TV picks: 'Community,' 'Schumer,' 'Maron,' Sagal

Los Angeles Times Television Critic

"Community" (NBC, Thursday). The low-rated and much-beloved comedy about a study group at a community college that is not about a study group at a community college so much as it is a comedy about a comedy about a study group at a community college that is only incidentally a study group — and so on — concludes its fourth and possibly last season this week. (The first without cashiered creator and showrunner Dan Harmon, it was delayed from October to February, with the odd effect of airing its Thanksgiving and Christmas episodes in early spring.) At some point in its first year the show jettisoned any pretense of sticking to its premise and embraced its true nature, as an avant-garde meta comedy that, at its best, plays with form and content with an almost childlike glee. (It's actually more of a meta-meta-comedy, which takes note of its own awareness of its awareness — and so on.) That's a tough thing to pull off week after week, season after season — after you've proved you can do anything, and have done it again and again, some of the thrill is bound to be lost — and there were times this year that the show seemed unfocused and obvious. In trying to find a way between invention and feeling, it could grow conventionally, rather than unconventionally, sentimental, or too eager to point out the smart thing it was doing. But it has been finding its feet again: There have been fine, surprising episodes of late — the puppet musical, the one in real time — and its ensemble is one of TV's greatest. See it now.

"Inside Amy Schumer" (Comedy Central, Tuesdays). Schumer came in fourth on Season 5 of "Last Comic Standing," and went on to a busy career that's included appearances on "30 Rock," "Girls," roasts of Charlie Sheen and Roseanne Barr and recurring visits to Fox News' "Red Eye w/Greg Gutfield." Here, she takes center stage in a smart mosaic comedy that mixes sketches, standup and interviews. Her main topic is sex, which is to say, people. Although she spends a lot of time at, and over, the edge, she has a straightforward sweetness that lets her travel freely to the darker corners of her subjects and her own history. That she doesn't seem to consider them all that dark is perhaps one of her strengths, and she is not afraid to let herself look bad, because in looking bad, she only looks human. The interviews — longish ones with a model and a stripper, brief questions to people on the street — are funny but straightforward. There is no pranking, and not much irony.

"Maron" (IFC, Fridays) Cat-loving angry-dog comic and podcaster Marc Maron plays himself in this 10-episode comedy, somewhat in the tradition of "Louie" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (and I suppose we might throw in "Legit," as long as we're listing cable comedies about comedians with issues). That Maron's difficult, dark character can be trying for a viewer is a fact that Maron and his writers recognize; they cushion it by having the other characters also find him trying and difficult; they call him out on it, on your behalf. And Maron is not just self-obsessed but also self-aware, moral and finally, though it can take some work for him to get there, kind. Guests include Judd Hirsch and Sally Kellerman as Maron's parents, Gina Gershon as one of several women quickly in and out of his life, and Dave Foley, Illeana Douglas, Mark Duplass, Jeff Garlin and Denis Leary as characters who share their names and some distinguishing characteristics. (Leary is also an executive producer.) Bobcat Goldthwait directs several episodes.

"Constitution USA" (PBS, Tuesdays). In which Peter Sagal, like Peter Fonda before him, climbs on a motorcycle, straps on a helmet and goes looking for America, as it reflects and reflects upon the sturdy, fluid document on which the whole perpetually argumentative mishmash remains based. But where Fonda's Captain America "went looking for America and couldn't find it anywhere," in the words of an "Easy Rider" tag line, Sagal finds it everywhere he goes. Or so I am led to believe. I have yet to see an episode — titles include "Created Equal" and "Built to Last?" — but my faith in Sagal, familiar as the droll and well-informed host of the public-radio public-affairs quiz show "Wait, Wait ... Don't Tell Me!," is strong.


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