Last night’s Community was a riff on the old clip-show format: The characters reminisce, the writers get to take it easy, and the audience fumes in frustration over what’s essentially a rerun with a few new lines stuck on top. So Community did what it does: subverted its genre while commenting on the nature of fandom, somehow managing to make something that’s always a disappointment into something gleefully hilarious and fresh. But “The Paradigms of Human Memory” said that clip shows suck — and then an hour later, 30 Rock aired a clip show. And the clip parts of it? Well … they sucked.
Which was maybe the point — the entire 30 Rock episode was a meta story about how the show has managed to stay on the air, defying many of even its most ardent fans’ expectations. Eventually, the flashback structure got turned on its ear as Cheyenne Jackson’s Danny started absorbing the memories Lonny Ross’s Josh, who’s not even on the show anymore. It was a funny turn and sort of explained how 30 Rock sees itself: Sure, it’ll use some of the structures and tropes of traditional sitcoms, but then it will take them someplace so weird and surprising, they’ll seem like something brand-new. Until it gets to that new, strange place, though, 30 Rock sort of flails.
Where 30 Rock branches out, Community digs in deep. 30 Rock’s first act had a bunch of flashbacks, which eventually tapered off as the episode took shape; Community never let up, using slo-mo montages and even framing its story by having the characters literally frame their story in a diorama.
“100” wasn’t a bad episode of 30 Rock — not by a long shot — but it drove home “The Paradigms of Human Memory“‘s point: Audiences are too savvy for regular clip shows. Go meta or go home.