On the surface, there is nothing connecting the four episodes that aired on NBC this week. Annie's friends helped her move, and tweeted about it. Ben and Leslie's attempt to stay friends had them waging war on each other at a Model UN. And Dwight sexually harrassed Jim. Does it matter what Whitney did? (Fine, she played basketball.)
But if we had to stretch for a theme, it's interesting to note the lengths these characters are willing go to (blackmail, peace treaties, lie detector tests) to to strengthen their relationships. With that in mind, let's get started with the recapping.
"Just because we're awesome doesn't mean we're not adults."
This week's Community started as a conventional episode (and for this show, that equals no elaborate pop culture homages or alternate realities). But midway through, as soon as Dean Pelton—I mean Craig—and Jeff started singing "Kiss From A Rose" in front of the karaoke green screen, Community took a brief and welcome turn towards the surreal. First of all, let's rejoice in the fact that the group, at least for the time being, are acting as actual friends. Their easygoing camaraderie made this a pleasantly entertaining half-hour.
Jeff and the Dean's karaoke duet was a highlight, as was the way their tender musical moment was the backdrop to Pierce's paint-induced delusions, Troy and Abed's puppet show for Annie and Britta and Shirley's adventures with Jesus the hitchhiker. I was happy to see that Britta and Shirley's continued conflict on religion to be a constant runner in these past few episodes, and can envision it evolving into a genuine subplot. I imagine some kind of major blowout between these two in the coming weeks, and look forward to the fireworks. (At the very least, it would finally give Shirley a subplot that doesn't involve the Chang/baby drama.)
It was also nice to see an acknowledgement that while Troy and Abed are enormous fun to watch because they operate in their own world, they also enable each other's immaturity. Which is fine for viewers, but could be difficult to endure as a roommate. Troy and Abed made concessions to keep her as a roomie. And Annie, no longer worried about tamping down her uptight ways to fit in, might be capable of inspiring them to stop indulging in their Dreamatorium-fueled imaginations long enough to start thinking about life after Greendale.
- Living in a blanket fort doesn't seem completely terrible, just mildly uncomfortable. Like having the bottom bunk on a bunk bed.
- Even though I enjoyed how his machinations brought about their "Kiss From A Rose" duet, the Dean's obsession with Jeff went a bit too far with the email hacking and blackmail. I like the character, but that's just creepy.
- Can't decide what I enjoyed more: Jeff's ruse to have the Gap (or Banana Republic) saleswoman pretend to be a receptionist at the doctor's office, or Troy and Abed's shadow play act for Annie.
- This might be my most random of random asides. Since the Dreamatorium is sort of Greendale's version of Star Trek: The Next Generation's holodeck, I'm wondering what it would be like if Abed and Data could meet. In the words of Abed, I bet it would be "cool cool cool."
PARKS AND RECREATION
"I kind of want to role up my sleeves and make geo-political problem solving my bitch."
Ben and Leslie continue to work out their post-breakup issues, and this time in an inspired setting: the local high school's Model UN. Of course, their competitive natures and bruised feelings result in Denmark (Leslie) declaring war on Peru (Ben). I'm on record as not being a fan of continued angst between these two, but this was played out in such an imaginative and hilarious fashion, I can overlook it for this episode. There were too many highlights to mention, but Ben's microphone drop after formally condemning Denmark, Leslie using her high heel as a gavel, and Andy trading his country's military for the world's lions make the list.
Now that Ben and Leslie have brokered their own peace agreement, a treaty "to have a fun conversation once a day for five minutes," I look forward to episodes that move post the romantic fallout and focus on her bid for City Council, because to see Leslie in full-out campaign mode would be a real treat. I know I ask for this like every recap, but what makes Leslie Knope a standout character is that she is the kind of woman who would choose her political aspirations over her dating life. Since she made that sacrifice, it's time for that aspect of her life to get more attention.
Back at the Parks and Rec office, Ron Swanson convinces Tom to swallow his pride and resume his old job, and Chris uses Ann, Donna and poor Jerry to figure out why Jerry's daughter won't return his phone calls. I liked this latter subplot because it used Ann and Chris's previous relationship to round out their characters and even give them a bit of closure on why it didn't work out between them. The fact that Chris is so into Millicent after four dates makes me wonder if we're headed towards a quickie wedding, and Jerry ends up being Chris' father-in-law. As if Jerry doesn't suffer enough already...
- Since Parks and Rec occasionally likes incorporate real-world stories into its plots, I'd love to see Leslie engaged in a debate against an opponent who makes a Rick Perry-esque gaffe.
- I liked how the high school students took Model UN so seriously. Like the Pawnee Goddesses, they seem to be a generation of Leslie Knopes in the making.
- Leslie and April had a very nice bonding moment in this episode. Considering how their relationship started (Leslie asks April to do something, April looks disdainfully at the camera) it's nice to see how much respect April has for her boss.
- Funny how the Thursday night comedies seem to be swapping story elements this season. Community had an episode featuring a Model UN in its second episode. Is the Model UN something schools really do? I've only seen them on TV myself.
"Does your husband have very soft erections? Because if not, I just grabbed a very small penis for nothing."
The problem with seeing what happens after two characters reconcile their "will they/won't they" dynamic is that if they do get together, the results will inevitably be boring, if not downright disheartening.
Pam used to be the most reasonable and empathetic character on The Office. While Jim often resorted to pranks and jokey comments to distance himself from the goings-on at Dunder Mifflin, Pam never hid the fact that she cared about the people she worked with. While Jim and Pam's romance played out over several seasons, they also served as an oasis of sanity, the viewer surrogates who could turn to the camera with a bemused look about the surrounding shenanigans. Now that the two are married and have a family, the writers have broadened their characters in order to generate more stories for them. Jim became an even more ironic, detached version of himself, and Pam started being somewhat of a bossy know-it-all.
Still, it was shocking to see Pam being nonchalant about Dwight inappropriately touching her husband (multiple times!) in order to justify her paranoia that Jim was attracted to her Cathy, her temporary replacement. After Pam saw Dwight's means of figuring out whether her husband has the hots for Cathy, wouldn't that be enough to shake her out of her quest? Would she still really go along with his idea of using a blood pressure machine as a lie detector? Towards the end of the episode, she was acting as if Jim's answer would make or break their relationship.
I'm sure the writers were intending to play off Pam's unyielding mission to prove Jim was lying as a pregnant woman's insecurities, and even understand that for a long-running show like The Office, generating interesting story ideas gets increasingly harder to do. But there is simply no excuse to turn Pam into a cartoon, someone no better than Michael Scott at his most jealous and inane. It's such a disservice to the character, and the way this season is going, I'm not sure if we'll see the old Pam ever again.
- There was a subplot with Andy, Kevin and Darryl's band, and how they were squeezed out by Robert California and his friends. That's really all there is to say about it. But I did love that Andy would write down his scatting as lyrics. That's just so Andy.
- When everyone agreed that "pregnant Helen Mirren" would be the ultimate in hotness, it reminded me of the office-wide debate over whether Hilary Swank could be considered hot.
- I actually nodded with approval when Dwight and Pam turned to Kelly for advice on catching Jim in a lie. She's just the person to ask such things, and her idea to ask Jim which of his friends he'd set up with Cathy was pretty clever.
"Today was weird, I'm not used to being the calm, sane one."
"Well, don't worry, that will all change pretty soon."
This week on Whitney, you'll never guess what happens. Whitney looks for a problem in her relationship! And she finds one that makes her question the validity of her entire relationship: Alex played poker and racquetball before he dated her, and she had no idea! Whitney then turns the tables and reveals a hidden talent for basketball, which frustrates the usually even-keeled Alex! But they make up just in time before the credits roll.
As in most episodes of this show, there's a grain of truth in these relationship squabbles, this time that people sometimes give up their hobbies when they become part of a couple, and having different interests doesn't equal incompatibility. But the story being told isn't that funny or involving, and just seems to be used as an excuse for Alex and Whitney to square off in two different sports before learning yet another Important Lesson About Relationships.
Other things happened. Roxanne dated someone, and it didn't work out because he was an identity thief. (Roxanne is destined to be the Phoebe of this show, dating lots of guys but probably never having a long-term relationship, except it's doubtful Roxanne will be lucky enough to marry Paul Rudd before the series ends).
Meanwhile, Lily feels pressure to fit in with her fiance Neal's Indian culture to endear herself to her future mother-in-law, so she reverts to "Madonna in her most annoying phase," including wearing a bindi and talking about tantric sex. (Just to be clear, expressing an interest in the Kama Sutra is no way to make inroads with your Indian mother-in-law.) I guess the most I can say about this subplot is that at least it acknowledged the ethnicity of one of its characters, even if Neal identified more with being an Ohioan than Indian.
- Earlier I referred to the fact that the Thursday night comedies seem to be swapping story elements this season. This time, it's racquetball of all things. Jim played Robert California on The Office last week, and Jim was as poor a player as Whitney. I predict later this season Pam will learning something "shocking" about pre-married Jim, like he used to be a falconer or something.