Arts & Culture
Jews Watching TV: Community Vs. Parks & Recreation (Sorta…)
Now we enter into the debate of whether Community is the best show on television, or if Parks & Recreation is. Read More
Beyond a season finale, last night’s Community seemed to cap off the run it’s been on for the last year since the first paintball extravaganza. It was that episode that first really put Community on people’s radar as a show doing something wholly unique. That plus a flawless first half of their second season resulted in the show topping many Best TV Shows of 2010 lists.
More than just supremely funny, Community was painted (pun mostly not intended) as challenging, progressive, and at times darkly realistic despite being set in a boundless universe. Take last night’s fantastic episode, in which they used a high concept to deftly handle the most prominent conflict of the season, “why is Pierce still in the group?” Using the game as a platform for his redemption, the show was able to avoid feeling pat. Pierce’s revealing speech at the end could have easily felt heavy-handed yet it was touching as a result of the contrast with his cohorts’ paint drench absurdity and the lack of happily ever after. The show is always at its best when the characters are drawn hyperrealistically in spite of a completely unreal setting. Broadly, Community, more than any other show out there, continuously aspires to explore what can be done with the medium; however, ultimately, it is about relationships (here is a great clip of Dan Harmon talking about this exact balance).
There is one problem though, as strong as the argument is that Community is the greatest show on television, one equally so can be made for it not even being the best in its own line-up. Much of Community’s meteoric rise to the upper crust of TV criticism was done while Parks & Recreation was on hiatus and since the latter’s return it’s hard to look at the former the same.
It can be argued, and we’re going to argue it now, that P&R hasn’t had a not great episode since the premier of the second season. That is 40 straight great episodes. Hell, Arrested Development only had 53 episodes total, including some wonky third season stuff. Last night’s Amy Phoeler penned shit-show, “The Fight” might have been the funniest of the season (i.e. Ron Swanson + dancing + little hat) but a strong case can be made for 13 of the other episodes as well. There is simply no show on the air that has a better understanding of its characters and the comedic voices of its actors. Its consistency and focus end up pointing out the cracks in Community’s armor, leaving it feeling overly rigid and forced in comparison. In turn, Parks can seem overly humble and repetitive when the shows are put side to side.
The compromise, albeit a semantic one, is to say Community is the greatest television comedy, while Parks & Recreation is the best. It’s a slight yet significant distinction between one show’s ambition and one’s precision of execution. At the end of day, which currently is at 10:30 before Outsourced, this is a lucky problem to have. Regardless, of critical hierarchy both these show’s primary goal is to make people laugh and both did so in spades last night.
Parks & Recreation still has two (two!) more episodes left so here is a final clip from this season of Community. Instead of one from last night we decided to pander a little bit more…