Thursday Comedy Roundup: 30 Rock 7.03 & Parks and Rec 5.04

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30 Rock, Season 7, Episode 3, “Stride of Pride”
Written by Tina Fey
Directed by Michael Engler
Airs Thursdays at 8pm (ET) on NBC

30 Rock continues its remarkably strong final season by addressing the fallacious “women aren’t funny” argument. The episode itself, written by Tina Fey, disproves this myth, but as Liz and the hysterical song that backs the climactic montage so succinctly state, it’s an argument that isn’t even worthy of address (although they hedge on this during the tag at the end). Shows like 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation stand as proof-positive that women are every bit as funny as men even if the debate hadn’t already been settled by a long legacy of hilarious women stretching from Irene Dunne to Kelly Oxford. Yet it still seems to surface quite frequently, most recently espoused by Adam Carolla. Fey heightens the ridiculousness of the argument by putting it in the mouth of the show’s most absurd character, Tracy Jordan.

As amusing as that plot is, this is a remarkably well written episode. Jenna’s attempt to avoid the “curse of the middle-aged actress” touches on the theme of the difficulties women face in show business, but it also serves as a counterpoint to the Jack story, with his fears of being viewed as old contrasting with her embrasure of it. When they meet in Jack’s office and have a tête-à-tête, it almost feels as if their characters have switched places and it is almost more effective for that as we’re given a Jenna that matures and Jack’s anxiety ties into what promises to be a season-long arc focusing on him trying to reach the place he wants to be before it’s too late.

If anything feels out of place this episode it may be Liz’s desire to share her newfound enjoyment of non-missionary sex with her friends à la Sex and the City. With Liz already deeply entrenched in the “women aren’t funny” story it almost seems as if her character is being pulled in two different directions. However, the ending completely redeems it, a Carrie Bradshaw-esque summation amusingly housed within an email to Zappo’s customer service team, and in an episode featuring “Pizzarina Sbarro, heiress to the Sbarro slice and calzone fortune”, that is hardly the most amusing form of product placement. There’s also a wonderfully inside baseball (literally) reference to Ken Tremendous.

Parks and Recreation, Season 5, Episode 4, “Sex Education”
Written by Alan Yang
Directed by Craig Zisk
Airs Thursdays at 9:30pm ET on NBC

“Sex Education” does many of the things that have made Parks and Rec the fantastic show it is. It addresses a relevant topic in a hilarious yet thoughtful way with a heavy focus on the relationship between Leslie and Ann—the backbone of the show. Unfortunately, there are quite a few missteps along the way. Addressing abstinence-only sex education through the lens of nursing homes is an amusingly novel spin on the subject and Marcia Langman is the perfect foil to Leslie and Ann’s attempt to widen the focus of sex-education in Pawnee. Regrettably, her husband Marshall tags along with her and his first appearance on the show is an unwelcome one.  His flamboyant nature seems like an attempt to point out the hypocrisy of many Christian conservatives, but it’s so broad it feels like easy pickings.

Ann’s cowgirl affectations are also a bit forced. The idea that she identifies herself by her boyfriends doesn’t quite ring true with what we know about Ann as a character. She’s always longed to have a relationship, but she has always maintained her own unique personality. Andy and Chris didn’t turn her into a slob or fitness guru, so it diminishes her character to suggest this new guy would trigger such a drastic change in her style. The only plausible explanation is that she’s just become desperate, yet the joke isn’t really funny and that point doesn’t come across, so why go down that road?

Tom’s technology addiction is less thought provoking but probably a bit more successful. Getting Tom and Ron together doing manly things is a recipe for comedic success, and it ends rather poignantly, uncovering the emptiness at the core of Tom’s quest for escape.  The other problem with this episode, and it’s telling that I didn’t think to mention it until now, is that Ben and April feel detached from the rest of the action. Whenever they aren’t attempting to connect with Andy and Leslie their distance from Pawnee (the show’s focus) feels  pronounced. This is a problem no matter how funny the robotic politician is.

Justin Wier

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