Tuesday Tangents: Community Edition

Community is probably my favorite show currently on TV. It’s a bit out there, but it’s just incredibly fun and clever, each episode painstakingly (well, to varying degrees) tuned to brilliantly parody some new little piece of pop culture. Maybe some of the characters are a bit one-dimensional, and maybe Ken Jeong’s “Chang” character has slowly slid from an entertaining little diversion down to an obnoxious, totally-out-of-place caricature. But the rest of the characters are fantastically quirky and great in their own way — even if they are a bit flat, in the big picture — and the humor just isn’t like anything else you can see on TV right now.

Some bad news came out yesterday, which I’ll get to below. But it struck me as as good a time as any to pay tribute to the show. I mean, it’s on my mind, so I try to write about baseball, but I keep getting distracted with how it’s just like Community (that’s how this tangents thing is supposed to go, right? It’s my first time)…

Clubhouse Confidential purports to be the world’s first sabermetrics-friendly television show, which is admirable, but it’s seriously threatening to backfire. Which reminds me of this one time, when the Community gang tried to help out Fat Neil with a game of Dungeons and Dragons…

I was pretty excited when Clubhouse Confidential premiered last week, the nightly (er, late-afternoonly) show on MLB Network, hosted by Brian Kenny. The show bills itself as serving “as an open forum to discuss and debate the day’s news and moves using modern statistical research and value projection.”

And…well. Kenny is phenomenal, as sports show hosts go, and with five half-hour episodes a week, the show will have plenty of time to really hit its stride, find its voice, what-have-you. But for now, in my humble opinion, it’s a mess. MLBN can’t resist interspersing its usual troop of “personalities,” no matter how out of place: Mitch Williams, Harold Reynolds, Greg Amsinger and Jon Heyman all made appearances in its first week. Being a half-hour show committed to cover all the big news of the day, it’s necessarily crazily oversimplified: there is, for instance, a nightly trivia question that asks you which player was the best at X using “advanced metrics,” without telling you what metric is being used (e.g. Troy Tulowitzki was the best-hitting shortstop based on his runs created, though Jose Reyes had a better wRC+ and more bWAR batting runs).

On Monday’s show, Kenny broke down the AL Rookie of the Year race by helpfully pointing out that despite Hellickson’s better W/L record and ERA, Pineda’s superior K/9, BB/9, and FIP suggest that he had the better 2011…then unambiguously and definitively declared that based on Hellickson’s superior bWAR and the tougher competition of the AL East, Hellickson was the more deserving ROY candidate of the two. I understand why the length and format of the show arguably makes it a necessity, but to me, that’s exactly the opposite of what a show like this should do: tell us the issues and what the various stats say, but don’t give us a definitive conclusion (especially where, as here, it contradicts a bunch of the stats you’ve just given us, with no explanation as to why those stats are wrong). But right now, through six episodes, that’s most of what the show seems to exist to do, until Reynolds or Heyman comes on to tell us why the whole thing is silly. So far, despite what I really think are their (or Kenny’s, at least) best intentions, it’s been largely counterproductive.

In the Community episode titled “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons,” the crew of main characters takes pity on a guy named Neil, a big D&D fan who they fear is suicidal, and attempts to help him out by hosting a D&D game for him, despite the fact that none of them actually play or are interested. It’s one of the few instances of any of the characters — and here, it’s most of them — appearing to be motivated by an actual desire to do good, not to further their own interests in any apparent way. But those good intentions are foiled when Pierce Hawthorne, Chevy Chase’s character, just can’t help himself; while everyone else is in it essentially to let Neil win, Pierce does everything he can to further humiliate the geek and win the silly little game.

The television format and the network’s non-Kenny personalities are like Clubhouse Confidential‘s Pierce Hawthorne, undoing all of the show’s good intentions because they just can’t get out of their own way. Yet, anyway.

Peter Angelos is an ancient, out of touch, and quite possibly evil walking disaster, not entirely unlike Chevy Chase’s Pierce Hawthorne… 

Rather than get into it all myself, I’ll just point you to this excellent blog post by Jonathan Bernhardt. Orioles owner Peter Angelos is “The Man Who Wouldn’t Learn,” whose meddlesome and destructive nature has managed to cause tons of high-quality talent to remove themselves from consideration for a job that would (at least nominally) be a promotion, and who seems destined to keep the Orioles locked in a kind of perpetual downward spiral until he finally gives up control.

Pierce, discussed above, is old, and out of touch, and pretty clearly evil. In addition to the D&D sabotage, he’s also (as the plot calls for it) blatantly sexist, racist and homophobic, and is always a threat to screw up whatever might otherwise be about to happen — even when he’s trying to help, like in the most recent episode, in which he sets out to fix up Annie’s old apartment and ends up spilling noxious paint all over the floor and knocking himself out. In one episode, he pretends to be dying so he can bequeath one final gift on the rest of the crew, each specifically designed to mentally torture its particular recipient. And he’s managed to resist several attempts by various other members to remove him from the group. Frankly, Pierce, while he has some great moments, seems to exist mostly to irritate, both the other characters and the audience. He serves a useful purpose, but you get the sense that things would be a lot more fun with him out of the picture. Much like Angelos, if you ignore that “useful purpose” part.

The Marlins are rumored to be in on every free agent out there, but most people seem to doubt they’ll end up with anything at all. Which reminds me of that episode where someone had stolen Annie’s pen… 

I don’t know how I feel about this, personally. It wouldn’t make much sense for Jeffrey Loria and the Miami Marlins to act interested in Reyes, Pujols, Fielder et al., only to lose out on all of them. South Florida isn’t going to look at the exact same team they didn’t care about last year, in new uniforms and a new stadium, and think, “well, look, they tried! Let’s go check ‘em out!” Rather, I think the Marlins really are committed to making a change — how long they’ll stick with it remains to be seen, but at least for 2012 — and will do everything in their power to land at least one big-name free agent, maybe more. Still, though, there seems to be this perception that, for all the talk and rumors, they’re not to be seriously considered candidates to land anyone at all.

In the episode “Cooperative Calligraphy,” which spoofs sit-com “bottle episodes” (and also very much is one), Annie, played by the fabulous Alison Brie, has lost her pen. It begins playfully — “ha, very funny, who took my pen?” — but eventually turns ugly, with everyone forbidden to leave the study room until the mystery of Annie’s stolen pen can be solved. Everyone suspects everyone, deeply held personal secrets are revealed, feelings are hurt, friendships strained. In the end, though — spoiler alert! — we find out that no one took Annie’s pen at all, or rather, no human; it was Troy’s long-lost monkey, named Annie’s Boobs, who slipped in unseen and grabbed the pen (and a bunch of other stuff — it’s kind of amazing that they never noticed, actually). All this buildup and guessing and accusation, and it amounts to, essentially, nothing. Which is what the Winter Meetings and a lot of the rest of the offseason tends to be like, actually.

21 of 28 voters thought Mark Trumbo was one of the three best AL rookies of 2011, which he incontrovertibly was not. Which is a little bit like this one time that NBC decided to drop Community from its midseason schedule while leaving Whitney on…

So, yes. The Rookie of the Year Awards were announced yesterday, and while pretty much everyone knew Craig Kimbrel would win the NL’s award (as he did, unanimously), the AL’s was pretty wide open. I would’ve voted for Michael Pineda myself, but expected Mark Trumbo to win, because I have no faith in other human beings. As it turned out, Jeremy Hellickson won with his pretty record and ERA, and quite easily, but Trumbo was almost as comfortably in second place, with five first-place votes, eleven seconds and five thirds. He led the Angels in HR and RBI — which, as Mark Saxon was finally able to point out after two revisions, was the first time an Angels rookie had done that — and that’s just the sort of thing that might prevent the casual viewer from noticing that he just isn’t particularly good. Trumbo ended the year with a .291 OBP, sixth-worst in the AL among qualified hitters (but only second worst on his team, ahead of league-worst Vernon Wells’ .248, so that’s something). You can look at the various WAR/WARP measures and argue he’s better than a certain few of the other candidates, but that requires putting a lot of faith in their ability to measure his (and Eric Hosmer’s) defense in a one-year sample, and at any rate, I don’t think you can really argue that he’s better than all of the other (non-Hellickson) candidates. Moreover — and I don’t think this should have any bearing on the voting, but it’s worth noting — at 25, Trumbo was older than all of the other candidates, and likely has the least room to grow; Hosmer and Pineda in particular look like superstars while Hellickson and (especially) Trumbo do not, so this could end up being one of those “that guy lost to who???” situations.

And now we come to that bad news: it was announced on Monday that NBC was dropping Community from its midseason schedule. It’s not canceled, per se, and it’ll likely come back to finish out the season at some point, but the odds of there being a Community season 4 right now are looking very, very slim.

I mean, there’s not much to be done. The show, like all of NBC, doesn’t get the ratings. But the kicker, as this post expertly illustrates, is that the off-the-wall brilliance of Community gets brushed aside, while the sad, drab, laugh-tracked, totally standard sub-mediocrity that is Whitney is allowed to keep humming along. I’d never presume to second-guess TV execs’ business decisions myself, but Mr. Sepinwall can, and he explains it in a way even I can understand: Whitney was getting more viewers than Community, but it was losing viewers every week, and it was getting what it was getting only because it’s had the still-relatively-popular The Office as a lead-in. So picking Whitney over Community ends up looking an awful lot like picking Trumbo over, say, Hosmer; justifiable only by relying on numbers that are at best misleading and at worst totally meaningless.

The difference, of course, is that from here on out, we can expect Hosmer’s natural talent to carry him well ahead of Trumbo, and for Hosmer to go on starting All-Star Games long after Trumbo’s gone and forgotten. TV shows don’t get by on merit, though, and Community, sadly, won’t get anything like that same chance.

Bill’s work on The Platoon Advantage is streets ahead. However, his Twitter account, like alcohol, makes people sad. It’s like the Lifetime movie of beverages.

Image courtesy HollywoodChicago.com, taken by Mitchell Haaseth/NBC.