Friday, 4 November 2011

Television - Community 'Advanced Gay' review / Parks & Recreation 'End Of The World' review


After two experimental episodes, Community returned to campus for a more traditional outing that favoured character over concept. It was delightful to see the gang bouncing off each other in the cold open, throwing around some obvious but very funny jokes at Pierce's expense and featuring an inspired music video that was making Hawthorne Wipes a gay sensation.

There's something especially wonderful about the moments when the programme sits its lead characters around a small table and watches them let rip, teasing each other in the way that close friends do. It is these moments which affirm how close they are to each other far more than any number of Jeff Winger wrap-up speeches, even though 'Advanced Gay' - what a title - ended with a particularly moving example of those, too.
Pierce's villainy proved problematic last year, but Chevy Chase turned in consistently engaging performances. Now that the character has levelled out a little, it is easier to see how much Chase and his years of experience bring to even this exceptional cast. Apart from the ages of the people involved, a story about a strict father returning to wreck havoc on his son's newfound sense of purpose isn't anything new - and, in a rarity for Community, it was a sitcom trope played straight from start to finish - but Chase managed to draw sympathy while remaining the same inconsiderate jackass Pierce has always been. It helps, of course, that the character's father, Cornelius Hawthorne, was more racist and appalling than even his son at his worst, down to wearing ivory hair and discriminating against Britta for her poorly-defined Scandinavian origins. It's a damning - but funny - indictment of the Hawthorne family that Pierce is the progressive one.

This was an episode particularly heavy on continuity: central to the A-plot were Pierce's professional and family history, the latter of which has only been referenced once or twice before. 'Advanced Gay' bore a few similarities to 'The Psychology Of Letting Go' from season two, which featured the death of Pierce's mother: where that episode was about the circle of life and the importance of coming to terms with the inevitability of death by making the most of your life, 'Advanced Gay' was about learning the lessons of those who have lived before you, rather than trying to imitate or be crushed by them. For all Pierce's faults, his father's death - in which a Hawthorne tradition came back to bite him - shows him that it is what makes him different from what was expected of him that makes him special. He's still the same old retrograde bigot, but considering where he came from, that's quite an improvement.

That Jeff was able to deal with his own daddy issues while helping Pierce was a clever conclusion to 'Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking' (also from the second season). In that episode, both characters clashed over Pierce pretending that he had organised for Jeff's dad to come to Greendale and meet his son. 'Advanced Gay' reversed that situation, with Jeff enabling Pierce to gain the confidence to break out from his father's shadow. That both 'Documentary Filmmaking' and the climactic scene of 'Advanced Gay' took place in a hospital gave a satisfying sense of finality to Jeff ripping into Cornelius, and absent fathers everywhere, for his cruelty and neglect.

Jeff's presence also brought with it some fantastic work from Britta and her new (patchy) knowledge of psychology and the 'edible complex'. As nice as it was to see her be right for a change about how Jeff was relating to the Cornelius situation, being Britta she couldn't help but get the details wrong (having not read to the end of her study book chapter), leading to a priest calling her 'the worst' in one of the episode's biggest laughs outside the 'Gay Bash' - which, incidentally, used Chang and the Dean to restrained and hilarious effect.

The B-plot picked up on what looked like a one-shot storyline from all the way back at the end of the first season ('English As A Second Language'), with Troy's genius-level skills as a manual labourer being recognised by Vice-Dean Laybourne, who makes him an offer to join the prestigious Greendale air conditioning course.

There wasn't much to this plot, but it did provide Goodman with a long, brilliantly absurd monologue to wrap his growly vocal around, as well as some fantastically surreal imagery, including a spaceman making paninis, Black Hitler, and the room referred to in the term 'room temperature'. Although narratively unrelated, the plot's themes did loosely tie in with those of the Pierce storyline, with Troy, like Pierce, realising that being part of a group which considers itself above everyone else will only ever lead to loneliness in the long run, despite material benefits. Much better to be hiding behind a desk, re-enacting Inspector Spacetime by throwing paper balls at Jeff, even if it means embarrassment when a hot girl walks past the door. ("How you livin', girl?" "Pyooo!")

Although its heavy reliance on arcane points of continuity might have made it confusing to series newcomers, 'Advanced Gay' balanced intelligent character with ridiculous plots, situations and one-liners, in an episode that might not have broken the mould, but did a terrific job of reminding its audience of what a special mould Community has.


That's more like it. After turning uncharacteristically mean in last week's episode, Parks was back to its sweet best in 'End Of The World', in which a slightly gimmicky concept led Leslie, Andy and April, and Tom to consider how they would spend their last day if the world was ending the following morning.

In each case, the character had to deal with something literally coming to an end, all while Pawnee's number one nutjob cult, the cunningly named 'Reasonable-ists', were preparing for their celestial leader, Zorp, to return to earth and melt everyone's faces off. On any other programme, the obvious lunacy of the situation might have been cloying - I mean, seriously, 'Zorp'? - but the townspeople's eccentricities have been developed with such affection that it only ever came across as endearingly silly. A perfect example of how much the series' sweetness brings to its characters and how much damage is done when it is lost.

In Leslie's case, her 'end of world' scenario involved Ben dating another woman. They had to break off their blossoming romance at the end of last season when she decided to run for office, but the feelings between them are still strong. On Ben's side, we have seen his tragi-comic breakdown while dressed as Batman (still a haunting image...) in a shopping centre. It was Leslie's turn to hit the panic button this time, when confronted with an attractive reporter asking questions about Ben because she was attracted to him. Leslie, of course, can't quite handle this. She, like many of Pawnee's townspeople, is driven by a small number of instincts: she likes having everything perfectly organised, and be able to enjoy the things she loves. The idea of losing Ben to another woman clashes with both of those instincts.

She would probably like to imagine that Ben would be waiting for her forever and that, at some point in the future, she would be able to pick up where they left off. The intervention of Shauna Malwae-Tweep, however, is something she cannot control (since getting back together with Ben means discarding her political ambitions) but also means giving up on the man she has such strong feelings for. Her reaction, trying to split the two up in any way possible, might have gone a little too far with the stuttering desperation, but it was resolved in a warm and funny scene between the two in the doorway of Ben's home. The pairing is still not one that sits quite as comfortably with me as the writers are intending, but there's no denying how well-synced Amy Poehler and Adam Scott's comic sensibilities are.

Andy and April never fail to be the highlights of any episode and their end-of-world story, about breaking from old routines and trying new things, didn't disappoint. As a couple, they are perhaps the epitome of what Pawnee is all about: completely lacking in common sense, but driven by sincere, loving devotion to what they most care about (in this case, each other). In practice, the story was just an opportunity for the two to act out skits representing wishes from Andy's bucket list, but when you have performers as wonderful as Aubrey Plaza and Chris Pratt, that's a recipe for success. The 'action star' sequence was the highlight, emphasizing Pratt's talent for physical comedy - the jump through the window was spectacular - and both of their knacks for exaggerated delivery, meaning the return of (who else?) Burt Macklin and Janet Snakehole. The final scene, in which they stole a car belonging to April's dad and drove to see the sunrise over the Grand Canyon, was both intimately touching and capped with an hilarious line from Andy (and reaction from April).

Tom's world was coming to an end with the inevitable collapse of Entertainment 720. Rather than cut their losses, he and Jean-Ralphio decided to spend their remaining $10k on the greatest party ever thrown. While I'm not sure that such a party could realistically be funded for such a relatively small sum of money, the two have shown more than enough willingness to disregard such annoyances as logical accounting for it to not be an issue. There weren't many gags, or even development beyond the basic concept, in this part of the episode, but it was fun to see the party in full swing and the company able to go out with the bang it deserves. That one of Tom's old flames was (accidentally) invited by Jean-Ralphio was the icing on the cake, giving each of the episode's storylines the unifying element that each character got to spend what looked like the end of their respective worlds making someone special to them happy.

Most of the other characters kept in in the background, but provided some nice moments. Ron spent the apocalypse making money from the foolish beliefs of hippies, while Chris was back in a more sympathetic mood than he has been for a while, pondering the Buddhist idea of reincarnation. Only Ann went underserved, once again - Parks and Community share an unfortunate problem of having two immensely talented actresses (Rashida Jones here; Yvette Nicole Brown in Greendale) whom they can't seem to find a place for. Otherwise, though 'End Of The World' featured fewer big laughs than the average episode of Parks, it more than made up for it with a return to the series' affectionate soul.

1 comment:

darci said...

Haha nothing like a party with drumlines, a tiger and a bouncy ship that's not for a child's birthday haha. Glad to see Lucy show up, too, even if if Jean-Ralphio invited her without the noble motive that Tom that he had...but yeah, basically the End of the World Party ruled (watch a video clip of that scene at ).

Gotta love that they used "Dancer In the Dark" by Dev and glad it got Lucy in the mood to dance. Her chemistry with Tom is great, I hope they figure out a way to write her more into the show.