Toward the beginning of The Greatest Event In Television History 3, host Jeff Probst’s faith in this whole enterprise is shaken, and he admits that it’s better to title this episode An Event In Television History. Should have stuck to his guns. This thing is hilarious, unique, and pure television. It’s a once-in-an-every-few-months experience. It’s just that this installment is a little thin. For starters there’s that opening. Typically the series opens with fanfare, aware that billions of people the world over are waiting with bated breath to find out what the greatest event in television history will be. This one opens with a flustered Probst and some baffled pauses before getting into the “Live from Hollywood” spiel. What’s more, there was no tease for the Simon & Simon or Hart To Hart remakes. This one comes preceded by a press photo of the new Too Close For Comfort cast. Speaking of which, taking on a sitcom instead of a detective show that’s sort of but not entirely in on the joke of its own goofiness saps some of the parody power.
But the real bellows is how the episode takes the central joke of the series—that it takes a hyper-elaborate production to make a short credits sequence—and goes meta: This is all in service of the shortest subject yet, the seven shots in the credits for Too Close For Comfort, yet the episode is double the length of the last two. Which ought to give the writers the chance to squeeze in more plot, but there really is only one joke per person, except for Chelsea Peretti who just gets to play straight man in one scene. Catherine O’Hara thinks “Too Close For Comfort” is code for “Star Wars.” Kathryn Hahn isn’t sure whether to believe O’Hara or Peretti. Adam Scott has a problem with sitting in that he physically can’t bring himself to do so. And Jon Glaser—actually Glaser gets several jokes: He’s addicted to cocaine, he’s just doing this because he gets to do the stunt, and he has a prosthetic to cover his beard. So at least one character gets a lot of material.
Then there are the recurring bits, which already downshifted from laughs to smiles in the second episode. “We visited the tallest so-and-so in Los Angeles.” Scott has an ironclad contract courtesy of his lawyer Trace Goron, played by Paul Scheer. There’s even some continuity with the ghost of Jon Hamm, who died filming the Simon & Simon credits remake, appearing to Scott Obi-Wan Kenobi-style, forcefully telling him to just sit already. It works, because fear and awe of Jon Hamm is Adam Scott’s primary motivator.
Every structural divergence An Event In Television History takes from its predecessors is less funny. One of the other narrative jokes of the series that this installment defangs is that typically, the production starts with high hopes, devolves into nothingness, and suddenly here’s Jeff Probst counting down to the finished product! Like I said, Jon Hamm literally (in the show) died before production was over on Simon & Simon. Adam Scott went crazy. Nevertheless, voila: An immaculate recreation. Ditto Hart To Hart, which could barely film anything thanks to the intense feud between Adam Scott and co-star Amy Poehler but magically finished the job anyway. Too Close For Comfort goes the opposite way. The drama is built around two things, whether Adam Scott can sit in a chair—which, granted, funny—and whether they’ll get The Shot, that is the stunt shot of Glaser falling backward. Hamm solves problem A, and as for problem B, Glaser breaks his neck in the process, but we see before our very eyes that, indeed, they got the shot. I admire changing up the joke, but which is funnier, a hard-fought production eking out a success or a production spiraling into the abyss and magically getting results anyway?
An Adult Swim bumper plays up the self-deprecation, calling the show, “A fairly average intermission in history.” But there’s nothing average about it. I over-emphasize the problems because the series sets such a high bar for itself. But this is still a gas. Jason Mantzoukas plays himself as a well-known action maestro director who is not fucking around. He’s the perfect belligerent straight man to reflect all the characters’ weirdness back at them. Seth Morris stretches some different muscles playing the highly respected stunt coordinator who’s very serious about this so no one gets hurt but looks forward to joshing around with the cast later. Everyone in the cast has at least a moment: Adam Scott tragically failing to sit in a chair on a beach, Kathryn Hahn wondering in confessional if Catherine O’Hara is right or if she’s mentally ill, O’Hara responding to everything with a Star Wars quote and a wink. And let’s be honest, the point of all this is to recreate the Too Close For Comfort credits, and they are hilarious, all wavy videotape and awkward expressions. And why do some characters know they’re being filmed and others not?
Most of all, the novelty is not gone. Listen: Jeff Probst hosts a show about a bunch of Parks And Recreation people and Catherine O’Hara filming an absurdist making-of documentary for their shot-for-shot remake of the credits for Too Close For Comfort. What an insane thing to see. And to think it's par for the course for such a creative channel as Adult Swim.