By Nathan Smith and Alec Lindner
Being frank, I was a little worried that when Community came back, it wouldn’t be as good, or it would sell its soul, or something in a similar vein to try and get viewers back. But it wasn’t that at all. Seeing that it was the last real chance for the show to draw in new viewers and lock in the show for six seasons and a movie, it was a great episode that still avoided pandering to those who prefer Whitney or The Big Bang Theory. Because honestly, it could be very easy for Community to become The Big Bang Theory. Community is TV for nerds, but The Big Bang Theory is TV for people who a) think they are nerds or b) like to laugh at nerds. And while the second group may be a larger demographic, Community has something Theory and most sit-coms don’t have: heart.
“Urban Matrimony and Sandwich Arts” proved yet again to me that beneath all the highly-calculated concepts and the nuance and the subtleties, Community is a show solely focused on its characters, and this episode is a great example of why I love the show. I’ve talked before about how much I love 30 Rock, and I still do to a certain extent, but 30 Rock feels tired when compared to Community, because the latter has managed to realize that ultimately, its the characters that matter. I love the characters on 30 Rock because of their absurdity, but I don’t feel deeply connected with them or identify with their situations. I do with the characters Community. Because ultimately, Community manages to show the small struggles we face as social creatures but bring laughs. The characters aren’t just coin-operated joke machines; they are actual human beings. This is part of the reason why I’ve stopped reviewing 30 Rock; yeah, I’ve been busy, but it’s also all the same. It never strives for feeling or for anything new, and in fact it tried to rip off Community last night, but it missed the main point, the heart of it all.
This post is probably less about last night’s episode, and more about what last night’s episode proved. Last night, while it may not have been a “Critical Film Studies” or “Remedial Chaos Theory” in terms of concept, managed to find the middle of the Venn diagram, the special space between reference and heart. I love Community because it makes me realize that I’m not the only person who sucks up every last bit of pop culture and dissects it to an infinite level, turning everything into a critique. However, I also love Community because these characters feel like real people that I can connect to, understand, and relate to. Dan Harmon’s genius is that he has not only managed to disassemble every trope and genre and expectation imaginable, but he has done it with feeling and emotion and love.
Last night, Community beat American Idol in the Adults 18-34 category. I hope that means something about society as a whole, that maybe we’re changing from needing freak shows to feel good about ourselves to needing people we identify with. That maybe we’re gaining a societal heart of our own. But I mean, I don’t know. That could be over-analyzing it.
Some other side-notes:
-I didn’t realize until the AV Club informed me, but the “Literally” title screen was a jab at Parks and Rec. Now I feel better about it.
Community IS BACK. HERE TO CLAIM ITS RIGHTFUL PLACE ON NBC THURSDAY NIGHTS WITH a fairly unexceptional, if solid, episode, actually. One might expect that Community might try to pull out all the stops in its triumphant return to the airwaves, but airing a more conventional episode in this slot makes sense too: they’re proving that they can solidly perform week-to-week. Unfortunately, now that we know the show’s back, it’s easier to see its flaws.
Rather than an unconnected A, B, and C plot, tonight’s episode has one main plot from which all others are derived: Shirley’s remarriage to her husband. Troy and Abed experiment with being normal at the rehearsal; Jeff struggles to write a toast for Shirley, even though he’s critical of marriage; Britta and Annie team up to plan Shirley’s wedding so she can pitch her restaurant idea to the Dean with Pierce. This mostly goes as you’d expect. We get some wackiness from Troy and Abed as they attempt to conform, before ultimately embracing their weirdness. This was fun, but derivative of stuff we’ve seen with Troy and Abed in the past, particularly in “Epidemiology.” Still, Community has defined its characters so well that it’s fun to hang out with them even if the show isn’t breaking new ground. The Pierce/Shirley plot features Pierce’s casual racism, which is always fun. It also gave us the only Dean we got in this episode.
The real strength of this episode comes in Jeff and Britta’s plot. While planning Shirley’s wedding, Britta discovers she has an affinity for wedding planning and becomes depressed, fearing she faces a future of being an obedient wife. At the rehearsal, Jeff, mulling over marriage and drinking for a while, drunkenly reveals that he doesn’t believe in marriage because his dad left his mom, and he and Britta, thoroughly drunk herself, decide to get married out of self-hatred. The Jeff/Britta relationship is my favorite on the show, and we got a great example of why it works so well tonight; Jeff and Britta are both insane, and their bouncing off each other allows their insanity to spiral dangerously out of control. Britta’s grown to become my favorite character on the show; while the other characters can sometimes be overpowered by their quirks and feel somewhat one-dimensional (Annie is naïve, Troy is childlike), the writers have defined Britta really well as a character; she’s funny, but she feels like a real person as well.
As much fun as this episode was, it had the problems standard to Community’s non-theme episodes. As much as I love Community, I realize that it’s a deeply flawed show. Unlike other comedies like Parks and Recreation or Archer, which are pretty consistent, Community is a show you love because its tremendous strengths outweigh its glaring flaws. I won’t go into detail about everything that’s wrong with the show, since that would go on too long and make it seem like I didn’t enjoy tonight’s episode, which I really did, but there are glaring problems that Community could benefit somewhat from fixing. The main problem I had tonight was with the dialogue. Community is somewhat like an autistic savant: incredibly smart, but somewhat awkward. Sometimes, it seems like the show’s dialogue is more focused on delivering jokes than on producing authentic conversations. For example, lamenting the closure of Greendale’s coffee shop, Annie remarks, “I miss having a coffee shop. Now where am I going to get cappuccinos are Sarah McLaughlin CDs?” This was a funny line, but it just sounded too… stilted. Rather than sounding like something a real person would say, it felt forced, as though the writers knew it was a good joke, but couldn’t figure out how to fit it into Annie’s dialogue. Unlike something like 30 Rock, which can use its characters as mere vessels for jokes and cutaway gags, one of Community’s main strengths is its strong cast of characters; the show functions best when it can find a balance between humor and heart, and it often falters because its characters can feel unrealistic sometimes. In order for us to feel invested in Greendale, we have to believe in its inhabitants as real people, but the show’s often clunky dialogue often takes us out of the show’s word to remind us that, yes, these are just characters. The most egregious example of this came in the florist hired to help plan Shirley’s wedding, the only part of the episode I thought simply did not work. With him, the show wants to poke fun at the frivolousness that comes with wedding planning, but rather than doing so in a believable way, it simply paints him as unfunny and bizarre caricature. After Annie asks for a pink bouquet, the florist replies “we don’t call it pink. We don’t call anything by its name. That’s like day one floral school stuff;” Upon seeing Britta’s impressive arrangement, he exclaims “color me lavender!” Who the hell talks like that? By sacrificing realistic dialogue in favor of overly-broad jokes, the show feels forced, while the best Community episodes leave us in awe of how effortlessly they seem to flow. Still, this was a very solid episode, and it’s great to have the show back.
Quotes and the rest:
“If the good lord wanted you to have a penny, you’d have one.” –Line of the night
“It’s like a thought with another thought’s hat on.”
“Flowers look good in a pot. There are people dying in Uganda.” Was this a dig at the Kony 2012 thing? It seems like that would have been too recent to make it into tonight’s episode, so I guess they just coincidentally picked the same country that’s come into the public consciousness. Pretty impressive, since there are like ten million countries in Africa.
“Troy and Abed being normal.”
“That was… an odd dot to connect.”
“Don’t you dare use your sexy voice on me.” “Ohhh…”
Is anyone else surprised that Jeff’s dad hasn’t shown up yet? After his meltdown in “Documentary Filmmaking,” I thought for sure we’d see him by the end of season two. The show seems to be building to a pretty epic confrontation.
“Or is it hardly… the space?”
“Remember his temper tantrum when Adam Sandler “stole” his idea for Jack and Jill?”