Friday, 23 September 2011

The Table Is Magic: Community, Parks & Recreation, Archer reviews


Having three programmes to review in one day isn't ideal, no matter how much I love all of them, so rather than doing a full article for each (which, given how slowly I usually write, could end up taking four hours or more), they will all be put under a single banner for the time being, at least until a better solution can be worked out. Archer's three-episode mini-series ends next week, which will be sad but helpful.

As a viewer, these two Thursday nights are something akin to comedy nirvana: not only has television rarely seen three better examples of the genre (in very different forms) than Community, Parks & Recreation and Archer, but all on the same night? That's just madness. I'm becoming increasingly convinced that, assuming all three series maintain their ridiculously high standards, these are the most 'golden' creative years the television format has ever seen. I'm certainly considering writing something up about that theory in the near future. For now, read on for reviews of three of the programmes making these years so amazing.
COMMUNITY: 'Biology 101'

After that laudatory introduction, I have to pull the tone back to Earth by saying that last night's Community didn't find the programme at its funniest. That's not a big deal, though, because there were plenty of mitigating circumstances. For one, 'Biology 101', being the season premiere, had to serve as an introduction to the series for any new viewers. Given how it is a series which pulls in relatively low ratings, despite its consistent excellence, I for one don't have a problem with them doing this.

Even if the 'messages' were repetitive for old viewers, the manner in which they were presented was at least original. I liked the idea of the table being an unspoken heartland for the group, a more intimate place where they know they'll be able to get together and enjoy each other's company, rather than just 'seeing ya when I see ya'. These characters are the tightest of friends, so it makes a touching kind of sense that they should attach such feelings to their familiar routines and the objects which symbolise them. Using the table as the monolith in the hilarious 2001 parody was a clever way of making the point without being too on the nose.

Besides, even if the laugh rate wasn't quite as high as usual and the story beats of Jeff learning a valuable lesson about how much the group means to him were not exactly new, there was still plenty of Community spark to go around. The Glee-inspired opening was wonderful, with fan-baiting lyrics and all  - '...And we're going to sleep together' from Jeff and Annie should wear out a few keyboards, especially as Jeff was dreaming it all. (But then again, who wouldn't dream about sleeping with Annie?) 'Cougarton Abbey' was also magic, especially for British viewers familiar with how television programmes tend to pan out over here, as well as Blackadder's habit of killing off its characters at the end of each season. (And if you haven't seen Blackadder by now, seek it out immediately). Michael 'Omar' Williams was wasted in an exposition role, but John Goodman looks a fantastic addition to the cast, with his growly machismo making a great contrast to the Jim Rash's 'pansexual imp' of a Dean.

As Pierce and Jeff discovered, even if things still aren't perfect, there's nothing quite like being back with the Community group. (Also: 'Can it, Boobs!')

PARKS & RECREATION: 'I'm Leslie Knope'

Parks & Rec also suffered from being just a little too plot-heavy in its opening episode and perhaps could have discarded the B-story about Ann Perkins being sent emails of concerned co-workers' penis' for her medical examination (though her buzzing phone was a brilliantly timed comedic device), but nevertheless managed to wring out its quota of huge laughs and touching character moments.

Leslie still has to deal with her need to break up with Ben if she is to fulfil her dreams of running for office. This puts her in the decidedly un-Knopian (word) position of needing to choose between a man and her job and it actually being a difficult decision, since she loves both. Well, she's Leslie f**king Knope, so her work is always going to win out in the end, but seeing how she struggled to put the break-up into action made a very affecting dilemma - and I'm someone who was less than convinced about her falling in love with Ben in the past. It was resolved with Parks' usual elegance in character writing, by revealing that Ben knew along about her candidacy all along (since there was a dude in her ladies club. Anchors away!) and made it easy for her by doing the 'breaking up' himself. I wasn't mad about how their courtship put Leslie in a standard 'unfulfilled yearnings' situation last season, but now that they are - were - together, it's obvious how perfectly suited they are to one another. If Jeff dreams about Annie, Leslie definitely dreams about L-shaped eclairs. Fingers crossed that the writers resist going back to the well of frustrated romantic urges, though.

Even though Tom was more a comedic enabler than getting many of his own laughs this week, the rest of the episode was a terrific showcase for why these characters are so much fun together. Ron effin' Swanson got the biggest laugh in the opening minute, when tearing Leslie away from business to tell her everything she needed to know as he went on the run from the terrifying Tammy One (Patricia Clarkson, who made a cameo that had more character depth than most series manage in their entire runs). Andy and April are still ridiculously adorable - much as April would hate to hear that - and further proof that getting them married, in the best episode of anything last year, was an inspired decision. Rashida Jones' sensible-but-exasperated delivery in the face of madness is still gold, while Jerry's got an hysterical, self-aware reward for all the suffering he normally has to endure.

ARCHER: 'Heart Of Archness Part II'

Finally we get to Archer, which was obviously using last season's cliffhanger of Archer's Russian bride being killed as an excuse to send its characters away on a pirate adventure. I had originally hoped for the programme to follow through on that storyline, giving Archer the chance to work through the tragedy in his usual blustery way on a three-part revenge epic, but it turns out those hopes were entirely wrong and the better for it. 'Heart Of Archness Part II', freed from even the faint hints of continuity which slowed down 'Part I' a tad too much, was Archer at its insane best.

Easy as it is to imagine that story continuity is the direct road to quality, Archer has been proving that wrong for some time now. Neither of its two paternity subplots have been resolved to any satisfactory extent, even though there were the expected hints that Rip might be Archer's dad in this episode (the other paternity story being Archer and the wee baby Seamus), and even last season's cancer story was dusted within two episodes. Have at ye, Walter White. If Archer doesn't bother with story continuity, it does put a great deal of effort into character continuity, though, allowing for a huge number of in-jokes and callbacks based around how familiar we are with these people. Two of the many huge laughs in this episode came from Archer deploying a 'noooope' and the slightly horrific sight of a naked, sleeping Pam laid out on Cyril's sofa (farting away, to make everything that little bit worse), the Destruction Of Sennacherib tattoo scrawled across her flabby back.

There was also the running gag about Archer realising how much he relied on idioms, which was the most wonderfully silly subplot that brought out the best in the series' love of language-based geekery. This week's word may have come from Parks, but Archer only missed out because its gags were this time based around grammar rather than syntax. Where else would anyone get the chance to write a line like that other than about programmes as brilliant as Parks or Archer?

Everything about Archer being the pirate king was as excellent as expected, from his refusal to rob 'small business owners' with tiny profit margins, to his treating his newfound position as an opportunity for nightly orgies. That, plus Bucky's 'girlfriend' and the Indiana Jones nod. The episode's only bum note was Lana and Ray's subplot about whether she was still attracted to Archer, which felt like the already overused joke repeated over and over. The only real downside to the treat of being able to enjoy new Archer on the same night as Community and Parks & Rec is that it has to be over so soon, when the 'Heart of Archness' mini-series concludes next week.


1 comment:

theoncominghope said...

I loved Inspector Timespace and Cougarton Abbey (for I too miss Cougar Town, though perhaps not as much as Abed!).

But I'm getting tired of the storylines that revolve around Pierce. He's far too much of a one-note character to be even remotely convincing as someone the group would fight about once, let alone over and over again.