Thursday Comedy Roundup: 30 Rock 7.06 & Parks and Rec 5.07

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30 Rock, Season 7, Episode 6, “Aunt Phatso vs. Jack Donaghy”
Written by Luke Del Tredici
Directed by Don Scardino
Airs Thursdays at 8pm ET on NBC

“Aunt Phatso vs. Jack Donaghy” returns to seeds planted earlier in the seventh season of 30 Rock, notably Kenneth’s relationship with Hazel Wassername and Tracy’s desire to be a Tyler Perry-esque mogul of African American cinema. The titular Aunt Phatso, a clear riff on Perry’s Madea, realizes the latter. The half-assed production starring, written and directed by Tracy over a weekend grossed “$50,000,000… in Atlanta!” and is an amusingly 30 Rock take on Tyler Perry’s infantile, low-budget blockbusters. That Jack Donaghy is the villain is only icing on the cake.

Kenneth’s relationship is addressed via Hazel’s slavish devotion to Liz, who is trying to balance her obsessive need to monitor every aspect of TGS’s production with the recovery time necessary for her foot surgery. Seen as a metaphor for balancing work with the responsibilities necessary to be an effective mother, it presents Hazel with another opportunity to attempt to connive her way onto the show. Her machinations result in finally alienating everyone but Kenneth and driving a wedge between him and the crew.

If this episode doesn’t seem as high stakes as earlier episodes this season, that’s because it isn’t, even if one of the best gags features Liz crawling across the office floor to Maurice Jarre’s soaring Lawrence of Arabia theme. However, it is a satisfying (and funny) episode providing character development that would seem to suggest a definitive endpoint for the show. Especially in regards to Liz, who it seems is going to have to make a choice between the show she has dedicated her life to, and the child she desperately desires.

Parks and Recreation, Season 5, Episode 7, “Leslie vs. April”
Written by Harris Wittels
Directed by Wendey Stanzler
Airs Thursdays at 9:30pm ET on NBC

“Leslie vs. April” opens with the much-ballyhooed appearance of our Vice President, and Leslie’s eternal crush, Joe Biden. It’s an endearing scene, with Mr. Biden as confused by Leslie’s adolescent fawning as Ben is uncomfortable with it. Unfortunately, it’s a scene that was clearly shot while they were on location in DC for “Ms. Knope Goes to Washington” and one that is better suited to that episode as it, and Ben and Leslie’s spur-of-the-moment trip to our nation’s capital, bear no relation to the rest of “Leslie vs. April.”

Thankfully, the dissonance is easy to overlook as it is a strong scene leading into a strong episode. It focuses on newfound growth and maturity for April, Tom, Ben, and, to a lesser extent, Andy. Leslie’s glee at April’s taking initiative and proposing a project for the Parks department extends only until April’s project impinges upon her plans for Lot 48, creating a schism between the two. It’s interesting viewing this April, who is willing to challenge Leslie for something she believes in, in juxtaposition with the apathetic intern of earlier seasons. That the progression feels completely natural, and her passion for dog parks can be traced back to her love for champion, is an indication of the show’s strong writing. The conflict is punctuated by a visit to a performance art project Orin is involved in titled Human Farm (exactly what it sounds like) and encounters with Jon Glaser’s gleeful Councilman Jamm, who ultimately unites Leslie and April in a fight against the intrusion of private enterprise into public land.

Meanwhile, Tom, Ben, and Andy face their own predicaments: Tom struggles to get Rent-a-Swag off the ground, Ben tries to decide whether to take a risk or settle into a comfortable job, and Andy comes face to face with the mundane nature of everyday police work. These resonate thematically with April’s storyline as everyone, even Leslie, is forced to contend with the difficulties that arise as a result of personal growth, making this very funny episode one of the strongest of Parks’ still-young fifth season.

Justin Wier

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