Thursday Comedy Roundup: ‘Community’ Returns, ‘Parks & Rec’ 5.12, & ‘Archer 4.04

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Community, Season 4, Episode 1: “History 101”
Written by Andy Bobrow
Directed by Tristram Shapeero
Airs Thursdays at 8pm ET on NBC

Early on in “History 101,” it becomes readily apparent that Community is no longer the show Dan Harmon oversaw for three years. If we’re going to appreciate this new version of Community, we’re going to have to appreciate it on its own terms. And while a single episode is almost certainly too small a sample size to make sweeping generalizations about the season to come, it appears to be a much simpler and traditional sitcom, one that perversely seems to justify many of the criticisms unfairly leveled at the first three seasons of the show—that Community is a show trading in empty pop-culture references devoid of any recognizable human emotion.

This is apparent in the Hunger Games parody (which, thankfully, is not as prominent a plotline as the promotional material would lead one to believe) that only kinda-sorta works because it originates from the mind of Dean Pelton. Previous pop culture references on the show have served to elucidate its characters, most notably in the My Dinner with Andre episode, and while “History 101” attempts to do that with AbedTV, it ends up playing as an inferior cover of “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” (although it does introduce the intriguing idea of having Fred Willard replace Chevy Chase as Pierce).

Furthermore, the characters seem reduced to one amplified dimension. Most regrettably, Annie seems defined by her devotion to Jeff, which was dealt with last season in the dreamatorium. Britta is slightly manic and her attempts to “therapize” her friends feel slightly off, more reckless than well-intentioned, as she utters phrases like “What’s the deal, Jessica Biel?” and “I got skills, I got skeeeels!” Part of this could be due to the rapid-fire overstuffed plotting of the episode, but the end result is not unlike a version of Community populated by a cast of Changs.

It’s a bit too early to declare David Guarascio and Moses Port’s Community an out and out failure. They’ve stepped into an extremely complicated world, and it’s understandable that it could take them a while to find their footing.  However, if “History 101” is any indication the show seems destined to become an empty conglomeration of pop-culture references, one-dimensional characters and meta-fictive gags devoid of the subtext and humanism that made the show so remarkable in the first place.

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Parks and Recreation, Season 5, Episode 12: “Ann’s Decision”
Written by Nate DiMeo
Directed by Ken Whittingham
Airs Thursdays at 8:30pm ET on NBC

Fortunately the TV Gods saw fit to bestow upon us a fantastic episode of Parks and Recreation, a reassuring sign that some things don’t change. “Ann’s Decision” is notable for just that, Ann made a decision that has granted her character with purpose. Season five of Parks and Rec hasn’t been completely smooth sailing, and part of that has been a feeling of aimlessness on Ann’s part as she constitutes half of the show’s defining relationship. While a desire to have a child isn’t the most original idea for a female character, it’s handled rather deftly here, and, given the show’s approach to feminist issues in the past, there’s no reason to suspect it won’t continue to be in the future.

Notable in that respect is April’s arc this season. With each episode she seems to gain more self-confidence, moving from the disaffected youth we met in season one to someone willing to take initiative and accomplish things on her own. That she has remained undeniably April in the midst of this journey of self-actualization is a testament to the show’s writing, and if part of April’s transition involves dealing with writer Harris Wittels’ caricatured version of himself proposing topless parks, all the better.

The main source of comic relief this week stems from Ben recruiting Ron, Tom, and Chris to help him find a caterer for the wedding. Ron’s “you accidentally gave me the food that my food eats,” and Ben’s definition of a “foodie”—“taking Instagrams of food instead of eating it” are fantastic, and the terrific scene where they all come down with food poisoning is one of the funnier things the show has done this year. If a little of Crazy Ira & the Douche goes a long way, the attempt to humanize The Douche (he even gets a name, Howard Tuttleman) is just another nice touch in an effortless episode that serves as an unassuming encapsulation of what Parks and Recreation can be.

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Archer, Season 4, Episode 4: “Midnight Ron”
Written by Adam Reed & Tesha Kondrat
Airs Thursdays at 10pm ET on FX

This week’s installment of Archer confirms that there is indeed something going on with Ron Cadillac this season, and we’re just starting to get into it. In the midst of this week’s bonding session between Archer and Ron we learn that he has a criminal past that makes him the antithesis of the boring man Mallory has envisioned him as. That she is unaware of this past, and is certain to become aware of it over the course of the season (she runs a spy agency) is likely to be the source of a lot of tension going forward.

Stepping back from the macro and looking at the micro, the bonding session is pretty entertaining. It’s not top tier Archer like last week’s “Legs.” It really isn’t doing anything Archer hasn’t done before, and perhaps that’s why the long-term implications seem more engaging than the immediate ones. Sure, the crazy fetish barn they get swept away to is outrageous, but it plays mostly as a punch line, without any intent of developing real insight into the characters or situations.

That is, it plays much like the fourth episode in a serialized season of television. A competent episode that is concerned mostly with deepening relationships and setting up pins it will knock down further on down the line. Adam Reed has declared intentions to serialize season four of Archer, and if the result is slightly underwhelming episodes like “Midnight Ron” they were going to happen anyway. If it leads to more rewarding payoffs when the end of the season rolls around, that’s just a bonus.

Justin Wier


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