Great News / NBC

“Love Is Dead” might be a fairly middling episode of Great News, but it has two things going for it. The first is a very funny guest spot from Judith Roberts (famously Beautiful Girl Across the Hall in David Lynch’s debut feature Eraserhead, and more recently, Taslitz on Orange Is The New Black) as Grammy, Carol’s senile mother who recently divorced her husband of 70 years. The second is relatively minor but no less important: Nicole Richie says the word “Panopticon” upwards of five times on network television. “Panopticon” is a funny word by itself, but Richie adds a different, subtle spin on it each time she delivers it, and that’s worthy of recognition.

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Unfortunately, the rest of the episode flounders in bland, unremarkable territory, especially following last week’s impressive double-header. The one-note premise is as follows: Reeling from her breakup with Jeremy, Katie decides to give up on love and instead focus her energy on flings. Carol desperately tries to get her daughter not to give up on Mr. Right, but before she can even make an effort, her own nonagenarian parents suddenly divorce. Carol then spends every waking minute making sure her 90-year-old mother acquires a new lease on life while Katie tries to get her mother to realize she’s in denial about her feelings.

First of all, any sitcom in 2017 that produces an episode featuring its female lead giving up on love only to realize she should hold out hope must know they have a high quality bar to clear. It’s obviously possible to do it well (c.f. 30 Rock) but it’s still hard to say anything new, and frankly, “Love Is Dead” doesn’t commit well enough to Katie’s sublimated despair for the story to have any weight. Beyond that, however, Great News returns yet again to “Carol’s newfound obsession blinds her to reality” well with pretty boring results. Forget that it’s not even remotely believable that Carol’s denial would plumb these absurd depths, even correcting for the sheer silliness of Great News, but it hamstrings the episode into a repetitive back-and-forth between Katie and Carol. Katie keeps trying to get her mother to snap out of it only for Carol to double down until they both realize the error of their ways. Ta da!

It’s mostly saved from being a complete bore by Roberts’ tossed off, disoriented performance. Credited writers Robert Carlock and Sam Means give her the best one-liners in the episode, e.g. her opening salvo of “May I have a soup menu, please!” when Carol takes Grammy to the club, and she even injects some genuine sweetness in the scene where she rediscovers her ex-flame Walter (Jack Wallace). Roberts clearly embraces the ridiculousness of the premise while Andrea Martin falls back on her patented tunnel vision shtick, which sadly creates a gap in their chemistry, but allows for Roberts to run away with the episode.

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The other subplots involving Portia’s celebrity and Justin’s beef with Chuck are basically filler. Justin has a crush on a coffee shop employee, Chuck hits on her, the two start a feud, and you can fill in the rest. There are a couple funny moments, such as when Justin threatens to air a Katrina benefit starring Chuck as “Scat-bones Treme,” an old black jazz artist, or when Chuck praises Justin for making him seem sober in his interview with Penelope Cruz (pronounced PEEN-UH-LOAP CRUHZ). Meanwhile, Portia finds it difficult to be herself when she learns her life is a Panopticon. There’s little else to it than that (and, again, Nicole Richie saying the word “Panopticon” is very funny), but it does have a nice payoff when Katie takes her to an elder care facility that doesn’t allow cell phones so she can dance her heart out without the fear of it ending up on the Internet.

In the end, Katie decides to give love another chance after seeing her grandmother find her sweetheart at 90 and Carol accepts that she doesn’t like to dwell on unhappy endings. It’s fairly humdrum, but even mediocre episodes of Great News feature a handful of funny jokes, like how the Breakdown team reports that the Honey Nut Cheerios bee is dead at 51, or how Portia apparently won the Most Schwasted Party Peep at the Kid’s Choice Awards. But at the end of the day, those jokes work better with a stronger storyline.

Stray observations

  • This is the last Great News episode of the year, but don’t worry, NBC is just burning through the 13-episode order, so I’ll be back next week.
  • The running joke this week involves Luis Fonsi’s filthy follow-up to “Despacito.” Since apparently no white American understands the lyrics, it’s playing everywhere from children’s birthday parties to churches. Some of the lyrics include “We have to do it quickly / because you’re my stepmother” and “There are rats / there are rats / in the corner having sex.”
  • Funniest one-off joke is the neighbor’s freak out after Grammy hits her mailbox: “Oh my God! My mailbox! Now how will I receive my overreaction medication!”
  • Grammy divorced her husband because he watches dog shows and criticizes the dogs. “They’re the best dogs in the world. You try it, I said!”
  • What Grammy looks for in a man: A big raccoon coat, a straw hat, and he’s holding a little pennant that says “College.”
  • Someone took a picture of Portia sitting on Criss Angel’s lap in Vegas, but to be clear, he was a chair right before I sat down.
  • “Chuck Pierce doesn’t stand in lines. I scream and act demented. They let me go right to the front.”
  • “When most of us think about rural America, we think about a bear playing a banjo. But there are also people living here. Good, decent people. The backbone of our country.”
  • “DJ Piss Party. Thank you for lowering the music.”
  • “Angie is the real problem. After we left, she tried PCP and stabbed a guy.”
  • “Obviously I’m in Hell. I knew I died that time I tried Barry’s Bootcamp.”

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