‘Community’ – ‘Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts’: The new normal

Senior Television Writer
03.15.12 100 Comments


A review of tonight’s “Community” coming up just as soon as I convince you that turtlenecks are made of turtle’s necks…

In my advance review of this episode this morning, I noted that “Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts” was not only among the more “normal” episodes of the season, but one that used the Troy/Abed subplot to comment on the limitations of normality. It’s classic “Community”-style having your cake and eating it too. On the one hand, with the Shirley/Andre storyline – and then the Jeff, Pierce and Britta problems that spun out of it – the show reminded us of just how effective and funny it can be at telling relatively sane character-driven stories. And with Troy and Abed being normal(*), the show got to comment on what it was doing, tell some good jokes, and admit that sometimes, it’s just more fun when you go crazy and follow the monkey into the vent.

(*) And I will now hear their deadpan delivery of that line in my head whenever I see their names together, rather than the sing-song “Troy and Abed in the morning!” and its imitators.

But let’s start with Shirley’s wedding. Of all the members of the study group, she’s the one the show has struggled most to utilize in the past. Yvette Nicole Brown is just as funny and versatile a performer as her co-stars, but Shirley as a character doesn’t seem as malleable as, say, Annie. But I loved the foosball plot with her and Jeff from right before the hiatus, and the marriage story made good use of all the aspects of Shirley: her uptight religion (her church has rules against “second weddings, tight jeans and Calico cats”), the Miss Piggy voice (which is here revealed, somewhat horrifyingly, to be what Andre considers “your sexy voice”), the struggle between what’s best for her family and her own desires, and even her generosity of spirit when it comes to the likes of Pierce. (That said, maybe the best Shirley-related joke of the episode involved her complete lack of faith in Britta, as evidenced by the time gaps where she either laughs or stares at Britta for minutes on end.) Shirley puts herself out there for the sandwich shop, and while she gets beat out by the corporate evil of Subway(*), it’s clear that she knows her stuff (or, at least, knows it well enough to impress Dean Pelton). And she finds a way to both get her husband back while keeping her new independent life – like “Community” tonight, she gets to have (almost) everything she wants. And good for her.

(*) On “Chuck,” Subway was the greatest place on earth (and, in real life, part of the salvation of the show). On “Community” so far, it’s the bad guy stealing Shirley’s dream. Interesting.

And Shirley’s impending nuptials set up some great material involving resident commitment-phobes Jeff and Britta. We’ve talked before about how terrific Gillian Jacobs has been this season, usually at showing Britta being terrible at everything. Here, we discover the one area where she’s genuinely talented, only her skills at wedding planning only disgust her. Lots of great work from her, and from Joel McHale as Jeff struggled to write his wedding toast(**), dealt with his daddy issues, and came close to drunkenly marrying Britta before Shirley stepped in and set everything to right.

(**) Which set up Annie’s great line that the “Webster’s Dictionary defines” intro is “The Jim Belushi of speech openings: it accomplishes nothing, but everyone keeps on using it, and no one knows why.”

I also appreciated that the story, and Shirley, took Pierce a little seriously – albeit in the context of an episode where his Trouser Bench invention’s horrible malfunction led to his hilarious request, “Will someone please call all the ambulances?” Pierce is a joke, but he doesn’t want to be, and those moments where he’s so close to being human that he can taste it are often the most satisfying, and funniest, Pierce storylines. (And then the tag gave Chevy Chase an opportunity to do some vintage “SNL”-era solo slapstick.)

But back to Troy and Abed being normal. It was funny, and it was a commentary on the episode itself (and the series), but it was another reminder that living an Abed life has its downsides. When Abed de-whismifies himself, he’s suddenly capable of having normal social interactions, flirting and dancing with an attractive woman, etc., and the second Troy-as-Constable-Reggie reminds him of who he really is, they’re not really fit for human company but each other and the rest of the study group. I wouldn’t want Abed to not be Abed, or Troy to not be his faithful companion, but it’s hard not to notice that the deeper their friendship has become, the more both of them have become isolated from the outside world in general and the opposite sex in particular. If not for Troy’s occasional flirtations with Britta, he’d practically be asexual, and once upon a time (in season 1’s “Physical Education”) there was a sense that Abed had interest in, and was at times attractive to, women. Just something to keep an eye on.

Add in dance numbers at the beginning (Andre and his pals doing “Motownphilly”) and end (the wedding guests doing the Electric Slide), and you’ve got a splendid return to this thing we call television for this show we love called “Community.”

What did everybody else think?

UPDATE: This is pretty cool. No idea if it’ll translate into bigger numbers when the ratings come in tomorrow morning, but “Community” got four different worldwide trending topics on Twitter tonight (in addition to the three below, Jim Belushi also trended for a while):

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