Thursday Comedies: Community 3.15 & 30 Rock 6.17

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Community, Season 3, Episode 15, “Origins of Vampire Mythology”
Written by Dan Harmon
Directed by Steven Tsuchida
Airs Thursdays at 8pm ET on NBC

As fun and unique as episodes like “Pillows and Blankets” are, it’s almost more impressive when Community pulls off a run-of-the-mill episode with the panache they do in “Origins of Vampire Mythology.” As mentioned before, Community is generally less consistent the more down to earth it becomes. The common thread in strong “down to earth” episodes of Community like “Introduction to Statistics,” “Mixology Certification,” or tonight’s episode seems to be a sense of focus. Everything in “Vampire Mythology” (with the exception of Pierce trying to find a new best friend, which is the weak link) revolves around Britta’s ex-boyfriend Blade being in town.

The advantage of having a central focus is obvious. Instead of splitting the cast up in groups and sending them on their own disparate adventures, they get the opportunity to come together and play off one another. One of the show’s greatest strengths is putting all these characters with wildly varying personalities in the same room and teasing out the underlying threads that connect them. How they help one another out and the underlying sense of community (hey, that’s the name of the show!) they’ve developed over three years at Greendale.

This is what makes the stuff going on at the apartment so engaging. You have Britta turning to Annie in a time of need and Troy and Abed provide hilarious counterpoint as they are more interested in watching a fantastic kickboxing vampire movie than aiding in Britta’s predicament (which makes Troy’s ultimate understanding of Britta all the more affecting.) Likewise, the relationship Jeff and Shirley have developed in the wake of their foosball fiasco is very genuine. Using emotion, character and the things that bring people together as a firm base on which to build comedic situations is what makes Community, at its best, more than your average sitcom.

30 Rock, Season 6, Episode 17, “Meet the Woggels!”
Written by Ron Weiner
Directed by Linda Mendoza
Airs Thursdays at 8:30pm ET on NBC

It’s interesting to note that the most enjoyable episodes of 30 Rock this season have for the most part marginalized or completely eschewed Pete and the writers. You would think a sitcom revolving around the behind-the-scenes happenings of a SNL type show would feature the writers’ room as its beating heart. However, 30 Rock has always been more focused on Liz’s shortcomings, Jack’s caricatured portrayal of a Bush-era Republican and the attempts to wrangle the outsized personalities that are drawn to such a show. It’s gotten to the point that we hardly know the writers and any attempt to bring them to the foreground feels forced and inconsequential.

In “Meet the Woggels!” they don’t even appear and the show feels a lot smoother because of it. Most of the laughs are generated from the titular Australian children’s group, who perhaps aren’t quite as funny if you aren’t familiar with real-life Australian children’s group The Wiggles. It’s a pitch-perfect parody, right down to the color of their shirts. There is also a Lynchian aspect to their portrayal, as the show teases out the sinister subtext lurking behind their seemingly wholesome exterior. Tracy’s attempt to reconnect with his son is significantly more generic, but nicely compliments Jack’s mother’s veiled attempts at reaching out to him.

The central focus is Liz and her belief that communication is the key to understanding. This philosophy serves to resolve all three plot-lines, even if it may be a bit late in Jenna’s case, given the fun Paul seems to be having with Couchy. Liz’s understanding of the people she works with and the ability to help them out of their predicaments gives the episode something of a heart, which 30 Rock has been lacking of late.  Even if the majority of the episode’s joys come from its skewering of children’s entertainment, it’s nice to have that to fall back on.

Justin Wier

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