Thursday Night TV Round Up: MAJOR BEEF Edition

by Tony

If you’re a fan of Community you’ve no doubt heard about the MAJOR BEEF that’s rocked the show’s fanbase this week between Chevy Chase and showrunner/genius Dan Harmon. The two have never gotten along, and their feud became uncomfortably public last week. The whole thing is a little complicated and some have tried to frame it as a threat to the show at large, but I’m not going to waste time recapping it here because honestly, the whole thing is not a big deal. Chances of Community’s renewal are actually looking pretty good, with some increased ratings and a new syndication deal from Comedy Central. Also this kind of thing is pretty standard, especially when you’re dealing with someone as notoriously difficult to work with as Chase, and someone as uncomfortably candid as Harmon. And anyway, the whole thing seems to have already blown over, so let’s just enjoy some beefcake and move on.

I’ll confess, as much as I love Community, I rolled my eyes a bit when this episode started. Maybe I’m ungrateful; Community’s high-concept stunt episodes are always well crafted and entertaining. But the argument between Troy and Abed had so much potential for emotional depth that I was worried the characters would be marginalized in favor of a good gag. For the episode’s first act, I thought I might be right: Community decided to tell the story of the war between Troy and Abed’s forts in the style of a PBS documentary.  The episode reproduced the Ken Burns style well, maybe too well, but I felt like the central conflict was getting lost in the archival photographs and voiceover narration (courtesy of The Cape’s Keith David). However, just as things were starting to get a little boring, Community brought it back: Jeff saved the day with a speech again and it was touching, although I hope the show goes back and addresses the problems in Troy and Abed’s friendship, which I think are far from solved (perhaps in the upcoming episode rumored to take place entirely in the Imaginarium).

This episode was definitely funny (I especially liked Abed’s Rambo fixation, everything with the Dean, and Pierce’s glorious/terrifying pillow suit), but I think Community is at its best when it uses the conceptual gags or spot-on parodies to elevate the emotion rather than simply show off its own cleverness (although I appreciate that too).  More “stunt” episodes pull this off than don’t: “Paradigms of Human Memory,” both documentary episodes, “Remedial Chaos Theory,” “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons,” and the last two Christmas episodes especially come to mind. This episode accomplished this in some places, Troy and Abed’s emails were a real kick in the gut, but the big emotional payoff at the end was affecting in a way that didn’t have anything to do with the whole PBS gag.

But again, what I should really keep in mind is that this is a sitcom that probably doesn’t have any business doing as well as it has on NBC, consistently delivering ambitious and clever episodes that also manage to be emotionally resonant. “This sitcom can make me cry!? And is doing a well-crafted and clever rendition of a hyper-specific television style!? SAME AS EVERY WEEK, YAWN!! WAKE ME UP WHEN WHITNEY IS ON!!11!” –Me.

Do you guys think Tina Fey reads this blog? Ever since I said 30 Rock no longer had to convince me that it was worth sticking around a couple more years the quality has slid drastically. Last week’s episode was fine, but not great, and last night’s slid into full-on mediocrity. Tina!!

The episode focused on Jack helping Pete turn his life around. I thought the renewed focus on good ol’ Hornberger might help reestablish him as a comic force in the show, but it mostly just served to showcase how his character has devolved from a kind of sad foil to Liz into a gross loser and a waste of Scott Adsit’s formidable chops. Tracy’s storyline about thinking Liz is his dad because they use the same pomade was pretty lame but did lead to some great work by everyone’s favorite, Dr. Leo Spaceman. I think I’ll just list a couple of those instead of recapping Jenna’s storyline. “You know what else is from the seventies? Women staying quiet.” “Full disclosure: I lost your ring at a Boudins concert.” That second one is a reference to a great Will Ferrell sketch that I can't find video of. So these gifs will have to do.

The Office was a rerun again, and a rerun of a pretty bad episode at that. What’s the deal? Parks and Recreation is on a break since Community came back into the picture. Why not give it a shot as the lead in for Up All Night instead of this hot mess? The Community, Parks, 30 Rock, Up All Night line-up is, weirdly, looking to likely be the shape of next season’s Thursday night anyway.

Despite its lackluster lead-in, Up All Night delivered a great episode that was jam-packed full of guest stars, including Will Forte (still sporting his terminally boss jacket from the motorcycle episode), Fred Armisen and Megan Mullally. All of them were great, contributing a lot of fun moments to a really fun episode. Chris is jealous of Reagan’s new boss, Luke, while Ava is trying to beat her rival Shayna (Mullally) in a 10K by feeding her jamblaya and distracting her with “silver fox Asian men.” It’s all great, especially when Chris starts trying to intimidate Luke, but accidentally just ends up bragging about the size of his nipples.

Up All Night isn’t always laugh-out loud funny, but these characters (and the guest characters that orbit them) are great fun to hang around with, and the show is at it’s best when it can mine big laughs out of just hanging out. That moment last week came from Chris and Regan’s conversation in bed during the episode’s tag. This week, the show extended that tag forward into the last moments of the episode, and it came with some of the best lines. “You want me to look like the Monopoly man?” “I was thinking Mr. Peanut, but any depression-era cartoon sophisticate will suffice.” Love you, Up All Night!

Finally, has anyone been watching Awake? I loved the pilot and now I usually leave it on after the sitcoms finish. Awake has a great lead in Jason Isaacs (Lucius!) and an amazing premise, though I worry about it being sustainable. Last night’s episode found our boy detecitve Britten having trouble distinguishing between the details of the duel realities he lives in, and his confusion is starting to put people in danger (too bad he doesn’t see the worlds in drastically different color palates like we do). Anyway, this week there’s a hostage situation with a schizophrenic man, whose delusions have some pretty disturbing parallels with Britten’s.  Britten’s psychologist (B.D. Wong!) is along for ADDED THEMATIC RESONENCE. The whole thing is a lot of fun and plays with the “duel universe” idea in really cool ways. Again, I’m not sure the show can sustain its premise over time (hence the grafted-on conspiracy action that's in store next week), but it looks like it won’t be renewed for next fall so I guess we’ll have to enjoy what we can get while we can, and hopefully we can get some Life On Mars-type closure (UK, not US).

What did you guys think of this week’s shows? Let me know in the comments!