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Thursday Comedies: 30 Rock 6.05, Parks and Rec 4.14, Archer 3.06, Unsupervised 1.03


30 Rock, Season 6, Episode 5, “Today You Are a Man”
Written by Ron Weiner
Directed by Jeff Richmond
Airs Thursdays at 8pm ET on NBC

This week’s 30 Rock seems like an improvement on the season to date, yet it more or less recycles last week’s Kenneth plot. The staff at TGS didn’t notice Kenneth’s absence when Jack discontinued the page program (didn’t they make a note of his absence during last week’s party scene?), so Kenneth rebels by switching places with another page and instead of Jack realizing how difficult life without Kenneth is like last week we have the writers experiencing the same epiphany. This is helped along by the dependable Kristen Schaal’s appearance as Hazel Wassername. Hazel is Suze Orman’s page at NBC so when she takes over for Kenneth he fills in for her. This leads to an extraordinarily awkward scene with Mrs. Orman doing her best Dowager Countess and informing Kenneth it’s impossible for him to be friends with Tracy and Jenna because they have money and he doesn’t. This all works relatively well (aside from Orman’s out-of-left-field defense of the class system), it just feels lazy for them to be mining the same territory they did last week, but hopefully Kenneth leaving the page program and pursuing more lucrative employment will get his character out of the rut it seems to be in.

The Jack and Liz subplot is pretty effective and their plots have, on the whole, been more inspired this season. It sometimes feels like they’re the only characters the show’s writers know what they want to do with. I even like Liz’s fourth-wall breaking declaration that “after six years there’s still room for growth in this relationship.” Tracy and Jenna’s Bar Mitzvah subplot is relatively fun as well. Compared to the rest of the season this was a pretty enjoyable episode, even if parts (in a continuing trend) felt a bit lazy and familiar.

Parks and Recreation, Season 4, Episode 14: “Operation Ann”
Written by Aisha Muharrar
Directed by Morgan Sackett
Airs Thursdays at 8:30pm ET on NBC
Parks and Rec is airing its Valentine’s Day episode a week early as it’s off the air next week to accommodate 30 Rock’s mad dash to fit 22 episodes into just over four months. Showrunner Michael Schur has repeatedly stated that he envisioned the relationship between Leslie and Ann as the backbone of the series and on weeks like this it’s easy to see why. Leslie’s love for Ann can be inspiring, even if it sometimes borders on obsessive as it does at the end of tonight’s episode. How many people have friends that would donate so much time and effort to finding a date for their single friend on Valentine’s Day, sacrificing their own enjoyment in the process? That the results are as disastrous as they are is almost beside the point (the assembled single men include April’s cousin Orin and Harris from the animal control department) and the resulting date was both unexpected and completely logical in a twisted way.

While Leslie was busy with April she sent Ben on a scavenger hunt, which was certainly more fun to watch than it would’ve been to participate in. Ben enlists Ron and Andy to help him along and despite Ron’s professed distaste for riddles he can barely contain his excitement as he uncovers one clue after another, building to his mischievously gleeful declaration “I love riddles!” Martin Starr’s cameo was nice, especially seeing him act with Adam Scott again, but it was so slight that he almost felt wasted. Having Chris suffering from depression in Millicent’s absence is an interesting look at an uncharacteristic side of his character but it was almost too easy to see his turn as a depressed Valentine’s Day DJ coming. Overall though that’s a rather minor complaint in what is another solid episode of Parks.

Archer, Season 3, Episode 6: “The Limited”
Written by Adam Reed
Airs Thursdays at 10pm ET on FX

Last week Cyril was an unexpected success in his first foray into the field, but in “The Limited” he returns to his failing ways. Tasked with the relatively simple job of keeping an eye on the terrorist they are transporting back to Canada via train, he wanders off to see where Archer and Lana are and their prisoner escapes. One of tonight’s highlights is the return of Cheryl’s pet ocelot Baboo. Baboo goes missing around the same time as their prisoner and a drunken Archer seems much more concerned with finding Baboo than the terrorist. Having Archer show up to work half in the bag seems like such an obvious and logical idea it’s kind of surprising it’s taken them this long to do it, but one of the amusing aspects is that it’s easy to imagine a sober Archer behaving the exact same way.

Canada seems like a frequent and easy target for American comedians, but it was fun to see it turned over a bit with the Canadians assuming that everyone is racist simply because they’re American. Which isn’t to imply they don’t have a legitimate point in the case of Sterling and Mallory. That said, it’s hard not to be amused by a cadre of gun-toting mounties. The episode builds to a rather hysterical gunfight on the roof of a train that serves as a deconstruction of them. It’s a trope that turns up time and time again and it’s amusing that it takes a show like Archer to make you stop and think about just how illogical it is.  It’s a step up from last week’s episode and another entry in what looks to be an excellent season.

Unsupervised, Season 1, Episode 3: “Field of Dreams… and Dogs”
Written by Rob Rosell, Scott Marder & David Hornsby
Airs Thursdays at 10:30pm ET on FX

Just three weeks in and Unsupervised is starting to really show its seams. Joel and Gary are still strong and surprisingly interesting lead characters, but the show’s commitment to positivity has the unfortunate drawback of putting them in rather generic stories that feel more than a little like your typical after-school special, usually with a slight twist at the end. Formula isn’t always a bad thing, but for a show’s strategy to seem so apparent just three episodes into it’s run is a pretty big warning sign. It might be easier to overlook if it was ever more than mildly amusing, but that isn’t the case here and it doesn’t seem like it’s the creators’ goal to make Unsupervised a joke-based show.

Again this week, Joel and Gary’s good intentions are misunderstood and they end up in trouble. This leads to a scene where they are briefly dejected and consider giving up. When that seems more hopeless than their half baked attempts at improving other people’s lives, they turn back to their initial aim, giving it their best shot, and coming up just short.  So, the same trajectory we followed last week. Maybe it’s just a coincidence this early on and they will start experimenting with the format, but there are nothing in these first three episodes suggesting that they have a desire to or are capable of doing too much outside the norm.  That just doesn’t seem like enough for this show to keep viewers coming back.

Justin Wier