Thursday Comedies: Community 3.13 & 30 Rock 6.15

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Community, Season 3, Episode 13, “Digital Exploration of Interior Design”
Written by Chris McKenna
Directed by Dan Eckman
Airs Thursdays at 8pm ET on NBC

Dan Harmon had said he wanted to work more serialization into season 3 and this is one of the first episodes that really bears that out. It draws on Shirley and Pierce’s desire to open up a sandwich shop in “Urban Matrimony and Sandwich Arts,” deepens the rift growing between Troy and Abed and furthers Dean Laybourne’s scheming to recruit Troy into the Air Conditioning Repair School. It also features callbacks to Annie and Jeff’s season  one make out session and, of course, the blanket fort in “Conspiracy Theory and Interior Design.” Oh yeah, and this is only part one of a two-parter.

It seems the war brewing between Troy and Abed and the former’s desire to be more than Reggie to the latter’s Inspector Spacetime will make up the bulk of Part 2. The strongest point of Part 1 is one of the more inventive instances of product placement, in a time when inventive product placement is starting to seem kind of passe. Subway, in a turn that harkens back to 1984 and perhaps looks ahead to the most extreme endpoint of something like Citizens United, enrolls their “corpo-humanoid” at Greendale. Strong plots for Britta seem to be few and far between and her clandestine affair with said corpo-humanoid is one of the best the show has done. Subway creates a struggle between Britta’s love of charitable endeavors and her hatred of corporations giving Gillian Jacobs a lot to do.

The Jeff and Annie plot is less successful even if it’s hard to pass up jokes about guys named Kim. The twist is pretty clearly telegraphed and the show’s navel-gazing over Jeff’s narcissism is starting to feel kind of repetitive. That said, it does generate some engaging scenes between Jeff and Annie as she seemed to view Jeff’s relationship with Kim as a stand-in for their own, culminating in a rather poignant self-realization on her part. This is easily the strongest episode of Community since its return, more high-concept than “Urban Matrimony” and considerably less flimsy than “Contemporary Impressionists.” It doesn’t hurt that it features Chevy Chase doing shots of ink and saying things like “penis fly trap.”

30 Rock, Season 6, Episode 15, “The Shower Principle”
Written by Tom Ceraulo
Directed by Stephen Lee Davis
Airs Thursdays at 8:30pm ET on NBC

Oh, 30 Rock. You tempt us by pretending to address your shortcomings, making light of your penchant for repetition and your facile attempts at imbuing change. However, without any attempt at addressing these shortcomings you render yourself a facsimile of the messy receptionist with a cutesy “One of these days I’m going to get organazized” sign on their desk. Unfortunately those qualities extend to the tired wit and self-satisfaction such a receptionist possesses, generating half-hearted chuckles from passersby.

As we’ve discussed, this is nothing new for 30 Rock, which at its strongest functions as little more than comfort food these days. As we’ve also discussed, there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that. The difference this week is the apparent attempt to confront these problems, which makes the inevitable return to routine doubly disappointing. It’s not the first time we’ve felt this sensation this year. Tonight’s episode comments on the ways they’ve employed Kristen Schall, Kenneth and even Criss to create the illusion of change and how those moves have been cosmetic at best, trading one eccentric page for another, etc.

In the end, the message “The Shower Principle” conveys seems to be something like “Why are you watching this show?” “This is all you’re going to get, we aren’t changing, love us or leave us,” or perhaps more charitably “We know we haven’t been our best and we’re not sure what to do about it.” There is a fair amount to appreciate. The characters we’ve known for years are still here, even if they’re short on development these days and that can be trying. Each episode also seems to generate at least a few really good jokes or setpieces. Tonight it’s the McDonald’s inspired take on Macbeth. Granted, it’s somewhat derivative of Scotland, PA but it’s relatively easy to look past that, if you are even familiar with the film in the first place, for the spectacle of Mayor McCheese delivering Macbeth’s most famous soliloquy.

Justin Wier


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