Community and Parks both come back from their Olympic hiatus with strong installments, but only one features a giant replica Iron Throne.
COMMUNITY: “Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality”
You’re going to pull a Dane Cook in one of those three movies he was in about Dane Cook getting laid by accident! Only, it’s not a Dane Cook movie, Jeff, because this time, someone’s watching.–Duncan
Aside from that inflammatory title, this was one of the most mature, resonant installments since Season 2’s fabled “Mixology Certification.” And like that episode, this week we find characters chasing maturity while outrunning their pasts; it also gets a huge boost from John Oliver, who has more to do here than basically ever before — he’s always come across as a bit of a boob, occasionally creepy, absurdly British, but his moment of realization in the third act is the strongest and goes a long way to humanize him. Dan Harmon, continuing to clean up the mess of the previous season, is actually making Community an even better show than it was during his previous tenure.
Duncan decides to seize on the opportunity to hit on Britta (now that whatever she had with Jeff is over, though Jeff is willing to help him), but wants to go about it the…right way? By faking interest in a cause (hungry children with cleft palettes!) holding a benefit performance, and hoping she’ll jump on board and go too — which Britta does, immediately. As does everyone else. Which forces Jeff along, as he and Duncan seethe at each other as their plan falls apart. But at the show, Britta reconnects with a group of her old socially-conscious friends; as one, named Michael — pronounced “Mike-hale” — says, Britta is “the bravest activist I’ve ever had the pleasure of imitating.” Britta suddenly being the most popular one in the room does a number on Jeff, who hasn’t quite squashed his entirely self-motivated feelings for her.
Britta’s burst of validation is short-lived, however, when it quickly becomes clear that she’s the only one of her old group who has yet to actually make a tangible difference in the world — her friends are successful, wealthy adults now, able to do more with a single check than Britta ever could with her “fight the man” collegiate anarchy. (And that’s just for the causes she actually understood at the time.) It’s a devastating blow for her, but Duncan, who had quickly swooped in to take her home, grows a conscience at the last moment and decides not to take advantage of her vulnerability. Britta gets to have a rewarding time of existential reflection, and Duncan — shamed for being a bad friend to Jeff all these years — returns to the theater, leading to a “boy’s night” of whittling and mutual, masculine satisfaction. (Wait, that came out wrong. Is the Dean writing this recap?)
If that wasn’t heavy enough, we get the Abed/Hickey plot: despite having no one to go see it with (the shot of Abed alone in the hallway was remarkably melancholy), Abed has constructed a costume for a screening of his beloved Kickpuncher, complete with foam cannon — foam that he accidentally shoots all over Hickey’s drawings while he’s working at his desk. But Abed either doesn’t understand or choose to understand the damage he’s caused, so Hickey takes it upon himself to do what few have even tried: punish Abed, by handcuffing him to a file cabinet until he misses his movie. This conflict eventually builds to an epic meltdown for both parties, as Abed decries Buzz’s duck cartoons as hacky and soulless (“Oh, you have feelings? Why don’t you consider putting them into your work!”), while Buzz lashes back at Abed’s immaturity and selfishness.
They’re both right, and they’re both wrong, but they’ve only known each other for a few weeks. Buzz hasn’t learned the multitudes that Abed contains beneath his robotic monotone; Abed is going to take a while to learn to connect with anyone in the wake of Troy’s exit. But this pairing — sold entirely by the electricity during Danny Pudi and Jonathan Banks’s violent exchanges — is potentially a coup for Community, and their detente leads to them becoming screenwriting partners: Hickey brings the substance, Abed brings the imagination. More of these two together, please.
I can’t move on without mentioning my new all-time favorite Chang gag. He’s best deployed in small doses, and particularly when he’s not acting certifiably insane, but his rehabilitation continues apace this week with the “theatre ghosts” runner — where a shifty janitor convinces him that the audience he accidentally “performed” in front of all died in a fire. Or did the janitor die? Or is CHANG dead? All is revealed with the slow camera pan, a la The Shining, to the black & white photograph on the wall that Chang is in…oh wait, sorry. That’s from the “Old Timey Photo Club.” Never mind.
PARKS AND RECREATION: “Anniversaries”
I have been tense lately…just thinking about the new Star Wars sequel. I’m worried they’ll rely too heavily on CGI and I’m carrying it all on my shoulders.
Showrunner Mike Schur has now gone on record saying that it would be “natural” for this next season to be Parks‘ last, and he’s almost certainly right. Now that almost everyone has been paired off (or left the show), there just aren’t that many more places to take these characters. Fortunately, unlike its more cynical sibling series The Office, Parks is still reliably funny, and the characters are just so pleasant to be around it doesn’t matter if the stories aren’t as strong. But we’re obviously building to something momentous for Leslie Knope, who needs to set her sights on a new project ASAP. We may be counting down in our heads to when she’ll make like Ann and leave her beloved Pawnee behind forever, but she still has some unfinished business.
Beginning, of course, with working to smooth out the Pawnee-Eagleton merger she brought about. Tensions are at an all time high — graffiti, trash fires, passive-aggressiveness on the newly co-hosted “Thought For Your Thoughts” (hey there, John Hodgeman! Did you just say “scoff?”) — and Leslie doesn’t want the final achievement of her tenure on City Council to go down in literal flames. So she sets about making a big deal about a sweet old couple, the man from Eagleton and the woman from Pawnee, who are celebrating their 50-year-anniversary. Unfortunately, the DeMarcos aren’t sweet at all. Leslie may have been hoping for something out of The Notebook, but this isn’t that. These two loathe each other, and everything Leslie tries to publicize their “happy marriage” backfires. At least Andy is having a good time: “They eat, they sleep, they complain, they watch Family Feud–oh my God, I want to be an old person!”
Speaking of anniversaries, Leslie and Ben’s first is tomorrow, and Ben — figuring out it’s the only way he can outdo his wife, despite a rule for “no gifts” that each knows the other will break — has planned a romantic day full of surprises. But because of Leslie’s involvement with the DeMarcos, she can’t be pulled away (all Ben wants is to not be the one to make the “stupid surprised face” this year, which is a pipe dream if I’ve ever heard one). So who gets the couples’ massage, the Enchanted-themed carriage ride, and the tango lesson?
Gerry Larry. (And, really, I love who everyone has committed full-stop to calling him Larry.) But the two have a lovely time, and Ben — though I’m really worried about how much money he’s spending — even puts together a scrapbook to mark the occasion. Of course, Leslie one-ups him anyway (she just has to be the best at everything, including being thoughtful), depositing the throne from Game of Thrones in his office. I’m seeing more and more of myself in Ben every week. I adore him.
The B-story centered on the character who still has the most room to grow: newly deputized April Ludgate. When Donna (who joins Gerry in the credits this week, for the first time) up and leaves her post at the animal shelter to go shopping, April is advised by Ron to speak to her about it directly. (The same Ron who, when asked to find a dog that looks like one of his step-daughter’s drawings, remarks “Children are terrible artists. Also, artists are crooks.”) But April, acting more out of fear of conflict than passive-aggressiveness, decides to attack via internet instead. When Donna discovers a bad Yelp review complaining about her by name, she knows it’s April, but not even “firing” poor Kyle (“I’m about to go Mjolnir on his ass!”) gets April to come out and exercise her authority — Donna, naturally, underestimated how little April cares about people.
While the two do eventually clear the air, that whole plot was clearly a vehicle to get Ron — who has now discovered the power of a good strongly-worded letter — to get out the old typewriter and air some grievances of his own. “Dear Frozen Yogurt, you are the celery of frozen desserts. Be ice cream, or be nothing.” Or: “Veganism is the sad result of a morally corrupt mind. Reconsider your life.” And the piece de resistance: “Dear Canada: F— you.” It was a good night for running gags.
Most importantly, Leslie and Ben pull together an “energetic” team of young people (meaning April, Tom, a still-screaming Billy Eichner, and a few others) to come up with a way to bring the two warring towns together, and they hit on one that reduces Leslie to tears. (Who’s making stupid faces now?) Season 3’s “Harvest Festival” arc was a huge narrative success for Parks, and hopefully this “Unity Concert” will be another. At least, Tom is hoping Ginuwine will be there, and for someone who has just realized his own mortality via iTunes updates, that would be lit-rally once-in-a-lifetime.