Thursday Comedy Roundup: 30 Rock 7.01, Parks & Rec 5.03

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30 Rock, Season 7, Episode 1: “The Beginning of the End”
Written by Jack Burditt
Directed by Don Scardino
Airs Thursday at 8pm ET on NBC

As much as I love 30 Rock, it would be difficult to argue the last few seasons haven’t been a bit rough. The slide began around the end of Season 3, with Season 5 serving as something of an oasis while Season 6 represented the show’s absolute nadir. When word came down that its seventh season would be its last, it was difficult to feel much disappointment. The show hadn’t been cancelled outright, affording Tina Fey and Robert Carlock the opportunity to bid an appropriate adieu to these characters. Nobody could argue they hadn’t got their due, or that it wasn’t time.

Or could they? Despite planting seeds for the finale, “The Beginning of the End” feels like anything but: the jokes are coming at a breakneck pace, the irreverence for NBC is ubiquitous, and everything feels relatively fresh. In short, it feels like vintage 30 Rock. Even aspects of the show that were misfiring last season are working here. Kristen Schaal’s Hazel Wassername was one of the more dubious additions in Season 6, but she gets one of tonight’s best jokes in “Look at slavery; that was bananas!” Having Kenneth court her (and Kenneth does not date, he most definitely courts) solves Season 6’s Kenneth problem and leaves open avenues to new aspects of a character that was becoming painfully one note.

In the A-plot, Liz and Jack are teaming up to tank NBC in what it seems will be a season long arc. Hank Hooper is looking to retire and Jack wants to devalue NBC’s stock so it can be bought out by Adolph Paas (not an actual person, but in the show we’re supposed to believe he is the Easter egg magnate, something that leads to several fantastic jokes). Jenna and Will’s wedding and Liz and Criss’s attempts to conceive also seem like they will continue throughout the season, lending the show a sense of forward momentum that feels novel at this stage of the game. We can only hope it will be able to maintain this over the next twelve episodes.

Parks and Recreation, Season 5, Episode 3: “How a Bill Becomes a Law”
Written by Dan Goor
Directed by Ken Whittingham
Airs Thursdays at 9:30pm ET on NBC

Much like The Simpsons, one of the things Parks and Recreation excels at is populating its world with memorable ancillary characters: Joan Callamezzo, Perd Hapley, Marcia Langman, Orin, Kyle, Sewage Joe. Leslie’s position on the Pawnee City Council presents the writers with an opportunity to introduce a few more characters into the show’s universe and tonight that opportunity is exploited by way of Councilmen Jamm and Milton—the latter is a racist former-Dixiecrat who idolizes Strom Thurmond while the former is a local dentist who seems oddly preoccupied with his bodily functions.

Leslie quickly becomes frustrated trying to obtain votes from these men in order to pass a bill she has sponsored supporting a local swim team. At one point, finding herself at the end of her rope, she lets out the all-too-truthful exclamation that, “This is why people hate the government. Just when we’re about to do something really good, it all falls apart due to some stupid, selfish jerkbutt.” It’s another episode focusing on the trials and tribulations Leslie faces as she makes the transition from civil servant to politician.

Meanwhile, Ben and April go on the world’s least exciting road-trip while Chris’s idea (inspired by his psychologist) to institute a 311 line for all government related problems in Pawnee sends Ron and Andy on a quest to fix a pothole, gives Donna time to read 50 Shades of Grey, and, in a hilarious mix-up, leaves Jerry fielding 911 calls that are supremely out of his depth. This leads to Ron dressing up like a princess and meeting what seems to be a worthy love-interest in Dianne, even if she doesn’t bear the name of his mother. It’s a solid episode of Parks, if not quite as superlative an effort as last week’s.

Justin Wier

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