Friday, 27 April 2012

Television - Community 'Basic Lupine Urology' review / Parks And Recreation 'The Debate' review


COMMUNITY

I'm not particularly familiar with Law And Order, but 'Basic Lupine Urology' was by some distance the funniest episode since Community returned from hiatus, and possibly the season. Whilst it's likely that there were many jokes specifically related to the series that passed over my head, the formula and visual aesthetics are sufficiently well embedded into pop culture for it to be easy to catch onto what the episode was doing, and enjoy the comic gusto with which it went about it.

Like the best Community parodies, there wasn't really any need to know the exact details, any more than 'Contemporary American Poultry' required a previous viewing of Goodfellas. Scenes like Neill searching for the key logs in a chaotic office, piled high with files and bustling workers, is so recognisable as to possibly be a cliché, although the episode had already built up such strong goodwill through the ridiculously low stakes - Annie's need to get an 'A' rather than merely a passing 'C' - and completely straight-faced delivery of very silly material.
 
The perfect balance was struck between paying affectionate homage to the series, and the police procedural in general, and mocking the many conventions it has settled into over the years. The gag about members of the study group taking each other aside for private discussions during interrogations, only for the person being interrogated to see and hear everything that was being said, was repeated a couple of times and never got old. It's a shame that Britta had to sit this one out since she's been on such great form recently, but her one scene was hysterically funny, from her amazement at Photoshop being able to apply an 'old West' sepia filter to Todd's photo, and then her being cut off while trying to explain what she could bring to the investigation.

Todd was used in a much more effective way than on his debut in the contentious Competitive Ecology, where the group's meanness towards him had a sound thematic purpose, but made the characters out to be cruel and unpleasant, rather than unwelcoming. He's still the perfect human being, assisting at the school library and weaving baskets in his spare time, but while he was targeted by investigators Troy and Abed, both sporting sensationally bold ties, for no other reason than being Todd, the parody was fluid and fun enough for there to be none of Ecology's cruelty, even as he was turned into a punching bag for the group's insecurities once again.

Though it was a shame Shirley was once again barely involved, especially since her love of crime procedurals is well established, the trial following the investigation put Jeff and Annie in the driving seat for one of the episode's funniest scenes. The underhand tactics used to convince the class were delightfully over-the-top, especially Annie throwing out three consecutive allegations (including Todd beating his wife) before immediately withdrawing all of them, a trick Todd's commanding officer / attorney had tried earlier, and her glorious victory dance upon drawing a confession out of him using those devastating Alison Brie eyes. Jeff's reason for asking for a mistrial was a much more elegant way of showing how the character has evolved without the sentimental music and big speeches that have made equivalent moments elsewhere feel so laborious.

Michael K. Williams had his first strong outing as Professor Kane, with his role as judge neatly linked into the honour system picked up during his time in prison, and though the news of Starburns' apparent death was a little odd, delivering too glibly to be taken seriously but too important to be funny, the tag with Abed and Troy sleeping in the study room and being sung to sleep by Dean Pelton - I have no idea where Jim Rash got the idea to use that weird voice, but am so glad he did - was a perfect end to an episode putting the series right back on top of its game.


PARKS & RECREATION

Parks also built on its solid outing last week with one of the season's most memorable episodes, a rare example this season of Leslie Knope on top form, finding her innate passion and talent in conflict with Pawnee's preferential tendency towards more reactive and simplistic options. Amy Poehler both wrote and directed 'The Debate', and just as the Nick Offerman-scripted Lucky gave Ron Swanson his best outing this year, Poehler knows her character well enough to put her in a position of vulnerability without resorting to the exaggeration or even incompetence which have occasionally made her a less likeable character to watch during her campaign.

Last week, Leslie sacrificed some political capitol in order for opponent Bobby Newport to save an animal sanctuary. Her reasoning was that, with a big debate coming up, her in-depth knowledge of government work and dedication to her work would run rings around her dim-witted, daddy-funded competition. Unfortunately, while she likes to think the best of her little town, her little town has rarely shown much enthusiasm for rational decision-making: Newport's reaction that Leslie was 'being mean' when she targeted him immediately connected with the crowd, forcing Ben to recommend a retreat.

We also finally got a good look at the other contenders for the position, an assortment of figures representing the kind of marginal one-issue candidates which hang around the corners of every election, including gun nut Fester Trim (whose suggestion for preventing car theft sounded effective, if not entirely practical), the perfectly named animal rights activist Manrico Della Rossa, and former porn star Brandi Maxxx, whose decision to agree with just about everything the devoutly feminist Leslie said - which is not to mention how similarly she was dressed and coiffed - might generously be termed a mixed blessing for the Knope campaign, which is probably pleased to see another woman running for office, but no so eager to share in her enthusiasm for group sex.

While Bobby was scoring an easy victory over Leslie with his child-like answers to important questions (although he had my vote upon declaring Timothy Dalton his favourite Bond, because some topics sway me as irrationally as the rest of Pawnee - wonder who Leslie would have chosen? Probably Roger Moore, with warm feelings towards Pierce Brosnan), he made a fatal miscalculation the moment his devious campaign manager, Jennifer, encouraged him to start playing dirty by claiming his father would withdraw his company's business and jobs from the town were Leslie to win. This immediately gave Leslie the chance to communicate with the townspeople on the emotional level Bobby had previously managed before. The speech was a little bland, and Bobby's subsequent reaction forcing home what a round of fervent applause would have managed just as effectively, but Poehler delivered it with so much heart that the people of Pawnee finally saw in her what they thought they had in Bobby: someone driven by simple, sincere feelings, who would do right by them and their town.

Outside the debate hall, Andy was, as usual, providing the biggest laughs (apart from the wonderfully odd sight of Jerry watching the debate on the sofa with an assembly of nuns) through his recreation of his favourite movies to amuse campaign donors while Ron 'fixed' the unpaid cable channels. Chris Pratt apparently improvised several of his short skits and it's easy to see why the room was so transfixed by them: his version of Rambo, particularly Sylvester Stallone's grumbly, monosyllabic delivery, was a joy, as was his victorious kick that inadvertently destroyed the television. April mostly sat back and let her husband do his thing, but her list of things she cared about (Andy, Champion, Leslie and sleeping) was a great line aced by Plaza, even if it was encouraging the continuation of Tom's tedious courtship of Ann. Chris remains the better suitor, and his relentless optimism was brilliantly used as a spin-doctor, but it will be interesting to see what the last few episodes have in store for him, as he seems to be heading for a very dark place. At least the same cannot be said for Parks, which finally seems to have hit a consistent run of strong episodes ahead of the season finale.

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