Couch potato feels urge to purge after bingeing on new shows

After four years in Las Vegas, you’d think I’d know my way around a buffet. (And, please, hold the fat jokes.) But time after time, I fill up on bread and other assorted cheaperies and barely leave room for the good stuff: crab legs, prime rib, or, as is more often the case, macaroni-and-cheese pizza.

That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing with the shows that have come back from the writers strike with new episodes. I’ve been so starved for something besides reality, I’ve been gorging on lackluster fare, such as CBS’ Monday night sitcoms, prime-time’s version of a heat-lamped dinner roll.

Actually, that’s not fair. I adore "How I Met Your Mother." And "The Big Bang Theory" is reasonably watchable, whenever Jim Parsons’ Sheldon isn’t completely ripping off David Hyde Pierce.

But I still don’t get "The New Adventures of Old Christine." And "Two and a Half Men" is just vile. Its format — setup, cheap sex joke; setup, cheap sex joke — is so dated, it should be shopping at Chess King. (And speaking of lame clothes, Charlie Sheen is 42 years old. When’s he going to start wearing long pants?)

Anyway, I’m so full of these shows, I’m not sure there’s space for the main course: NBC’s Thursday night comedies.

"My Name Is Earl" returned last week, but Thursday (8-10 p.m., KVBC-TV, Channel 3) will mark the first time all four series — "Earl," "30 Rock," "The Office" and "Scrubs" — have aired new episodes since Nov. 15.

I should be ecstatic. I should be counting the days by scratching hash marks, prison movie-style, into the wall next to my couch.

But I’m not.

I just don’t have the appetite or the energy.

If only there were a way to purge all those mediocre shows, like some sort of TV vomitorium. (And, yes, I got that idea while watching Fox’s "The Moment of Truth.")

Since there’s not, I’m taking it easy this week by letting the talent behind "Earl," "30 Rock" and "The Office" talk about returning from the strike, and how they spent their downtime, through the magic of the media conference call. (NBC didn’t bother making anyone from "Scrubs" available, since the series is all but guaranteed to move to ABC next season.)

It turns out, in some ways, the strike was a blessing in disguise.

"I mean, from a writing standpoint, it actually, I think, ultimately helped us," "Earl" creator Greg Garcia said. "We kind of knew where we were going for the most part of the season. But towards the end, it kind of felt like, story arc wise, we were kind of going to be petering out a little bit. And by having this break … I got to kind of rethink things and kind of throw a whole new wrinkle into the second half of our season that we weren’t going to have."

And Greg Daniels, who runs "The Office," admitted "this was the longest break that we had had since the show started, and people, you know, had time to kind of recharge their batteries."

The strike also was a time for the stars to unwind and be with their families — when they weren’t sticking it to The Man on the picket lines.

"I stayed home with my daughter, which was sort of the only blessing of the strike," said "30 Rock" producer, writer and star Tina Fey, who compared the time off to the maternity leave she never had.

"I did a little bit of picketing," "The Office’s" Rainn Wilson said of his time away from Dwight Schrute. "I played a lot with my 31/2-year-old son, which was good. … And I went to Israel. And I did some writing. And I worked on my backhand with my Zen tennis coach."

Mostly, though, the strike just got in the way.

Everyone involved in "Earl" is running themselves ragged trying to complete nine episodes compared to "The Office’s" six and "30 Rock’s" five. "We’ve crammed a lot in to finish season three for the audience," "Earl" star Jason Lee said.

"30 Rock" writers had to rework the two episodes that were left on the table before the strike. "The Office" lost a Christmas-themed episode. And Wilson had to remember how to be Dwight.

"There’s, like, 10 minutes when it’s like, OK, wait, who is this guy again? Right?" he said. "And then, you know, I just put on the calculator watch and the glasses, and just be all, you know, inappropriate. And then it just works out fine. You go right back in the flow."

Hopefully by next week, I’ll be back in the flow, too.

Just as soon as I’m done coughing up what’s left of a particularly wretched string of single-entendres from "Two and a Half Men."

Getting real: "Monty Python’s Spamalot" star John O’Hurley hosts "Secret Talents of the Stars" (10 p.m. Tuesday, KLAS-TV, Channel 8).

Christopher Lawrence’s Life on the Couch column appears on Mondays. E-mail him at clawrence@reviewjournal.com.

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