We’ve been called “nice” by enough members of the opposite sex to know that it isn’t necessarily a compliment. However, slowly but surely, it appears that the adjective is making a comeback (and for our social life, not a moment too soon). While the news this year has been dominated by increasingly bleak stories—economic strife, debates about torture, and now, the possible pandemic of swine flu (party like it’s 1918!)—the entertainment industry has taken a slightly sunnier path. Dare we ask: is 2009 poised to be the Year of Nice?
We started noticing this on NBC of all places. Chuck, which had its season finale last night, has perfected the potential new vibe, mixing post-modern irony with feel-good joviality. Everything about the series is “nice”: the characters, the situations, the comedy, even the color palette. In the same vein, NBC’s Parks and Recreation culls most of its humor from the fact that Amy Poehler’s character, Leslie Knope, tries too hard to make the world a better place. While the series couldn’t exist without The Office, the key difference between the two lies in the handling of the leads: the characters on Parks and Recreation are disillusioned drones who treat Leslie like an annoyingly perky child, but seem to respect her anyway; the characters on The Office are snobs who treat Michael (Steve Carell) like a subservient pest, despite the fact that he’s as knowing and smart as they like to think they are. It’s a subtle twist, but it vastly changes the tone of both shows. Parks and Recreation feels fresh and new because, in the end, it’s just nicer.
And it doesn’t stop there. Patron Saint of Pleasantries, Michael Cera—Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist might be patient zero in this outbreak of nice—has two films being released over the summer (Year One and Paper Heart) and will be playing the most agreeable comic book hero ever, Scott Pilgrim, in 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World; at the box office, kind-hearted films like 17 Again and I Love You, Man have been solid hits, while nastier vehicles like Observe and Report and Crank 2: High Voltage have not; and, of course, there’s Slumdog Millionaire, the most feel-good Oscar winner about torture, death and severe poverty that has ever graced the big screen. To wit: children get literally blinded by boiling oil and the film still finds room to end with a dance number.
We’ve heard people say that this new phase of entertainment has much to do with Barack Obama—Ms. Poehler even cited the president as an influence on Parks and Recreation—but we don’t necessarily buy into that thinking. Hollywood is much too slow to react to the positive feelings permeating the American psyche right now (y’know, despite the fear of swine flu). Perhaps even the pop culture decision makers got tired of the negativity and just decided to embrace something a little brighter. We know the curmudgeons will view this as the continued dumbing down of the populace via pabulum infused entertainment, but to them we say go watch the season finale of Chuck on Hulu and embrace your inner nice guy or gal. It’s never too late to stop being a Scrooge.