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Thursday Comedies: Community 3.12, 30 Rock 6.12 & 6.13, Archer 3.13

Thursday Comedies: Community 3.12, 30 Rock 6.12 & 6.13, Archer 3.13

Community, Season 3, Episode 12, “Contemporary Impressionists”
Written by Alex Cooley
Directed by Kyle Newacheck
Airs Thursdays at 8pm ET on NBC

Abed is one of Community’s most intriguing characters. His pop culture hyper-literacy aligns him with just the kind of person that would be an avid fan of the show (albeit at a comically elevated level).  Early on, the writers used him perhaps a bit too much to explain gags to the uninitiated, but lately he seems to bounce back and forth between fan service and audience critique. Tonight’s episode definitely falls into the latter category, as we see just how self-destructive Abed’s arrested development can be. Even more tragic is the fact that he doesn’t seem capable of understanding that.

Community is known for its wackiness, and there’s plenty of that on display in this episode, but the scene where Troy confronts Abed is surprisingly heartfelt. Troy sensing room for growth while Abed seems determined to remain in stasis is quite sad, as it implies a future in Troy and Abed aren’t insufferable. In some ways, Abed’s progression in this episode feels like a continuation of the themes explored in “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” and “Critical Film Studies,” and the reappearance of Evil Abed in the coda would seem to imply they intend to take this arc to darker places in the future.

On the lighter side, this episode does feature Jeff heavily as well, as Ryan Seacrest’s anti-anxiety medication-enabled ego sends him into a Hulk-like rage. Britta as Michael Jackson delivered some laughs, especially when she attempts to stay in character while addressing Jeff’s situation, and Yvette Nicole Brown’s Oprah is spot on, I only wish they had given her more to do with it. One last thing to mention: the Inspector Spacetime gags seem to become funnier with each successive reiteration, if only because of how far the show is willing to take what is, let’s face it, a relatively obscure joke.

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30 Rock, Season 6, Episodes 12 & 13, “Grandmentor” & “Kidnapped by Danger”
“Grandmentor” Written by Sam Means & Directed by Beth McCarthy-Miller
“Danger” Written by Tina Fey & Directed by Claire Cowperthwaite
Airs Thursdays at 8:30pm ET on NBC

It’s becoming increasingly hard to say anything of note about 30 Rock, which perhaps says enough on its own.  There was nothing wrong with this borderline two-parter. There were plenty of funny jokes, particularly when Tracy Jordan goes off his meds and shouts “We’re in a show within a show! My real name is Tracy Morgan!” You also have Billy Baldwin doing an impressive Jack Donaghy and Cynthia Nixon’s knowing casting as Julianne Moore in Jack’s TV movie, complete with a comment on how strong her Boston accent was. So yeah, a lot of meta going on here.

Where it becomes a problem when attempting to summon up 300 or so words on a particular episode (or two), is that while the show is still frequently funny, it’s just not doing anything new. There was a time when 30 Rock could’ve done these exact same jokes and felt cutting-edge, but after five years and 100 episodes you either need to provide a fresh take on the show, step aside and let someone or something else take over, or accept the fact that your best years are behind you and you’re just providing comfortable thrills for the remaining audience that hasn’t been usurped by the Chuck Lorre machine on CBS.

There have been hints this season that 30 Rock would like to provide something new, but more frequently (and it’s worth noting we’re focusing on the good episodes here and ignoring the more disastrous ones we’ve seen this season) it’s seemed to settle in that relatively unimaginative comfort zone. Which isn’t necessarily something to scoff at, relatively smart (if relatively passive) entertainment isn’t exactly a dime a dozen these days, it’s just becoming hard to maintain enthusiasm for a show that 6 years ago seemed like the most vital comedy to arise in Arrested Development’s wake. Which almost makes you wonder what Arrested Development would look like if it had been on the air for the last six years, perhaps cancellation can be a blessing.

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Archer, Season 3, Episode 13, “Space Race: Part II”
Written by Adam Reed
Airs Thursdays at 10pm ET on FX

“Space Race: Part II” doesn’t quite reach the heights of last week’s episode, but it seems like subverting expectations is part of Adam Reed’s aim here. This is, after all, an episode that teases the audience with a fight between Bionic Barry and Archer in a robotic exoskeleton, comments on how “epic” that would be (despite whatever reservations Archer may have with the word epic) and then pulls the rug out from under the audience in a rare (for this show) moment of character growth.

It seemed Bryan Cranston would be given more to do this week but his character feels a lot more de rigeur this week. He’s still excellent but he isn’t given anything as show stopping as his “Danger zone” line reading last week. The sole moment tonight that is capable of matching that is Archer’s assuring Lana and Cyril that, yes, he has read Animal Farm. Which isn’t to suggest this episode was a disappointment. Adam Reed cleverly finds a way to keep Lana in panties and pasties for much of the episode, despite it taking place in space, a gag that would probably feel more leering if this show wasn’t so satirical to begin with (and didn’t feature several strong feminine characters). Cheryl likewise dons a “Mars Princess” attire (Hey, Bryan Cranston was in John Carter too!) that is amusingly similar to Bjork’s swan dress.

In the end though, “Space Race: Part II” will probably play a lot better viewed together with Part I on DVD. As it stands, it’s a fun capper to what has been a pretty excellent season of television, equal to, if not better than, last season. Archer has finally earned its place in the discussion with Parks and Louie (and possibly Community and/or Curb) as one of the best comedies on television.

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Justin Wier