I’ve never really thought too much about the flow of NBCs Thursday night comedies and why which shows run in which order. From a scheduling standpoint, NBC wants to put its established heavy hitters (The Office and 30 Rock) in the 9 p.m. slot, and the relative newbies (Community and Parks and Recreation) warm up for them at 8.
But it occurs to me that those pairings make thematic sense too. The Office and 30 Rock are both comedies about the private sector (a paper business and a TV network), one told in a semi-realistic docudrama manner and one in a more gag-heavy, rapid-fire-joke style. Reverse the order, and the same is true of Community and Parks—except that they’re about how two civic institutions (community college and government) bring unlike people together.
Community continues to get better and better, and last night’s episode, “Physical Education,” was one of its best for reasons that go beyone Joel McHale getting naked. (I swear.) Like 30 Rock, at its best the show is a firehose of jokes, and so it’s hard to review it without resorting to “Remember that line? And that one?” But it also has a sweetness the acerbic 30 Rock doesn’t always, and the Abed-centric episode was a good example.
In a way, the episode flipped up the usual format, in which Abed makes pop culture references while the other, more extroverted characters pursue their stories. Here, it was Abed with the A plot—pursuing the girlfriend of White Abed—while his study-group pals put his quest in TV-and-movie context (with the brilliant twist of providing black-movie equivalent translations). Community has become great at making moments, like the Abed-and-Troy scenes (above), which are bite-sized masterpieces.
The “Woman of the Year” episode of Parks, meanwhile, showed something of how the show has deepened and become richer over the year. You could have played this episode two ways: either by having Ron let us in on his prank on Leslie (as he did), or by having us find out when Leslie did. In the first season, last spring, I suspect the show might have tried the latter route: Ron was still established as kind of a jerk, and the show’s sense of humor was generally a little cringe-centric.
Now that we know Ron better, and now that we see how well his and Leslie’s relationship functions despite their differences, it would have seemed jarring to see Ron taunting Leslie with Working Woman Barbie (“I’m going to go help my boss!”) without knowing that he really knew she deserved the award. As it was, their unlikely team-up against the women’s award committee made perfect sense, even if they had entirely different motivations. Meanwhile the show did an excellent job of making use of pretty much every supporting player (long live Tackle Shaft!), except Rashida Jones, who had the week off.
Incidentally, if you haven’t seen the news yet, Adam Scott will be joining Parks later this season and will become a regular next year. A good get for the show, but a shame for Party Down; it looks like Starz has managed to screw over its one good series (sorry, Spartacus) by being noncommittal, so I can’t blame Scott for taking the offer.