Thursday Comedies: Community 3.17, 30 Rock 6.19, & Parks and Rec 4.20

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Community, Season 3, Episode 17, “Basic Lupine Urology”
Written by Megan Ganz
Directed by Rob Schrab
Airs Thursdays at 8pm ET on NBC

“Basic Lupine Urology” (an odd title at first until you remember the creator of Law & Order is named Dick Wolf) is light on the character development Community has been trading in of late, but in terms of sheer hilarity it’s easily the funniest episode since “Remedial Chaos Theory.” It’s also one of the strongest direct parodies the show has done, so steeped in the language of Law & Order that only its naivete keeps it from feeling like a product of the franchise. The classic “clang CLANG” sound and title cards naturally accompany scene changes but there are subtler touches; Troy’s pained expression when he learns the murdered yam was just about to bloom, the twist ending as our detectives learn of Starburns’ fate.

Just when you forgot Michael K. Williams was on the show, he returns this week as Professor Kane serves the role of the “judge” (Shirley functions as the police chief, Jeff and Annie as lawyers, and Troy and Abed are the detectives, naturally.) He’s fantastic here, playing off the cast like he’s been there all along, and the writers toss him a pretty explicit Omar reference (“A man must have a code.”) Troy and Abed stand out as well as they bring their dreamatorium skills to the real world, constantly providing disclaimers that they aren’t actually police and nobody really has to play along with them.

It’s amusing as it is that as all this time and effort is spent trying to figure out who murdered a yam, there are much more sinister crimes going on in the background. Pierce’s gambling ring is more substantial, but still relatively benign, but Starburns, on the other hand, is stealing bookbags and beakers as well as manufacturing methamphetamine and nobody seems too concerned about it, at least not until he meets his untimely end. When cast members let leak earlier on that there would be a funeral in season 3, most people assumed it would be Pierce, but for now it looks like we have a Starburns memorial in the future.

30 Rock, Season 6, Episode 19, “Live from Studio 6H”
Written by Jack Burditt and Tina Fey
Directed by Beth McCarthy-Miller
Airs Thursdays at 8:30pm ET on NBC

For a show as heavily reliant as 30 Rock is on editing, it’s surprising how well it works as a live show. Part of this probably owes to its strong Saturday Night Live pedigree, and “Live from Studio 6H” frequently feels like an episode of SNL. It relies heavily on flashbacks that function as skits, Dr. Spacemen’s plugs for Chatterton cigarettes are in the same vein as SNL classics like “Colon Blow” and “Schmitts Gay”. It also gets a lot of mileage from guest stars, a tendency that has harmed the show in the past but feels appropriate here.

Last year’s “Live Show” featured several nods to the history of live television, but “Live from Studio 6H” functions as a more direct ode to the format as Kenneth regales the cast and crew with stories of live TV’s past in an attempt to dissuade them from doing future episodes of TGS on tape. It’s funny that his gambit works as most of the shows possess a horrifying subtext. The misogyny apparent in The Honeymooners and classic news broadcasts is exaggerated to amusing effect, and while their takes on Laugh-In and The Dean Martin Show are relatively benign, the highlight of the episode features Jon Hamm and Tracy Morgan highlighting the minstrelsy of Amos ‘n’ Andy. Hamm’s penchant for comedy is no longer a secret and he’s typically excellent here, seemingly causing a few cast members to break character.

The extensive roster of guest stars also includes NBC mainstays Amy Poehler, Jimmy Fallon and Donald Glover playing younger versions of Liz Lemon, Jack Donaghy and Tracy Jordan respectively and Fred Armisen in one of the stranger cameos in the show’s history. The biggest surprise is probably Alec Baldwin calling in a favor from yoga buddy Paul McCartney (he was apparently replaced with Kim Kardashian on the west coast feed[ I guess you play to your audience). “Live from Studio 6H” isn’t great television, but it’s a lot of fun and lends 30 Rock a feeling of spontaneity it’s been struggling with of late.

Parks and Recreation, Season 4, Episode 20, “The Debate”
Written by Amy Poehler
Directed by Amy Poehler
Airs Thursdays at 9:30pm ET on NBC

“The Debate” marks Amy Poehler’s first time in the director’s chair on Parks and Recreation and it’s a remarkably assured debut. The first episode since “Dave Returns” that’s really felt like classic Parks and Rec, it’s quite possibly the strongest of the season. One of the things that has always set Parks aside from other sitcoms is its deep humanism and the way it manages to be heartwarming without resorting to sentimentalization. Never has that been expressed more overtly than in Leslie’s Capraesque closing argument in tonight’s debate, a speech so rousing it earns her opponent’s endorsement.

The debate itself is pitch perfect. Leslie and Bobby Newport are accompanied by Pawnee’s favorite porn star Brandi Maxx, an animal enthusiast, and a gun nut played by Friday Night Lights’ Brad Leland. The other candidates serve to provide variety and Leland in particular is a stand out (did anyone else have a brief “Buddy Garrity!” moment?). It’s an expertly written scene with precise comedic timing and a dramatic arc that goes a long way towards selling the final speech, and the rapid-fire montage near the end of the second act is brilliantly edited.

What really sets “The Debate” apart though is the strength of its subplots. Chris is a natural in the role of Leslie’s spin doctor and it’s such a no-brainer you wonder why it took them twenty episodes to resort to it. Tom childishly taking out his anger on him along with his refusal to let his guard down with Ann both felt very in character. Ron and April are both fantastic at the fundraiser (Ron’s introduction is a highlight) but it’s Andy’s decision to act out movies when it turns out they hadn’t paid the cable bill that really brings the laughs and balances the drama of the debate,  none better than his description of Rambo: “Short version, they go upriver, things do not go well.”

Justin Wier

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