Treat Yo Self to Community & Parks and Recreation

“Treat Yo Self” doesn’t come just one day a year, as it does for Parks and Recreation’s Tom and Donna. No, for the entertainment-starved masses, quality rest and relaxation can be found on NBC, Thursdays 8/7c.

The one-two punch of Community and Parks and Recreation proves to be a potent one. These two strong ensemble-driven comedies work well in tandem, while situated on seemingly opposite sides of the comedic spectrum, from quick and clever meta pop-culture snark to sunny, heartwarming, go-getter optimism.

This week’s episodes, Community’s “Remedial Chaos Theory” and Parks and Recreation’s “Pawnee Rangers,” were the series strongest outings of the season, if not among the best of their series.

The cast of "Community"

The conceit of “Remedial Chaos Theory,” the playing out of seven timelines stemming from the roll of a Yahtzee! die, may appear gimmicky on paper, but Community elevates the concept with mind-blowing creativity and unabashed love for its study group. The episode shines brightly with other Community gems as “Cooperative Calligraphy” and “Mixology,” putting the characters front and center and even exposing a warmth at the center of its snarky core. The structure of this episode allows the characters to play off each other in dynamic ways, revealing insight to their relationships that would have otherwise gone unexplored.

The multiple timelines shed new light on these study group characters and the roles they play within their makeshift family. Could it be that perhaps Jeff is the “villain” of the group? After all, the joyous dance party to “Roxanne” only happened when Jeff’s cooler-than-thou attitude was removed from the atmosphere. It was telling that the two not participating in the celebration were Jeff and Pierce. But even so, one cannot deny the smile that came across Jeff’s face as he ate his pizza slice. If this season focuses on the growth and maturity of the study group, with Annie and Troy coming into their own into adulthood, Jeff is maturing into his acceptance of this ragtag team as family.

The MVP for me was Gillian Jacobs’ Britta, whose self-righteousness has become the bane of the study group’s existence. But her delightful goofiness broke through, as always, with her “Pizza! Pizza! In my tummy! Me so hungee! Me so hungee!” dance and her interruption of Abed’s finale speech. Indeed, the multiple-timeline structure of the episode allowed all the characters to play absurd, over-the-top comedic moments in fine contrast with down-to-earth realistic interactions. Witness in one timeline , the lack of the pizza chant after sharing a heart-to-heart with Troy.

What is most impressive of the episode, is how a story of this scope and magnitude (pop POP!) was able to breathe within the span of only 21 minutes. Kudos to Dan Harmon and his writing staff for crafting a script so full of Chekhovian setups and nuanced character study. The devil is certainly in the details of this episode, and for more insight into its creation, check out these two Tumblr posts (Tumblr?! So hip and with it!), straight from the creator himself.

Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler)

While “Remedial Chaos Theory” explores the dynamics when one person is removed from a group, Parks and Recreation’s “Pawnee Rangers” deftly deals with one character’s struggle to stay within a community. The emotional fallout of Leslie and Ben’s breakup is explored in this week’s massively entertaining B-story. Early in the episode, Ben Wyatt asks himself what is keeping him in Pawnee, but by the time the credits roll, his roots are dug deeper, thanks to his heroic sidekicks, T-Mobile and Donatella. Parks and Recreation has found a perfect straight man in Adam Scott. When first introduced at the end of season two, Ben served as the entry point for the viewers into the crazy world of Pawnee, and we exchanged our exasperated looks with the former teen mayor. Now well into season four, Ben’s nerd quirks are lovingly and fully fleshed out (“And they would never cancel Game of Thrones. It’s a crossover hit!”). Ben’s straight man persona allows his pairings with Donna & Tom and April & Andy to be hilariously dynamic and refreshing. This “Treat Yo Self” outing has been Donna’s strongest to date (“Needles in yo face, pleasure in yo base!”) and is a perfect example of how Parks and Recreation blends its optimism with hints of raw emotion. Of course Ben’s swell of emotion is showcased in a Batman costume. Of course.

In spite of all the romantic pairings on this show (Remember when Ann and Andy were a thing? Remember Louis C.K.?), it goes without saying that the true emotional core of the show is the relationship between Ron Effing Swanson and Leslie Knope. The rivalry between the Pawnee Rangers and Pawnee Goddesses is the epitome of their disparate lifestyles. Whereas other comedy series may go to great lengths in lampooning a character’s quirks and enthusiasms, the smart writing of this series positions Ron and Leslie’s stubborn viewpoints squarely with character strengths. Their loves of wilderness survival and puppy parties are wholly embraced and celebrated. This open-armed acceptance sets Parks and Recreation head and shoulders above all other series.

Plus, how refreshing was it to see the otherwise sweet, lovely, and beautiful Ann Perkins fail to measure up to the standards of Leslie’s Pawnee Goddesses? A great showcase of Rashida Jones’ sometimes under-utilized comedic chops.

I am a Goddess. A glorious female warrior. Queen of all that I survey. Enemies of fairness and equality, hear my womanly roar: NYYYAAAAAAA!!

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3 responses

  1. Dude, the Community episode was one of the best episodes of television I’ve ever had the privilege of experiencing. Every week, Community tries to do something that other shows are too scared to even consider, and so every so often, Community has an episode that just blows everyone away. This episode goes right up there with the flashback/clips episode and the first paintball one.

    • I totally agree with you on this, Eric. Community challenges television conventions with such creativity and intelligence. And when its brilliant wit is coupled with poignant character moments, you’ve got a lethal combo. So far in the series, my favorite episodes of Community have been this one, the clips show, the bottle episode, and the Dungeons and Dragons outing.

  2. Pingback: The Naughty and Nice of 2011 TV | everybody and television

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