-hearted response both to the threat-only-to-him persistence of Stuart and the embarrassing-only-to-him-and-Lisa presence of Nancy. As befits such a complex, fast-moving main plotline, the B-story in "Sweeps Week" is especially attenuated: Jimmy James meets "Tom the visionary" at a seminar and orders Dave to have him interviewed on air, only it turns out that his vision is that the future will have computers involved in it somehow ("they're like magic!"). Even so, it leads to an imminently quotable Bill McNeal line: "I want to hear more about these fascinating com-poo-tors of which he speaks" — also useful in everyday life, I would think.
Thanks to our two-episode-a-week format, let us leap without comment over the hot summer of 1995 and the decision by NBC to put Newsradio into the regular Tuesday night lineup, and go straight to the first episode of season 2, the unhelpfully-named "No, This Is Not Based Entirely On Julie's Life" (hereafter: "NTINBEOJL"). The "Julie" of the title is assistant producer Julie Bean, and the reason we might be suspicious of her is that the plot revolves around women taking naked pictures of themselves at the bequest of (or in an attempt to secure the affections of) a boyfriend. Beth is worried that long-distance squeeze Keith might have a straying eye, so she enlists Lisa in a nude-photo scheme complete with the Requisite Mix-Up At The Photo Developer.
Meanwhile … the writing staff really threw in the kitchen sink on this one, because it's pretty much all B-stories and no A-story. Joe sets traps to catch a gelato thief, Jimmy doesn't have anything to do on his vacation, Lisa worries that she's not sexually adventurous enough for Dave. All of them have their charms, but they amount to a bunch of little moments rather than the rolling, cumulative effect that we've seen in "Big Day" and "Sweeps Week." What really stands out in "NTINBEOJL" is the outstanding work of Foley and Tierney as a team. Dave makes jokes at the expense of Lisa's insecurities, and as he can't help himself yet simultaneously tries to laugh them off and cajole her to have dinner, he develops one of his signature physical and mental attitudes of the series. He smiles uncontrollably, lunges in her direction to pull her back, tries to act contrite, and makes gestures toward normalcy that his body language denies. It's something that it's hard to imagine anyone but Dave Foley doing so sweetly, but it's also a shtick that has little precedent in his pre-Newsradio work. This is a Dave Nelson thing — maybe the first purely Dave Nelson thing of the show.
The gelato plot, meanwhile, is the first extended riff on Joe's whole Anarchist's Cookbook character profile, and it's also the first time Matthew is physically humiliated (twice splattered with gelato, once bedecked with ultraviolet dye). I very much enjoyed Andy Dick's response to these bits of comedy: he makes Matthew seriously hurt and angry, a bundle of seething wrath at being laughed at. That purity of emotion plays perfectly against the blackout editing style (and its boon companion, the exit-stage-left blocking style) that NR increasingly employed. Surely his explanation for why he rubbed the gelato container all over himself while moving it to get to his yogurt ("It felt so cool and tingly") is another of those useful quotable quotes. (Also it would be nice if we could remind others of the identity of whomever we're talking about by describing them as "the Dukakis supporter who was learning to play bass.")
"NTINBEOJL" wasn't an episode I remembered at all, but during our viewing Noel anticipated Matthew's "Mummenschanz!" bit right before it happened. By the way, does that reference work in 2008? We've received "Ask The A.V. Club" questions asking for the identity of this weird dance-puppetry group, and I have to admit that I'm surprised how quickly their spot in the cultural consciousness has faded. Of course, even in the mid-nineties the reference was more than a decade old, so maybe I should just be impressed that the writing staff went for it at all.
Next week: The highs ("It's a goofy ball, Matthew, not a supercomputer") and … the lows? ("There must have been quite a hubbub when that cow got loose.")
Grade: "Sweeps Week," A; "NTINBEOJL," B
- "Sweeps Week" was the first Newsradio episode directed by the brilliantly-named Peter Bonerz, best known to TV viewers as dentist Jerry Robinson on The Bob Newhart Show. A baker's dozen of bonus points to the commenter who writes the best essay on Newsradio's debt to The Bob Newhart Show (one of the few sitcoms that made my dad laugh hysterically and that, therefore, I was allowed to watch in my rather television-deprived youth). The title of WNYX News Director to the commenter who can get Bonerz to stop by and leave T.V. Club greetings in the comments section (c'mon, at least half of you must be enrolled in the film program at USC).
- Break Room Alert: This crucial set gets its television debut when Lisa and Beth inadvertently set off the freezer alarm and resignedly put up their hands to be examined by Joe.
- Tierney Costume Watch: Looks like the wardrobe department has finally figured out how to dress our Lisa. Nice red ribby cardi in the opening scenes of "Sweeps Week," absolutely kick-ass jumper in the closing ones.
- Dave has absurdly fluffy hair in the cold open of "NTINBEOJL," then it retreats to practically military levels for the rest of the episode. Did he go out for a haircut on his lunch break that day during filming?
- Wow, Chris Kattan works at the photo place! Wow, remember when we all used to have to go to photo places to get prints made from our film cameras? Wow, check out that DOS menu on Lisa's computer while Beth's talking to her about the nude photos!
- Between season 1 and season 2, Dave gets a solid door on his office, therefore rendering moot the terrific Beth-comes-in-and-closes-the-blinds gags that are central to the last episode of season 1.
- Biggest belly laugh: "Mom, I'm going to have to call you back." Second biggest belly laugh: "Did you fax your ass to Elizabeth?" "No, we didn't have the technology back then."
- Funniest tiny moment: Catherine comes out of the office and makes her move on the chess board proffered by vacationing Jimmy, then says "I'll be back in 22 and a half minutes," before rushing back inside. Whereupon Jimmy makes his next move immediately and sets the board back down beside him on the bench.
- How would a space prostitute even get approval to be on the crew of the space shuttle?