Thursday Comedy Roundup: Community 3.19, 30 Rock 6.21, Parks and Rec 4.22

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Community, Season 3, Episode 19, “Curriculum Unavailable”
Written by Adam Countee
Directed by Adam Davidson
Airs Thursdays at 8pm ET on NBC

“Curriculum Unavailable” draws pretty heavily on last year’s “Paradigms of Human Memory” in that it functions as a clip-show of sorts, consisting of all-new material. With John Hodgman’s inspired guest turn as a faux-psychiatrist, it initially appears the show is going to seriously address Abed’s dysfunction (or at least more seriously than they did in “Virtual Systems Analysis.”) The final third of this season has been quite dark by Community standards but apparently Dan Harmon isn’t willing to go that dark as it quickly becomes clear that Abed is the one that knows what’s going on.

The show nicely utilizes the flashback structure. Instead of the rapid-fire barrage of jokes in “Paradigms” it’s used to tease out revelations in the characters until they catch up to the audience and realize that yes, the dean has been replaced. Among other things we’re treated to a brief glimpse at what a black and white noir-styled paintball episode would look like. As much as this show likes revisiting concepts to diminishing returns (case in point, last year’s paintball two-parter), this could’ve been a worthy round three. Other highlights involve Abed’s narration as Pierce eats a sandwich and Greendale’s “Can I Fry That?” course.

The third act, in which Psychiatrist John Hodgman (as we shall call him) attempts to convince the group their years at Greendale were actually shared delusions in an insane asylum, was wonderfully bizarre. Several past episodes are referenced, none better than a deep-voiced Garret saying to another asylum staffer “I want to see what happens if we confiscate one of their pens.” Overall it’s a hilarious episode with a fair amount of depth, a nice bounce back from last week’s episode and one that sets things up nicely for next week’s triple-header season finale.

30 Rock, Season 6, Episode 21, “The Return of Avery Jessup”
Written by Josh Siegal & Dylan Morgan
Directed by John Riggi
Airs Thursdays at 8:30pm ET on NBC

For an episode that pays off a subplot that’s been in development for over a year “The Return of Avery Jessup” is a surprisingly forgettable episode of television. That isn’t to suggest it’s bad, in fact it’s enjoyable, but it’s all very surface-level. Jokes that disappear from your memory as soon as you’ve finished laughing at them and plots that leave nothing behind to mull over in their wake. It’s perhaps an unfair criticism to level at 30 Rock, a show that has never been overly concerned with much beyond the surface, but it seems more shallow than usual lately.

To address the content of the episode, Avery’s titular return is pretty low-key and the ensuing mind-games she engages in with Jack are perhaps a bit too familiar. The Liz plot is more promising, struggling with the woman in a relationship functioning as the primary breadwinner is a very modern anxiety. Yet it really shouldn’t be (at least no more so than the man in a relationship earning the majority of the income) and the show seems to realize this as Liz quickly comes to accept that it isn’t a big deal and Criss vows to try a little harder to contribute more.

30 Rock was just renewed for a 13 episode final season which leaves us with just 14 episodes to spend with Liz, Jack and the rest of the gang. As much as it feels like it’s a show that’s run its course and as easy as it is to wish NBC had devoted that time in their schedule to Community, it’s nice to think that Tina Fey will get to end what has been one of the more influential comedies of the last ten years or so just the way she wants to.

Parks and Recreation, Season 4, Episode 22, “Win, Lose, or Draw”
Written by Michael Schur
Directed by Michael Schur
Airs Thursdays at 9:30pm ET on NBC

Parks and Recreation is still a network sitcom right? There are moments in “Win, Lose, or Draw” that feel much closer to another underappreciated NBC show, Friday Night Lights (despite the absence of Brad Leland). Written and directed by showrunner Michael Schur and bringing Leslie’s campaign for city council to an end, it’s an episode that plays heavy on the emotions. Emphasizing genuine feeling without veering into the sentimental is something both shows excel at but never before has Parks pulled it off with as much gravity(it being a comedy) as FNL was capable of in its prime.

Let’s start with the headline on the cover of tomorrow’s Pawnee Journal: “Leslie Wins!” It’s a surprising turn, if only because one wouldn’t expect a show entitled Parks and Recreation to remove its main character from the Parks and Recreation department. The capacity for change is promising, hopefully a safeguard that will keep the show from following 30 Rock’s trajectory. There are a lot of opportunities left open for the future; Leslie’s term on the city council obviously, but Ben has been offered a career in campaign management and Ron’s refusal of the assistant city manager position could shake things up or bring in a new cast member (the internet seems hopeful that it will mark the return of Mark Brendanowicz.)

Parks has just been picked up for a 22 episode fifth season. Despite the strain the campaign has put on season four (and it wouldn’t be surprising to find it plays better on DVD than it did week to week) it still remains the most consistent sitcom on network TV, and following the last three episodes it’s hard not to be optimistic about next year. The full season order implies NBC has more confidence in the show than Community, which is reassuring going forward. Unfortunately we’ll have to wait until fall to witness the next chapter in the life of Leslie Knope.

Justin Wier

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