‘Community’ – ‘Early 21st Century Romanticism’: People who need people

Senior Television Writer
02.10.11 98 Comments


A review of tonight’s “Community” coming up just as soon as I leap to defend the Barenaked Ladies aggressively…

As we’ve been discussing all season, there are many different flavors of “Community,” but of late we usually only get one at a time, two at most. “Early 21st Century Romanticism,” on the other hand, pretty successfully mixed several of the show’s flavors into a single episode. We got (literal) kitchen-sink realism and emotion from the events at Jeff’s apartment, bizarre and disturbing fantasy in Pierce’s painkiller hallucinations, a comedy of manners in Britta’s error about her friend Paige, and some shameless (but funny) fan service in Troy and Abed pursuing the same girl, only to realize that they’re really meant for each other. No meta commentary and minimal pop culture homages(*), but better that they not try to cram too much into an episode than overreach and have nothing quite work.

(*) Yes, Abed talked for two hours about the “Saw” films, but that wasn’t Abed comparing the plot he was in to those films, nor did we get a scene in which Troy and Abed found themselves trapped in some fiendish trap, with Chang playing the role of Jigsaw. Sometimes people just talk about movies they like. The only really blatant reference was when Leonard entered Jeff’s apartment asking “Where are the white women at?,” which is my favorite line from “Blazing Saddles.”

Britta isn’t a character you necessarily think of as capable of carrying an episode’s comedy load, but darn it if most of the big laughs this week came out of her being hoisted on her own smug hipster patard. Sitcom stories built entirely around misunderstandings often bug me, but this one worked because it flowed so clearly from Britta’s character. Of course she would be insufferably pleased with herself at having a lesbian friend, and of course she’d be so proud of her own sensitivity that she and Paige would never actually discuss it. Plus, it’s been a running motif of the series that the study group has weird dopplegangers all around Greendale, whether the actors from Abed’s films or Jack Black and Owen Wilson’s evil study group, so it was fun to see Britta get dissed by her own counterpart, and also to see Annie and alt-Annie equally flustered about what to do beyond supporting their deluded pal.

The Jeff/Chang/Duncan get-together, meanwhile, was a really nice piece of business for all three involved. Chang and Duncan both have a tendency to be so cartoonish that a less-is-more screentime approach works best, but Ken Jeong, John Oliver and the script dialed their behavior back to more human levels. Chang was still annoying and pathetic – and too quick to scapegoat his hermit crabs – but you understood why Jeff would ultimately let the guy flop on his couch for a while. Similarly, Duncan got to demonstrate that while he’s a horrible anthropology teacher, he does know a thing or three about psychology and nicely set up Jeff to leave the message he did for the rest of the study group. Yes, Jeff notes early on that his commitment to the study group shouldn’t be questioned at this point, but when you’re an emotionally closed-off cynic, sometimes words actually do speak louder than actions. I hope that Jeff’s message does mark some kind of turning point in his relationship with the group – not that he stops complaining and being sarcastic, but that it’s done with a tacit acknowledgment between him and the others that it’s just him doing what’s second nature, not because he’s marking time until he gets his old life back.

In terms of the other subplots, Troy and Abed’s friendly competition to woo Mariah the librarin was both sweet and funny – Troy’s briefcase full of tacos, Donald Glover’s ridiculous dance moves – even as it pandered to the Troy/Abed ‘shippers out there.

Pierce’s hallucinations were more problematic. The idea of casting Andy Dick was perfect, and I like that Annie was also as perceptive and supportive in this story as she was in Britta’s, but it was just so weird in an episode that was otherwise so low-key and human that I’m not sure it worked. Add to that whatever residual issues the group should have with Pierce after his behavior in the two previous episodes – which I suppose will now be written off as side effects of his addiction – being ignored, and it felt off. But Pierce’s decline did tie in nicely to Jeff’s overall message to the group, and we didn’t spend too much time on it, so I can deal.

Also, I like Barenaked Ladies a lot, but the group’s overprotectiveness and Jeff’s incredulity at that was very random and very funny. 

What did everybody else think?

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