A review of this week's “Community” coming up just as soon as I do a baby bird monologue…
So far this season, “Community” show has taken advantage of the move to Yahoo to make the episodes a few minutes longer, let them breathe, let subplots and running gags feel fully-developed, and not have to rush through things like the Portuguese “Gremlins” trailer or the payoff to the Dean's relationship with the Japanese teen. They didn't feel padded in the way that many “Arrested Development” season 4 episodes did, but they clocked in at something more closely resembling the platonic ideal of a network sitcom episode length.
Directed by Oscar Winner Jim Rash and his longtime collaborator and fellow Oscar Winner Nat Faxon, “Queer Studies and Advanced Waxing” was the longest episode by far, clocking in at close to 31 minutes. It was also the first to feel too long, even though I liked a lot of individual parts of it
For example, the actual staging of “The Karate Kid” play – and the audience members' gobsmacked reaction to the power of Chang's performance as Mr. Miyagi – was wonderful. But the “Whipash”/”Full Metal Jacket” riff from the previous scenes started to drag, even with Jason Mantzoukas being fun as the tyrannical director, even with the badness of Annie's Daniel-san/Barbarino mash-up(*). This was the best Chang subplot the show has done in a long time, but it still would have benefited from tightening up.
(*) Someone Annie's age would likely have no idea who Vinnie Barbarino was, but Alison Brie clearly watched some “Kotter” before filming this episode.
Then again, I wound up having the opposite reaction to the episode's attempt to analyze the Dean's complex sexuality – note how his office this week featured a ton of Dalmatian paraphernalia(**) – in that all the glimpses of Pelton struggling between honesty and being a role model for the gay students of Greendale was more satisfying than the payoff. I understand that even on Yahoo, Harmon and company may not be able to be completely blunt about the other five-sevenths of what the Dean is – assuming they even fully understand it – but the Dean coming out as a politician, and suffering for it, didn't really fit with the rest.
(**) If you haven't watched it lately, now is the time to revisit Oscar Winner Jim Rash, Joel McHale and Yvette Nicole Brown having fun with the word “furries.”
Still, the “Gay Dean” parody of “Jolene” was splendid, and linked together the three plots – including Abed and Elroy trying to protect the three baby birds – in what was a fairly melancholy episode of “Community.” Some fat could definitely have been trimmed, but I'm coming to like the more spare and wistful vibe of the season so far. No matter how good the replacement actors have been, I'm not sure the show can ever be what it was when the full original cast was in place, so better for the show not to try. But I'll be curious to see if the length of this one was an anomaly, or if the season's later episodes will start stretching the boundaries of what a Yahoo episode can be even more.
Some other thoughts:
* Britta got to be less pathetic than recently in this one, as she offered Annie advice on what to do about the play and the Chang situation. Still, it's interesting that Frankie seems to have replaced Britta's role in the group as Jeff's co-leader; usually, when Jeff is summoned by the Dean, or otherwise asked to make any kind of major decision, it's Frankie who's by his side.
* Though the show on the whole can't be what it was, that was an excellent vintage “Community” teaser in the episode, with everyone chanting “WI FI!” at the Dean, Elroy being stunned to learn that terabytes are the hot new thing in computing, and Chang struggling with his lines.
* Can't decide which line I prefer: “Like Sidney Poitier or Meg Ryan before you, let's say you were cast for race…” or the Mantzoukas telling Chang he's the worst actor he's ever directed, “And I directed both Wahlbergs!”
* Great silent exchange between Rash and McHale as the Dean and Jeff try to figure out if Frankie's comment about sexuality being private means that she's gay.
* The season keeps making good use of the recurring Greendale student body, here with Annie Kim being Annie Edison's obvious replacement as Daniel-san.
* I look forward to Zapruder-like analysis of Jeff and Annie's milord/milady scene and whether that means they are or are not secretly having an affair.
What did everybody else think?