Saturday, 14 May 2011

I Had A Dream It Would End This Way: Community, Parks & Rec reviews


TELEVISION REVIEW

COMMUNITY: 'For A Few Paintballs More'

Community ended its second season on a high that was also a perfect reminder of how much there is to love about this series. I personally didn't find it quite up to the standard's of last week's episode, though that might have been because I'm a Spaghetti Western junkie and the shift in tone to what was ostensibly a Star Wars parody, but had as much in common with the tone of a siege film like Zulu, didn't play on the geek heartstrings in quite the same way. I like Star Wars a great deal, pre-Nineties at least, but I saw it in later years rather than growing up with it. James Bond was number one throughout my childhood, and something I'd love to see Community try in its third season.

One of the more challenging aspects of this season has been the Pierce story arc, as it was often difficult to tell whether it was supposed to have been resolved or not. 'Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking', otherwise one of this year's numerous highlights, suggested enough of a conclusion to raise that doubt while not quite justifying the character's often severe behaviour. For the record, I think Chevy Chase has played everything he has been given superbly and brought a great deal of pathos to a character who might otherwise have seemed irredeemable. I mentioned last week that his performance suggested that Pierce was sincere in wanting to do the best by his friends, but couldn't help himself in acting against them. It's a credit to him that my guess proved correct, since the material only offered a fairly standard Pierce betrayal and it was Chase who brought the tragedy. This episode's final scene - excluding the credits tag - was in that same vein and finally paid off all those lingering doubts.
 
Thinking back, Pierce has been at the centre of all of this season's key themes. His acting out against his perceived isolation from the group paid into the idea of how much these people, disparate oddballs brought together under the then-false guise of a Spanish study group, have come to depend on each other. When Pierce revealed that he had been attending Greendale for twelve years, before declining the offer to rejoin the group, my immediate feeling was that he was not so much moving on for himself, but to protect the only true friends he had made during that time from himself.

Chase's heartbreaking honesty in delivering his short explanation once again brought so many different layers to words that only offered one meaning by themselves that it's a shame this is (to my knowledge) the first time he's taken anything approaching dramatic material. It's possible that as a young man, he wouldn't have had the life experience to find the same depths of resonance or regret, but though this was his only emotional scene (even if he was really convincing at enjoying those puddings earlier), let's hope he earns the recognition the performance deserves, be it through critical appreciation or, less likely, awards nominations. It was a sad note to end the season on - again, leaving out the hilarious credits tag scene between Abed and the cleaner - but a very satisfying one which tied up all the season's remaining loose ends.

Just as Pierce acted as the human centre for a storyline about a man realising how much a group of people meant to him, the bigger storyline revolved around how the Greendale student body rallied together in support of the college which had supported them, having been made aware of how much they took it for granted. It was a terrific demonstration of the series' strong support cast, which could fill several superb sitcoms on its own, with the likes of Neil, Quendra with a Q and Magnitude all getting return appearances - Magnitude's self-sacrifice bringing one the episode's biggest laughs - and recurring characters like Leonard getting some charming bits to play with ("I've served in real wars, but this is the most terrifying!"). 

The moment when Britta thought she was the last survivor of the City College onslaught and the entire student body gathered to support her last stand was a perfect evocation of that theme and payoff to the 'Everyone hates Britta!' gag that has cropped up throughout the year. Britta has struggled when trying to pretend to be someone she isn't without backing up her words with actions, be it faux-lesbianism or countless identity crises, but crouching alone behind a haystack, too scared to fight as she knew she should, was when she finally found the acceptance that had so long eluded her.

The rest of the episode was pretty standard silly Community humour, which is fine by me. Troy's 'death', lending this article its title, was hilarious and Shirley not only got several great one-liners ("I hope I don't get shot waiting out here. I'd hate to go home to my babies!") but also the big action moment as she and Britta stormed the City College paintball chaingun. If there's one trick I think the writers missed this season, it has been not giving Yvette Nicole Brown more fun stuff to do. 'For A Few Paintballs More' was a great showcase for the two older members of the cast.

Let's not neglect to mention Abed and Annie's volcanic kiss under the rain of orange paint though - wowsers. No matter how many career highs Danny Pudi ascends to, I bet that's a moment he'll never forget. His Han Solo plot was pretty silly, but gave he and Alison Brie lots of charming material and the opportunity to reignite their enormous sexual chemistry that happens whenever Abed takes on a role (remember Don Draper?), even if it was only a one-off. Jeff and Troy also got a lot of screentime, but aside from isolated laughs didn't make as much of an impact as the others.

This was a terrific finale to a terrific season of brave and experimental comedy. True, it hasn't always been the most consistent, but after finding its feet in the first season, this year was when Community started testing the boundaries of what it was capable of - and though much of it worked, the occasional misjudgment was only to be expected. Season One was terrific, especially its latter half, but sophomore year gave us a more confident, outgoing gang that passed their toughest examinations with flying colours.

BEST MOMENT: Pierce's apology and farewell.


PARKS & RECREATION: 'The Fight'/'Road Trip'

I'm not entirely sure why the final four episodes of Parks & Recreation are being shown in pairs, but these two worked fairly well together - to an extent. My worry is that by having two episodes running back-to-back next week, it will dilute the impact of the season finale, but we'll come to that bridge when we cross it.

I doubt it was deliberate, but there were quite a few similarities between these two episodes. Both of Leslie's plots revolved around her taking a new step with someone important in her life - her first fight with Ann Perkins and her first kiss with Ben - and both B-plots revolved around a new moneymaking scheme from Tom. This had the effect of keeping the humour consistent across both episodes, but also making the second feel a little repetitive. 

Sure, Tom's gameshow 'Know Ya Boo' was a world away from his Snakehole Lounge party in aesthetics, but did feel like a return to the same territory in terms of ideas. The same sort of goes for Leslie's attempts to keep Ben at a distance to repress her attraction to him, which was both different but a little familiar to her fighting with Ann. It also suffered from the fact that, as much as I like both characters, I've never quite bought into Ben and Leslie as a potential couple and their sudden increased flirtatiousness felt artificial after their feelings for each other had been kept under the surface in previous episodes.

'The Fight' was the stronger of the two, although I am undecided as to how much of that preference came from nothing more than it airing first. Doing both episodes at once did bring an increased sense of continuity, but also highlighted the previously mentioned flaws which might have gone unnoticed - or at least, felt less important - in isolation. There was as much to love as ever about both though, with The Incredible Ron Swanson on top form both on the dancefloor and in exposing a schoolgirl to his distinctive views on government and property, resulting in her going home with his Claymore. (Luckily she didn't look like the sort who would have played Call of Duty). Those moments were doubly funny for the idea that Ron becomes even more of a lunatic when exposed to real life in some way ("Don't sass me, Burkis!"), either through alcohol - which was the catalyst for all the drama in the first episode and some hysterical moments for the cast - or a school visit.

Even though her fight to resist the ol' Ben Wyatt charm didn't quite ring true to me, Leslie's fight with Ann was a wonderful example of the sort of mundane arguments that two people who want the best for each other occasionally stumble into on the rare occasion when their perspectives don't match up. Leslie's friendship has pushed Ann out of her shell a lot over the past season, so her fear that she'd created a Douche-dating monster was understandable, especially when it seemed to be about to ruin the opportunity for them both to work together, which Leslie was getting adorably excited about. Ann on the other hand, now that she's finally confident enough to go out and have fun, feels stymied by Leslie telling her she should spend a possible night out studying for a job interview she never asked for. 

Their positions are divided by the most insignificant details, but given how quickly they've become so close, even the slightest rock on the road seems a major hazard. I loved how the issue was never presented as any bigger than it really was, even while exacerbated by Tom's super-potent 'Snake Juice'. There was never any doubt that they were going to feel bad and make up the next day, although they way they did it, with everyone thoroughly hung over and Ann, wearing a sweater both backwards and inside-out, interrupting her 'interview' to invite Leslie to go and throw up in a wastebasket with her, was lovely. 

The kiss that ended the second episode was also sweet, but showed off the difference between the two relationships. Everything about Leslie and Ann's fight felt like a natural evolution of how we'd seen their friendship develop. Leslie and Ben's kiss was the result of their attraction being recently accelerated and the tension created through Chris' sudden appearance, which came out of nowhere and didn't make much sense either in why or how he was there. It did give Rob Lowe the chance to break out some classic air-banjo skills though.

Even if the two Leslie plots didn't quite match up, everything else was classic Parks. Both of Tom's schemes gave Andy and April the chance to show off what a strong pairing they are, both comedically - the characters they created for Tom's party started off hilarious and somehow got funnier every time, leading to the awesome sight gag of a profoundly hung-over Andy throwing up as he chased April down a corridor - and romantically, as April  sort of swallowed her pride ("Sorry, my instinct is to be mean to you.") by going to Ann for help in understanding why Andy couldn't take that she liked another band more than his. Their interactions in 'Fight' were much funnier, but 'Trip' took the edge in sweetness.

BEST MOMENTS: The cast get interviewed while totally hammered in 'Fight'; Ron's demonstration of taxes by eating a schoolgirl's lunch in 'Trip'.

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1 comment:

Lers said...

As soon as I get around to watching the season finale of Community, I'll read this. I PROMISE.