There's no comedy series quite like Community, and as is often the case with such an uncompromised original, being this defiantly different comes with a price. And sadly, that price tends to be the sort of cellar-dwelling ratings that would get most shows canceled, if on any other network. Thankfully, NBC can ill afford these days to turn away any show that gets this kind of cult and media buzz, although everyone wishes it were doing better or were programmed in a time period (the old 30 Rock slot currently being wasted on Whitney, maybe?) that might increase its exposure.
Such things are out of our control. All we can do is keep beating the drums in a frenzy of admiration when episodes as wildly, weirdly entertaining as tonight's "Remedial Chaos Theory" (8/7c) come along. It's the sort of riotous experiment that will reward replaying, to enjoy and study from every conceivable angle. Because there are many at play here, which is the existential point.
The setting is Troy and Abed's new apartment "of perpetual virginity" (Jeff's snarky first reaction), where the study group has gathered for a classic "bottle episode" of a housewarming party. As they settle down for a game of Yahtzee ("Is charades off the table?" Jeff sighs), a roll of the dice to determine who goes to fetch a pizza delivery sets up (in Abed's mind) six different timelines. And what happens next, as we see each scenario unfold, reveals the effect on the group when a single member leaves the room. Variations on character-specific running gags ensue, building to a hilariously calamitous meltdown and a smart final twist that sets everything right again.
I loved this episode, and expect all those who love Community will as well, while those who don't will continue to scratch their noggins as they wonder what all the fuss is about.
In the Parks and Recreation episode that follows (8:30/7:30c), Leslie attempts to upstage Ron Swanson's boys-only fun-deprived wilderness group by taking her own distaff club, the Pawnee Goddesses, on an adjacent outing. But when she discovers she may have succeeded too well — "I've created a mob of little Leslie Knope monsters," she realizes with a mix of horror and pride — something must be done. The funniest subplot this week belongs to the show's most serious character, Ben, reminding us how much better Parks got when Adam Scott (Ben) and Rob Lowe (Chris) joined the ensemble. When Tom and Donna drag a reluctant Ben along for a day of self-indulgence, his attempts to relax only make him more agitated and comically stressed. Even harps make him nervous. Something tells me he wouldn't make a very good Pawnee Ranger.
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A musical legend celebrates a milestone when PBS' Live From Lincoln Center (8/7c, check local schedules) presents Wynton Marsalis at 50, a jazz celebration honoring the musician-composer by revisiting his favorite compositions with guests including vocalist Gregory Porter, pianist Marcus Roberts and violinist Mark O'Connor. The live performance, including a second hour not televised, will be streamed online at pbs.org.
We're still a few weeks away from November sweeps, but the stunt casting is already well underway. Among tonight's notable guest stars: Wil Wheaton returns to CBS' The Big Bang Theory (8/7c) as Sheldon's nemesis, this time joined by fellow Star Trek: The Next Generation alum Brent Spiner, as Sheldon and Leonard are invited to a party at Wheaton's house. ... Debbie Allen scrubs in at ABC's Grey's Anatomy (9/8c) as Jackson Avery's famous surgeon mother Catherine, on hand to perform a rare transplant surgery. ... On NBC's The Office (9/8c), Andy's family is introduced when he nervously hosts a garden party in hopes of impressing his inscrutable new boss. Stephen Collins and Dee Wallace are his mom and dad, and singer Josh Groban tests his comedy chops as the Nard Dog's brother.
So what else is on? ... No one would accuse ABC's struggling Charlie's Angels reboot of excessive originality, but this week (8/7c), they're actually borrowing a script from the original series. It's "Angels in Chains" time, as the gals contrive to land themselves in a Cuban prison to crack a kidnapping ring. Smallville's Erica Durance guests as a former flame of Bosley's from the CIA. ... It's Senior Prank Night on the CW's The Vampire Diaries (8/7c), and while Elena and the gang attempt to enjoy themselves before starting senior year (yeah, right), naturally — or, rather, supernaturally — some uninvited guests show up to stir up some danger. Because otherwise there wouldn't be a show.