Review: ‘Community’ – ‘Cooperative Polygraphy’

Senior Television Writer
01.16.14 62 Comments


A review of tonight's “Community” coming up just as soon as I send Liam Neeson a message about the roles he chooses…

The title of “Cooperative Polygraphy” evokes season 2's “Cooperative Calligraphy.” So does the structure, as once again we spend an entire episode inside the study room as one shocking revelation after another leads these people to turn on each other. What elevates it above a straight rehash of “Calligraphy” is that there's an outside force stirring up the trouble this time: the late Pierce Hawthorne, playing one last set of mind games on the group that never truly let him feel like he belonged. (In that way, it owes as much to the first documentary episode as it does to “Calligraphy.”)

You might think that after all this time, there wouldn't be this many dismaying new secrets left to come out, but the “Polygraphy” script made it work, because virtually all of them are the kind that Pierce in particular would jump on. Whether the sin was minor (Troy and Abed using Jeff's Netflix account) or major (Annie drugging the study group, Abed planting GPS trackers on them all), all arose from the same basic belief that the transgressor knew better than those transgressed against. To Shirley, Britta's vegetarianism is another goofy belief not worth bothering with. To Annie, Troy and Abed are too immature to properly handle their money without her setting some of it aside each month. Fairly or unfairly, the rest of the group held itself above Pierce, and he had to jump on all these accounts of them doing the same thing to each other, and/or simply acting selfish without regards to their friends' feelings. The moment where Jeff tries to blame all the new strife on Pierce, followed by Mr. Stone(*) noting that “Pierce” hadn't asked a question in quite some time, was chilling, even in the largely comic context of an episode featuring jokes about Chang's masturbation habits(**) and Shirley's resentment of the snooty polygrapher.

(*) A nice role for Walton Goggins, who's very good at deadpan stillness like this, then got to cut loose in the tag as we got Stone's perspective on all that just happened, completely oblivious to how his audience feels about the whole thing.

(**) A perfect use of Chang, really: bring him in for one really good joke, then shuffle him off-stage ASAP.

And in the way the best “Community” episodes do, it all builds up to a lot of genuine emotion, as the study group unburdens itself of its remaining secrets (though some, like Shirley being passive-aggressive, are less revealing than others), followed by Pierce – having successfully brought them all down to his level – being magnanimous and wise and kind in the way he was capable of being (but also petty and racist at times), leaving them all advice and gifts, each of them reflecting his specific relationship with that person. (Abed, whom Pierce related to the least, is the only one to not get a second gift beyond the sperm.) It's a really generous sequence, not just from Pierce, but from the writers toward that character, who was an easy butt of jokes, and whom they could have simply forgotten, or derided, once Chevy Chase departed under such bad circumstances. Instead, they said farewell to Pierce in a way that looks more kindly on him in death than they often did in life.

And Pierce's farewell also sets up Troy's. Next week is Donald Glover's last on the show, and though I might have liked to see him get more to do in the previous three episodes, he had a lot of strong material here, and I imagine he will next week as Troy prepares to sail around the world on Pierce's boat. Remember that in the very early days of the show, Pierce was Troy's primary foil, until the writers recognized the Glover/Pudi chemistry, but even after Troy and Abed became the bestest of friends, Pierce still showed an interest in Troy, and of course they were later roommates. Pierce was obsessed with both attaching himself to youth and to correcting the mistakes of his past; asking Troy to do this mission that he couldn't neatly pulls off both, and is such a grand idea (with such a big payoff) that you can buy Troy leaving Abed and the rest of his friends to do it. And in the weird but not impossible event of a sixth season, it leaves things open for Glover to come back, even for an episode, if he's of a mind to do so.

Just a terrific episode. Sad we're about to lose Troy, but the show is in remarkably good shape after all this time, and all the backstage turmoil.

What did everybody else think?

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