Thursday Comedy Roundup: Community 3.20-22 & 30 Rock 6.22

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Community, Season 3, Episode 20, “Digital Estate Planning”
Written by Matt Warburton
Directed by Adam Davidson
Airs Thursdays at 8pm ET on NBC

“Digital Estate Planning” functions as something of a breather from the four-part “Evil Chang” plotline that closes out the season. At the same time it serves to bring closure to Pierce’s arc, dealing with the aftermath of his father’s death in “Advanced Gay.” Giancarlo Esposito is clever casting as Pierce’s half-brother Gilbert, and his legacy as Gus Fring lends weight to his machinations in the first two-thirds of the episode. A legacy the show’s writers are clearly aware of given how frequently his avatar adjusts his glasses.

The video game conceit may seem gratuitous at first but the quest it sends the group on gives them a reason to work together and show Pierce the true meaning of friendship. It’s likely this display of selflessness that leads him to make the sacrifice he does in the third act, leaving his father’s inheritance to his neglected half-brother. The empathy the show expresses towards Gilbert when he realizes just how little his father cares for him is a nice touch as well.  It provides the character and the episode with more depth than if it had chosen to make Gilbert nothing more than a nemesis for Pierce to play off.

The video game environment is also responsible for much of the episode’s humor. Is there another context in which Shirley and Annie would be hiding bodies and disposing of witnesses? The ways Pierce’s dad’s xenophobia seeped through into the game design are amusing and there are subtler more video-game specific touches like Pierce stuck running into the corner and Troy’s ADHD jumping around while everyone else is talking. “Digital Estate Planning” is right up there with “Basic Lupine Urology” in terms of the season’s best parody episodes. The emotional weight it carries might even put it ahead.

30 Rock, Season 6, Episode 22, “What Will Happen to the Gang Next Year?”
Written by Matt Hubbard
Directed by Michael Engler
Airs Thursdays at 8:30pm ET on NBC

All things considered “What Will Happen to the Gang Next Year?” is a pretty satisfying finale for 30 Rock’s sixth season. The fact that they chose to close the season out with a wedding episode aired during sweeps is indicative of the lack of imagination the show has displayed this year, but both Jack and Liz are given satisfying storylines.

The stress Avery’s absence put on her relationship with Jack comes to a head in this episode and ultimately results in the dissolution of their marriage. Meanwhile Liz digs deep, examining her character and deciding she wants to raise a child (not a plant) with Criss. In a typically 30 Rock twist she comes to this realization via a plant-raising montage set to the tune of a faux-Randy Newman song and uses the fact that she’s still watching Smash as proof of her capacity for commitment.

This all leaves things open for Jack and Diana to develop a relationship next year, and it seems likely Season 7 will focus on Liz entering the world of parenthood (not the show, I don’t think NBC is that desperate for ratings just yet.) The rest of the characters are given rather insubstantial plotlines but Cornel West’s guest turn is pretty inspired and Tracy constantly referring to him as “Questlove” is a lot of fun. The promise of Tracy creating a Tyler Perry-esque empire in Season 7 is the first truly exciting bit of news regarding 30 Rock’s future.

Community, Season 3, Episodes 21 & 22, “The First Chang Dynasty” & “Introduction to Finality”
“Dynasty” Written by Matt Fusfeld & Alex Cuthbertson and Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar
“Finality” Written by Steve Basilone & Annie Mebane and Directed by Tristram Shapeero
Airs Thursdays at 8:00pm ET on NBC

“The First Chang Dynasty” is a pretty clever parody of heist films, bearing particular resemblance to Ocean’s 11. It becomes clear where the episode is headed when the guy from the Air Conditioning Repair School explains Chang’s security detail to Troy. It’s a scene present in nearly every heist film and it highlights their similarity to magic tricks. Telling the audience how impossible what they’re about to do is and then pulling it off before their very eyes.

Another genre trope Community pulls off with aplomb is the third act twist; here, it appears things are going wrong only to reveal a part of the plan we, the audience, weren’t privy to. Perhaps it works so well here because Community is a comedy and we’re naturally expecting things to humorously fall apart, as they eventually do. The group’s disguises are a lot of fun, nothing tops Jeff and Britta’s Criss Angel-esque magicians for absurdity but it’s only natural that Troy and Abed’s plumbers would be vaguely Italian and mustachioed.

Troy’s third act sacrifice as he enrolls in the Air Conditioning Repair School packs a surprising emotional punch, Donald Glover turning in some of his best work in what’s been a strong season for him. It serves as a nice transition to an emotionally fraught season finale that feels more like a series finale. Surely when the episode was written with the show on hiatus the possibility of it being the final episode (and it still may be Dan Harmon’s final episode as showrunner) was a legitimate concern. It’s pretty apparent they went out of their way to cover all the bases.

“Introduction to Finality” provides the payoff to several plot threads the show has been developing all season-long. There’s Pierce and Shirley’s sandwich shop providing the backbone of the episode, but it also features the dreamtorium, the “dark timeline” from “Remedial Chaos Theory,” Dean Laybourne’s relationship with Troy, and the increasing focus on Britta’s incipient career as a therapist. The courtroom finale also harkens back to “Basic Lupine Urology” (as does Troy’s involvement in a murder mystery) and there are nods to previous seasons with Chang living in the vents at City College and Rob Corrdry making another appearance as Jeff’s legal nemesis.

Jeff’s third act speech (the apotheosis of all Jeff speeches), expertly interwoven with Troy’s triumph over the new Vice Dean, is a bold affirmation of the show’s themes. The idea that the only way we can make the world a better place is to “stop thinking about what’s good for you and start thinking about what’s good for someone else.” It’s why the show is called Community, the very embodiment of the idea that we are stronger together than we are alone. What goes even further towards making this feel like a series and not season finale is the closing montage set to the opening theme song (The Wire, anyone?). It’s appropriately wistful and seems to signal the dawn of a hopeful new era for these characters, the struggles of this season firmly in their past.

For a season that sometimes felt unsure of where it wanted to go the way everything comes together in these final three episodes made for a wonderful 90 minutes of television. The show has been firing on all cylinders during the last third of the season, beginning with the blanket fort two-parter, and it doesn’t seem impossible that season three will prove to be the show’s strongest on rewatch. Despite the fact that Community has been given a fourth season; the 13 episode order, 8:00 on Friday placement and NBC’s apparent desire to oust Dan Harmon as showrunner place its future very much in doubt. If a Harmonless season four proves to be a flop “Introduction to Finality” will serve as a suitable sendoff, and an example of Community at its very peak.

Justin Wier

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