Thursday Comedies: Community 3.14 & 30 Rock 6.16

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Community, Season 3, Episode 14, “Pillows and Blankets”
Written by Andy Bobrow
Directed by Tristram Shapeero
Airs Thursdays at 8pm ET on NBC

This isn’t the first time Community has experimented with a documentary aesthetic. Last year’s “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking” was a season-highlight that commented on the prevalence of shows like The Office, Parks and Recreation and Modern Family that use the documentary framework. This season’s “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux” went so far as to parody a specific film in Hearts of Darkness. In “Pillows and Blankets,” it’s a stylistic parody of the Ken Burns model that has been appropriated for the majority of PBS documentaries (nicely punctuated with Troy and Abed hosting a pledge drive during the end credits), and it’s also distinct in that it’s the first documentary episode that hasn’t been purportedly directed by Abed.

Shooting the story of Troy and Abed’s “kerfluffle” a la Ken Burns’ The Civil War creates a thematic resonance that is perhaps unintentional. While things are patched up at the end of the day, you get the feeling that the underlying causes of the conflict will haunt their friendship for a long time to come, possibly forever. Television shows, and sitcoms in particular, are fond of hitting the reset button at the end of every episode, or failing that at the end of every season, keeping their characters in a state of stasis.

Community seems dedicated to examining the ways in which Troy and Abed are becoming different from one another and how their friendship will accommodate those differences, if it can. It’s something that every adult has experienced, and those friendships that have fell by the wayside are both representative of growth and at times bittersweet. It’s a tone Community has been consistent in conveying over the course of this two-parter (and the previous episode that brought the rift between the two to the forefront), even when there are things going on like Pierce running into the library with pillows duct-taped to his body from head to toe.

The other relationship the show has highlighted during this two-parter is the one between Jeff and Annie. Last week’s somewhat lackluster C-plot was buoyed by functioning as a metaphor for the characters’ romantic past. That sexual tension carries over to their texts in tonight’s episode, punctuated with elegant Burnsian zooms in to one’s phone and out of the other’s, Annie’s always in amusingly close proximity to Brie’s decolletage. Over the course of these two episodes Community has been in top form, both on a conceptual level and in terms of character development. With the exception of Shirley and Pierce (who has provided some of the biggest laughs) everyone has been featured in a story arc that gets to the core of who they are. It would be hard for Community to top the marquee episodes of Season 2 but if they maintain this level of introspection the latter half of Season 3 could be equally impressive.

30 Rock, Season 6, Episode 16, “Nothing Left to Lose”
Written by Lauren Gurganous & Nina Pedrad
Directed by John Riggi
Airs Thursdays at 8:30pm ET on NBC

This week’s 30 Rock is one of the more pleasant episodes of the season, in that all three plots are relatively entertaining and that none of them feature anything objectionable. Even Kenneth, Season 6’s perpetual achilles heel, is charming with his spiel about the window janitors possess into the world of things we deem unsuitable to be shared with others. Which isn’t to suggest there is a lot to discuss but it’s 30 Rock and you’ll take what you can get at this point.

The title refers to Jack’s quest to instill some ambition in Pete. Jack’s taking on a charity case (which could be a description of his entire relationship with Liz) seems at odds with his hardline conservative ethos until it’s revealed that he’s only doing it out of selfishness, so Ayn Rand can relax. This plotline features the most amusing scene of the episode in which Pete loses a fight to a dummy, or perhaps it’s a baldheaded Pete finally at the point where he feels the need to advocate for himself.

The B and C-plots are less meaty but this is 30 Rock and they provide enough laughs to justify themselves. Jenna and the Writers are involved in a prank war that convinces her she isn’t the most awful person she knows. The plot where Tracy regains his sense of smell and starts behaving like Liz’s child because she uses the same pomade as his father is perhaps the weakest of the bunch, but it does feature Dr. Spacemen so there’s that. 30 Rock isn’t making any waves these days but if it can maintain the ability to be pleasantly amusing as it ambles along maybe that’s enough for now.  Aside from flashes of something more like “The Tuxedo Begins” it’s probably all we’re going to get at this point.

Justin Wier

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