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Scandals and Bullies (And the True Spirit of the Season): Last Night's Episodes of "Parks and Recreation" and "Community"

I had both the good fortune and the unluckiness to go out for drinks last night (with a group of fellow TV critics and reporters) and am still way behind on catching up on my Thursday night programming. (Which feels a bit like a Sisyphean effort every week with so many fantastic series shoehorned onto Thursday nights.)

I did, however, manage to catch last night's fantastic episodes of NBC's Community and Parks and Recreation, which offered a much-needed holiday-themed one-two punch after my night of absinthe-based socializing.

I thought that both series were firing on all cylinders last night. Community may have pulled off its best episode to date with "Comparative Religion" (written by Liz Cackowski), juggling plots involving Jeff (Joel McHale) standing up to bully (guest star Anthony Michael Hall), the holidays, the end of the semester, and Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) coming to terms that her friends might not share her religious views.

While I enjoy seeing the various permutations between the characters, with each of them sharing a storyline with another that week, the most successful installments of Community so far have been the ones that involve the entire group. Here, the chemistry between the ensemble was played to great effect and the actors didn't miss a beat. (Particularly loved Donald Glover's "Forest Whittaker face" and Alison Brie's "finish the word" incredulity.)

Tricky to do when you've got some major events--the end of semester and the holidays--to deal with in one episode. Not only did the cast and crew of Community pull that off but they also dealt with a touchy subject (religion) and tied up the feel-good episode with a full-on brawl between the study group and some shirtless, backflipping fighters. (The fact that they then came together for Shirley's now non-denominational holiday party bruised and battered was the icing on the cake for me.)

I do feel that NBC missed a trick by not releasing a Community holiday single from Yvette Nicole Brown's Shirley (or, heck, a whole CD of Christmas standards). I'm still singing along to her beautiful rendition of "Joy to the World" and her non-denominational "Silent Night," with its celebration of "decorative things." Bliss.

Meanwhile, Parks and Recreation mischievously threaded a sex scandal into their holiday episode ("Christmas Scandal"), written by Michael Schur, and did a sensational job at giving each of the characters opportunities to shine. I'm loving the low-key flirtation between April and Andy (you just knew she would get him that jersey in the end) and the way that Ron Swanson finally realized just how much work Leslie performs on a daily basis and just how valuable a member of the team she really is.

Kudos to Amy Poehler for pulling off not just righteous indignation (as the target of a fabricated sex scandal perpetuated by Pawnee's 24-hour news cycle) but also genuine softness, as in the scenes with Louis CK's Officer Dave Sanderson when he asks her to accompany him to San Diego... and she sadly declines. It's pretty remarkable to see just how much Poehler's Leslie Knope has changed since the early installments of Parks and Recreation; no one could argue that she's a Michael Scott stand-in (not since that pilot episode, anyway). Her character is so richly layered and three-dimensional that the screen crackles with energy every time she walks into a scene.

Poehler is ably assisted by a sensational supporting cast in Rashida Jones, Paul Schneider, Aziz Ansari, Nick Offerman, Chris Pratt, and Aubrey Plaza. Each of their characters has also deepened over the course of the last dozen and a half episodes, fleshing out the world of Pawnee in a winsome fashion. Even tertiary characters like Jim O'Heir's Jerry and Retta's Donna have moved into the main group and the writers have smartly imbued them with as much complexity and nuance as our main characters. (It's a trick that Greg Daniels and Mike Schur paid off beautifully in the early years of The Office as those background players quickly became memorable characters in their own right.)

My only complaint: that more people aren't watching Parks and Recreation or haven't given it a shot since its early Season One episodes. There are few comedies on the air that manage to be as insightful, wickedly funny, and emotionally truthful as Parks and Recreation.

Community and Parks and Recreation return with new episodes in the new year.

Comments

Both were great but I especially loved last night's Parks & Rec. Amy Poehler is a shiny beacon of comedy goodness!
kat said…
I thought Community was great last night. It is just me or is Community getting better and better? I thought this was one of the best episodes to date and I loved the ending with all the bruised cast members at the party.
jmixont said…
Week after week I find that I have more actual laugh-out-louds with Parks and Rec than with any other comedy. And who'd have thought Louis CK could be so sweet and loving?!
Germ said…
Parks and Rec really was great (as it has been all season), but I strongly disagree about Community. Parts of it were good, but what I saw from it was NBC's continued Progressive stance and their taking shots at Christmas and all of Christianity. Truly, in my opinion, the WORST ep to date of what is a really good comedy.

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