Thursday Comedy Roundup: Community 3.18, 30 Rock 6.20, Parks and Rec 4.21

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Community, Season 3, Episode 18, “Course Listing Unavailable”
Written by Tim Saccardo
Directed by Tristram Shapeero
Airs Thursdays at 8pm ET on NBC

In stark contrast to recent episodes of Community “Course Listing Unavailable” seems to sacrifice previous character development in service of plot. Despite Chang actually being given something worthwhile to do, people like Annie (despite Alison Brie turning in another in a string of remarkable performances) and Britta are behaving uncharacteristically in order to move the plot along and deliver laughs. Annie’s unmotivated turn on Greendale is the same thing that hamstrung season 2’s otherwise brilliant “Basic Rocket Science.” It feels ill-developed and at odds with her oft-avowed love of the school, but there is more at work here.

Let’s start with what works; the groups reaction to Starburns’ death is really genuine. Most people can relate to feeling a certain amount of guilt when an acquaintance that you weren’t necessarily close with passes. The feeling that perhaps you should be more devastated than you are. The group expresses a wide range of reactions from Britta’s blowing it out of proportion so everyone can appreciate what a sensitive person she is to Jeff’s complete indifference, and Troy’s abject terror at confronting his own mortality takes things in a different direction.

It’s when the writers are clearly manipulating the group so they can serve as the Dean’s impetus for granting Chang carte-blanche that the seams start to show and the subsequent scene at Troy and Abed’s apartment feels noticeably off. The “Remedial Chaos Theory” callback feels forced and the groups acceptance of everything coming along a bit too quickly to ring true. Still, the groups expulsion and Chang’s machinations are pretty intriguing and it’s an undeniably funny episode, it’s just not quite up to the standards Community has asked to be held to.

30 Rock, Season 6, Episode 20, “Queen of Jordan II: Mystery of the Phantom Pooper”
Written by Luke Del Tredici & Tracey Wigfield
Directed by Ken Whittingham
Airs Thursdays at 8:30pm ET on NBC

Tonight’s 30 Rock returns to the faux-reality show framework of last year’s “Queen of Jordan” to equally mixed results. Sure, the self-aware jokes about the scripted nature of reality television and the constant continuity errors are funny (a children’s book turning into a stuffed giraffe was particularly inspired), but it’s nothing that we didn’t see last year. It’s hard to imagine the response to last year’s episode was ecstatic enough to inspire a sequel, but perhaps it was and it is sweeps, which requires pulling out whatever stops you have available. Especially when you’re a show teetering uncomfortably on the line between cancellation and renweal.

Where the documentary conceit pays off is in the coverage of Avery’s return. The camera crew’s presence prevents Jack and Diana from being honest with one another and requires they concoct elaborate cover stories when they accidentally let something slip. The Jack and Diana not-quite-relationship is already somewhat tiresome but this is actually a pretty unique way of generating tension. It also provides the episode with its third act as they scramble to open a restaurant in a day.

Aside from that there’s nothing terribly groundbreaking going on here. Liz’s feud with an infant is pretty funny and despite how outlandish Queen of Jordan is the “reality” aspect serves to ground what is a pretty ridiculous subplot, even for 30 Rock. Jenna is trying to hog the spotlight once again and Tracy is providing Angie with an anniversary present by ignoring her anniversary and boosting her show’s ratings. Oh, and Grizz offhandedly spoils the first season of Game of Thrones for seemingly no reason (which is exactly why it’s funny), so watch out for that.

Parks and Recreation, Season 4, Episode 21, “Bus Tour”
Written by Aisha Muharrar & Alan Yang
Directed by Dean Holland
Airs Thursdays at 9:30pm ET on NBC

It’s hard not to wonder if Leslie’s campaign would have played better if it had been introduced midseason. The consensus is that season four of Parks has been weaker than the previous two and a big part of that has been trying to reconcile everything with the fact that Leslie is running for office. The amount of stories you can tell surrounding a campaign are pretty limited and around the three-quarter mark it was starting to feel a bit tired. However, with the end in sight over the last two weeks everything is starting to snap into focus and really pay off.

“The Debate” and “Bus Tour” feel like parts of a whole, leading into next week’s season finale. When you look at what’s working here as opposed to earlier episodes in the season a key difference is the presence of Paul Rudd. Giving Leslie an actual opponent to campaign against and one Poehler shares such great chemistry with is an undeniable boost to the show. Assuming they could only get Rudd for four episodes it might have been better to spread them out a bit more. It will be interesting to see if the season fares better on DVD, with more focus placed on the campaign and less on the strength of individual episodes.

This week features another strong Andy subplot as Bert Macklin investigates an attempted pie-ing of Leslie. Naturally the assailant misses Leslie and Gerry takes the brunt of the attack. The subsequent scene in which Andy slowly presses the pie into Gerry’s face to determine the angle it came from is one of the more humiliating things they’ve put him through. The look of resigned desperation on Jim O’Heir’s face is emmy-worthy. It’s been a strong two weeks for Parks and next week’s election is looking pretty promising.

Justin Wier

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