Thursday Comedy Roundup: ‘Community’ 4.03, ‘Parks and Rec’ 4.14 & 4.15, & ‘Archer’ 4.06

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Community, Season 4, Episode 3: “Conventions of Space and Time”
Written by Maggie BandurAlison
Directed by Michael Patrick Jann
Airs Thursdays at 8pm ET on NBC

Over the last few weeks, the new Community has been garnering a lot of comparisons to CBS’s The Big Bang Theory, and until tonight they had seemed hyperbolic. It’s very easy to imagine the script of “Conventions of Space and Time” repurposed as an episode of The Big Bang Theory. That’s something that could never be said, even at its most inconsistent, of Dan Harmon’s show. The episode is written and directed by newcomers which is telling, but the most bothersome aspect is the lengths to which it goes in an attempt to appease Harmon’s fans

We’re three episodes into season four and we’ve yet to see a single scene of the group sitting around the table in the study room. There has yet to be a traditional classroom scene. Sure, the bizarre high concept episodes garnered the most press, but they were always grounded in more traditional episodes establishing that yes, these characters go to a community college. Yes, these characters are in a study group together. This allowed the best of the more fantastical episodes to comment on and further develop themes and character relationships, groundwork that had been laid in more traditional episodes.

After three high-concept, metafictive episodes in a row, that aspect is completely missing from Season Four. Perhaps that’s why the characterizations seem off. Just look at Annie, who has been reduced to little more than her pining for Jeff, an aspect of her character amplified in this episode.  Alison Brie does her absolute best in selling the weak material she’s given, but it’s ultimately beyond her (and frankly anyone else’s) capabilities as an actress. Even more dispiriting is how lifelessly the InSpecTiCon comes across. This is where The Big Bang Theory comparisons ring truest. Nothing ambitious is attempted, as if the idea of Troy and Abed attending an Inspector Spacetime convention is entertaining enough on its own. In previous seasons it may have been, but here it is sorely lacking.

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Parks and Recreation, Season 5, Episodes 14 & 15: “Leslie and Ben” & “Correspondents’ Lunch”
“Leslie and Ben” Written by Michael Schur & Alan Yang and Directed by Craig Zisk
“Correspondents’ Lunch” Written by Alexandra Rushfield and Directed by Nick Offerman
Airs Thursdays at 8:30pm ET on NBC

One of the things Parks and Recreation does better than any other sitcom is sentiment. It is apparent not only in banner episodes like “Win, Lose & Draw,” “Lil’ Sebastian,” and “Andy and April’s Fancy Party,” but also in subtler moments experienced week in and week out. One could make a pretty convincing argument that this ability is the sole quality that separates Michael Schur from other showrunners. There is a distinctive quality to his brand of sentiment that is completely original and unique to Parks.

It’s all over “Leslie and Ben,” an episode the show has been building to for three seasons and one that completely fulfills those expectations. The Michael Schur touch can be seen in Nick Offerman’s eyes as Leslie asks him to walk her down the aisle, in the dress Ann constructs for Leslie, in the joy Andy and April experience when Ethel Beavers reluctantly agrees to be their adopted grandma, as the ghost of Lil’ Sebastian appears to Ben and Leslie in the snow. It is less apparent but still present as Jerry fails to deliver Tom’s jokes and allows him the opportunity to do it himself.

Parks and Recreation - Season 5

These touches, and Councilman Jamm’s general asshattery, take what could be a traditional wedding episode, the most overdone of sitcom tropes, and elevate it to the next level, to something approaching greatness. If it doesn’t quite meet that mark, it is because Jamm’s comeuppance is arrived at a bit too gleefully. Was it deserved given the awfulness of what he did? Absolutely, but Parks is not typically a show that takes so much pleasure in bringing people down. This was made doubly apparent by the fact that the prison scene interrupted the warmth of Leslie and Ben’s Wedding.

“Correspondents’ Lunch” feels like a bit of a step down, but it’s difficult to imagine an episode that could follow the level of emotion present and “Leslie and Ben” and not. It’s an episode that tries to do a lot. The focus is ostensibly the feud between Leslie and the Pawnee Sun, aired at the titular dinner, but it also covers Ann’s desire for Chris to father her child, Andy’s depression following his failure of the Police entry exam, and Ben beginning his position as head of Sweetum’s charity wing, the last two dovetailing nicely into one another.

It’s a strong episode, and it definitely has its moments. If Ann’s desire to have Chris father her child doesn’t quite feel right, April’s advocacy of Andy is always affecting. There is a lot of humor in the correspondents’ dinner and the absurdity of Sweetums’ charity wing, but it’s likely it would have worked better on its own, not paired with the powerhouse “Leslie and Ben.”

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Archer, Season 4, Episode 6: “Once Bitten”
Written by Adam Reed
Airs Thursdays at 10pm ET on FX

“Once Bitten” is, along with “Legs,” one of the stronger episodes of Archer’s fourth season. Where “Legs” dealt with Archer’s fear of robots, “Once Bitten” gets to the heart of his fear of alligators. This is arrived at in a roundabout way in which Archer getting bitten by a cobra in an unfortunate place leads to hallucinations that channel Heaven Can Wait and The Natural narrated by James Mason and leading to Archer discovering his father’s identity only to promptly forget it.

The episode features both Lana and Cyril questioning the ethics of what ISIS is doing. The former leads to a rather incisive evaluation of Lana’s character by Cheryl of all people. The idea of Lana quitting ISIS is intriguing, or at least the idea of a battle between Lana and Malory over the direction ISIS is going. The episode is at its strongest when Cyril, Ray and Archer are bantering in the desert, but it opens up some intriguing possibilities for the series going forward along the way.

Justin Wier

3 Comments
  1. Justine says

    The comparison to Big Bang theory rings truest in the most recent episodes — and the comparison makes the Big Bang Theory come across as far better. Basically at this point, the meta-textual element of Community is totally absurd and no longer holds any of the cleverness it once had. This is only amplified by the disorienting characterization of the characters… who are no longer the same people they once were. Justin uses the example of Annie, but he might as well have chosen Britta (let’s not forget SHE introduced Abed to Inspector Spacetime, and now seems completely baffled by it’s very existence). The episode feel very Big Bang because it resorts to easy sexism and makes fun of nerds and smart people. The episode is hardly a tribute to Doctor Who or fan culture, and actively lampoons it in a lowest common denominator kind of way. It is totally in the spirit of the humour that has made Big Bang Theory a lowest common denominator success. And yet, Big Bang Theory now holds the bar over Community if only because at least the character stereotypes are consistent, which has been the big failing point of the new season as most of the characters don’t really feel like themselves at all.

  2. CrystalFissure says

    Couldn’t disagree more regarding your review of Community. Even at its WORST, Community will never be worse than The Big Bang Theory.

    The comment about how the convention could be taken out of TBBT is wrong. This show is layered; there were so many references that you may have not understood. TBBT does not do that. It’s a simple premise with simple jokes and barely any undertones. The symbolism and references alone made the episode good.

    The whole thing with Dan Harmon being some God is also old, too. Yes, he’s awesome and Community won’t be the same, but who cares. EVERYONE else is still there for the most part; it’s not a one man show. If Mitch Hurwitz was gone from Arrested Development, it would be TERRIBLE since he does most of the shit in the show. Harmon was the showrunner, and a great one at that, but he didn’t do EVERYTHING.

    1. Ricky says

      I actually agree with this review. The new showrunners are trying to be Dan Harmon, and it isn’t working, because they are not him. They need to find their own voice, and I don’t think they have. But yes, Community is better than TBBT.

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