‘Community’ – ‘Competitive Wine Tasting’: Who’s the boss?

Senior Television Writer
04.15.11 77 Comments


A review of last night’s “Community” coming up just as soon as my heart is mad at my kidneys…

We’ve spent a lot of this season discussing the show’s move away from more “typical” episodes – or if, in fact, this season has proved that there’s no such thing with this show anymore, given how much Dan Harmon and company enjoy experimenting with form and tone and style of humor.

“Competitive Wine Tasting,” though, was about as close as the show has come in quite some time to what we once thought of as a typical episode. No major pop culture recreations (though the Abed story was built around a discussion of “Who’s the Boss?,” the only part that required you to be familiar with that show to get the joke was at the very end with the brief snippet of the theme song), three fairly down-to-earth stories (two of them focusing entirely on college life) that spotlighted most of the cast(*), and humor largely based on the character’s relationships with one another.

(*) This week, Annie and Shirley drew the short straw, but Annie at least got my favorite joke of the episode, about how she quit the joke-telling class after the lesson on set-ups, noting, “The professor was so old…” with no punchline.

It wasn’t the funniest episode of the season (though I laughed a bunch), nor will it likely be one I think of immediately when I look back on this year for the show, but sometimes it’s nice to see that “Community” can set aside the experiments, do a more traditional version of itself, and still be effective doing it.

In particular, the Pierce storyline was the first time in a very long time that Pierce has felt like a natural member of the group and not somebody the show keeps around because Chevy Chase is under contract. I still don’t feel particularly satisfied by how the events of the documentary episode were supposed to reconcile him with Jeff and the others, but at least here Pierce seemed like Pierce: rude and offensive and selfish, but also vulnerable and not as dumb as he often seems. (He may not have known exactly what his “fiancee” was up to, but he knew they were using each other in some way, and was okay with that.) I also thought the story did a good job of walking the line between Jeff himself being selfish and Jeff genuinely trying to protect Pierce, and the idea of giving Pierce a younger, more attractive but equally selfish and offensive girlfriend has potential going forward.

The Troy/Britta plot brought back Kevin Corrigan’s character from the conspiracy theory episode, and also played off everyone’s much-stated love of Donald Glover crying by trying to generate a circumstance in which Troy couldn’t honestly cry. Not sure I entirely buy that – again, he’s weeped enough on the show that there should have been some real material for him to work with (say, a monologue about Levar Burton) – but it did set up a potentially very interesting bit of tension between Troy and Britta. I’m not ready to climb aboard The Good ‘Ship Tritta just yet, but given that Troy has been at the forefront of much of this season’s Britta hate (“You’re the AT&T of people,” etc.), the idea that he might now be surprised by an attraction to her is kinda fun. (And because it’s coming more than a year and a half into the series, at a time when the writers know exactly who the characters are, which actors work well with each other, etc., I feel more comfortable if they choose to go there than at the time last year when the show was trying way too hard to make Jeff and Britta happen.)

The Abed storyline, meanwhile, brought in one of my favorite character actors – as well as one of my favorite podcasters – in Stephen Tobolowsky. Tobolowsky wrote a piece for The Wrap about the experience of filming this episode only a month after he’d had open-heart surgery, at a time when he was unable to even stand, and how the show accomodated him by building all the scenes around his physical limitations. The story sounds very much like the kind of thing he’d tell on his wonderful The Tobolowsky Files podcast – in fact, it has a lot in common with the story of how he auditioned for “Glee” not long after suffering a broken neck in a riding accident – and though I didn’t know about that until after I’d watched the episode, I loved the moment where Abed has finished presenting the definitive argument for why Angela was the boss, and Tobolowsky sits there a completely broken, devastated man. On the podcast (which is a mix of stories about his personal and professional lives), he talks a lot about the fight he has with comedy directors about playing the reality of a scene, and here he was absolutely playing what it must feel like to be a man who thought he was the world’s leading expert on a subject – even a subject as frivolous as “Who’s the Boss?” – only to discover how easily his knowledge could be trumped, and his life’s work ruined, by an obsessed amateur. And even though he played it seriously, there was still room for a joke – and a bit of hope for poor Professor Sheffield – where he digs into his desk for his copy of “What Was Happening: An Analysis of ‘What’s Happening!!'”

Fun episode, and the “Fiddler, Please” tag was hilarious. (So much so I’m embedding it below.)

What did everybody else think?

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