Thurs Comedy: 30 Rock 6.02, Parks and Rec 4.12, Archer 3.04, Unsupervised 1.01

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30 Rock, Season 6, Episode 2, “Idiots are People Two!”
Written by Robert Carlock
Directed by Beth McCarthy-Miller
Airs Thursdays at 8pm ET on NBC

Tonight on 30 Rock an attempt is made to deal with Tracy Morgan’s homophobic outburst this summer, and I’m not sure they wouldn’t have been better off leaving it alone. It’s not that the show isn’t capable of handling touchy political issues, last season’s “TGS Hates Women” was one of the best episodes of the show’s run. It dealt with the perceived misogyny inherent in modern comedy (even more of an issue today with David Letterman’s talent booker being fired this week for claiming female comedians aren’t as funny as men), the Olivia Munn/Jezebel spat and female gross out comics like Sarah Silverman with a measure of insight and more importantly a level of humor that is completely absent from tonight’s episode.

The main joke surrounding the A-plot involves Tracy being offended by Liz calling him an idiot and staging a protest of NBC similar to the one the LGBT movement staged earlier in response to his homophobic jokes. Which maybe could be funny but here it certainly isn’t and you kind of get the sense the writers knew that, as they tuck in a Denise Richards cameo for a cheap laugh. When this story broke in June, Tina Fey released a well-reasoned response to the media while Alec Baldwin merely tweeted “Oh that Tracy.” The show’s treatment of it tonight is more in line with the latter and while Tracy Jordan’s comments on the show weren’t as disturbingly violent as Tracy Morgan’s, it’s still somewhat troubling given the gravity of the issue.

This is only the first part of a two-parter so things could change, but I’m not hopeful. The episode opens with Liz and Kelsey Grammar walking in on Pete in the aftermath of what appears to be an attempt at autoerotic asphyxiation, and by the end we haven’t caught up to that point. Grammar’s appearance towards the end of the episode is mildly amusing, but not enough to outweigh the negatives here. Likewise with Jack haunting Liz while she talks to her new boyfriend (portrayed by James Marsden). It has its moments, but Jack criticizing Liz’s significant others is nothing new, and it shows. That’s without mentioning Kenneth’s plotline, which is the low point for the second consecutive week, and in a much weaker episode. Community was a maddeningly inconsistent show but just one week into what looked to be a strong return, the novelty of being back with Liz Lemon & Co. is wearing off and Greendale’s absence in the 8:00 slot is starting to feel more conspicuous.

 

Parks and Recreation, Season 4, Episode 12, “Campaign Ad”
Written by Alan Yang
Directed by Dean Holland
Airs Thursdays at 8:30pm ET on NBC

Tonight’s episode of Parks and Recreation doesn’t contain any flashy set pieces like last week’s, but it’s the kind of coolly competent half-hour we’ve come to expect from the show. Paul Rudd shows up playing Bobby Newport, Leslie’s opponent in her campaign for City Council and heir to the Sweetums fortune. That last bit isn’t just the show building up its mythology but an important detail, because with his financial backing he’s able to plaster every bus, park bench, and commercial break in Pawnee with his ingratiating visage and attain a 70-point lead in the polls with little effort. Contrasted with Leslie’s shoestring operation, the undercurrent is that money and name recognition, not substance, are what it takes to win an election.

It’s probably not a coincidence Michael Schur decided to explore a political campaign in an election year, and while Parks has never really been a “message” show (an attempt earlier this season to deal with the birther issue resulted in one of the show’s weakest episodes), there has always been a social consciousness behind it. Leslie doesn’t acquiesce when Ben wants to run an attack ad (which sets up the episode’s best gag, Ben, Tom, and Jerry trying to outdo one another in their sinister pronunciations of “Bobby Newport”), but she does end up compromising and it begs the question of how much of herself she’s willing to sacrifice to win the election.

There is a lot for the writers to explore in the coming weeks. Paul Rudd’s character has a lot of potential, having led such a charmed life he honestly thinks Leslie will let him run unopposed just because he asks her to. If there was something that didn’t work this week it was April and Andy’s subplot, which felt completely detached from the rest of the action. Unlike their quest to pare down Andy’s bucket list in “End of the World,” there is no thematic connection here and it makes you wonder why the writers decided to separate them from the group rather than have them contribute to the campaign ads.

 

Archer, Season 3, Episode 4, “The Man from Jupiter”
Written by Adam Reed
Airs Thursdays at 10pm ET on FX

After the three-part “Heart of Archness” that aired in the fall (presumably as an attempt to obtain some of It’s Always Sunny’s viewership), Archer returns for a full season run, and what an episode they’ve decided to come back on. Archer’s fascination with Burt Reynolds, and the film Gator in particular, has been a long running gag on the show and tonight they finally meet. In the twisted world of ISIS, it’s only natural that Archer’s hero would be sleeping with his mother.

When Reynolds first shows up, it feels like his voice-acting isn’t quite up to the incredibly high standards set by the rest of the cast, but writer Adam Reed gives him such strong material and Archer’s exuberance is so infectious that it quickly becomes a non-issue. Whether it’s the generic action hero dialogue he spouts leading into the first act break, his hilarious attempt to suck Archer in with promise of a “Gator” sequel, or his later attempts to psychoanalyze him, he’s consistently providing the majority of the laughs. Watching them discuss the logistics of installing a Batpole while taking the elevator, it’s hard not to hope this won’t be a one time thing.

When Malory mentions a Cuban hit squad is out to get Archer, who naturally assumes it’s subterfuge to distract him from destroying her relationship with Burt Reynolds, it’s easy to see where things are going. It’s to the show’s credit that the resulting scenes of Burt and Archer teaming up to take on the Cubans are as exhilarating as they are. Precise comic timing has always been Archer’s strong suit and it’s rarely as effective as it is during the climactic chase scene. Yet it’s also a well crafted piece of action filmmaking, reused footage and all.

Sometime during the second season, everything seemed to click into gear for this show and it started proving to be more than the irreverent sex farce it originally seemed to be. If “The Man from Jupiter” is any indication, Archer has nowhere to go but up. To quote Pam, “I swear to God you could drown a toddler in my panties right now… not that you would.”

 

Unsupervised, Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot”
Written by David Hornsby, Scott Marder & Rob Rosell
Airs Thursdays at 10:30pm ET on FX

Paired with Archer this season is Unsupervised, the new animated comedy from It’s Always Sunny writers David Hornsby, Scott Marder, and Rob Rosell. It’s unlikely it will ever reach the heights of its lead-in, but given the atrocious TV spots, it’s somewhat surprising to find it’s not an altogether terrible show. They’ve assembled a rather impressive cast (including Justin Long, Kristen Bell, Romany Malco, and Fred Armisen among others) and at this point the characters are definitely its clearest strength.

Focusing on Joel (Hornsby) and Gary (Long), two high school freshmen whose guardians’ lackadaisical approach to parenting provides the show with its title, Unsupervised immediately recalls MTV’s Beavis and Butthead. Yet underlying their typical adolescent irreverence is an innocence that wasn’t present on that show. As strange as this may sound, it seems to have the potential to become something like a Nickelodeon show for adults. The showrunners are too old to have grown up on Doug or Hey Arnold, but that same sensibility is definitely present.

The pilot consists of a relatively basic plot- they decide to invite two girls over and it turns into a giant party. It works in that it provides an easy way to introduce the audience to the surprisingly extensive array of classmates and neighbors that make up the supporting cast. They’re all relatively distinct and it seems like there will be plenty of room for the show to explore as it continues.

The animation is provided by Adam Reed’s Floyd County and while it is definitely distinctive, if you look closely you can pick up on some similarities between it and Archer. Given Adam Reed’s history with Cartoon Network, it’s probably odd that of FX’s two animated comedies, this show seems more in tune with Adult Swim.

If there’s a big weakness, it’s that the show isn’t particularly funny. The jokes rarely fall completely flat, but it seems like the show’s still trying to find its voice. It seems unlikely Unsupervised will ever be one of the best comedies on television, but given its pedigree, there is enough here to justify sticking around for few weeks to see what happens.

Justin Wier

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