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Jews Watching TV: Parks & Recreation Keeps Winning

In last night’s installment of NBC’s epic Thursday night comedy lineup each show shared a common objective: to ground the viewer in the location and setting of each series and to offer an idea about the world around the central cast.  Twice that world meant, actor Charlie Koontz who was an unknown, like 161 Twitter followers unknown, until last night when he made appearances on both Perfect Couples and Community. Koontz as Leon in Perfect Couples, mustered about three lines, but that still places him as the series’ most active supporting character. It’s understandable to focus sharply on the three couples but unless the writers start fleshing out their version of Portland, the show will start feeling stagnant. Outsourced is still yet to create a reoccurring character outside of the mains but with episodes like last night’s they have succeeded in exploring locations outside the office. Most notably, this episode featured the most compelling cut-away shots of the series thus far.

For the line-up’s elder statesmen, The Office and 30 Rock, worlds are mostly set but each show is still trying to approach them in new ways. Scranton has never been a big star of The Office but last night the stable town was a perfect backdrop for a romcom-style courtship, which ended in its own version of a rooftop kiss between Michael and Holly. 30 Rock’s facsimile of the Art Deco office building/skating rink on the corner of 50th st. and 6th ave. is still packed with its oddly Jew-lacking (link — bunch of buffoons but last night showed that Kabletown’s takeover was going to shake it around a little (maybe too little). Overall, both these shows have successful created a thorough articulated setting.

What makes the night’s best shows, Community and Parks & Rec, standout is the desire to instead create a Simpsonian universe that feels both genuine and lived-in.  For Community they are just starting to build the mythology of Greendale.  The writers have periodically offered glimpses into the ridiculous with Starburns, Leonard, and the dean but last night focused on a character with real pain and emotion. Played by Koontz, Fat (until Jeff can find a fatter Neil) Neil’s hyper-realistic characterization is the type of device the show has deftly been using to ground itself while having episodes exist completely outside the realm of possibility.

Still, last night’s best show, Parks & Recreation proudly displayed Pawnee, Indiana, possibly the most realized town in live-action television comedy history. As the show often does it started with a micro-problem – a hapless divorced dad’s (played by Will Forte in a role that is potentially funnier than his turn on 30 Rock) desire to get the Twilight book series included in Pawnee time capsule in order to impress his daughter, quickly explodes it into a town-wide issue. Last night’s hysterical town hall was a display of the absurdity and heart upon which Parks & Rec thrives, or as Griff from Boy Meets World put it, “They’re weirdoes who care.”

Three episodes in, Parks & Recreation is firing on every possible cylinder to a point where it currently stands as the best television show of 2011 thus far. There is its Murderer’s Row of an ensemble cast and the deft political satire but what set last night’s episode apart was Pawnee. With the book on Friday Night Lights and Dillon, TX set to close next week, maybe Parks & Recreation will ascend as the dominate vision of small town America a decade into a new millennium.

So as the night’s winner, here is a clip from last nights Parks & Recreation:

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