A review of this week's “Community” coming up just as soon as you bring me five cans of olives…
Of the remaining season 1 regulars, Chang is the one Harmon and McKenna have given up on trying to integrate into the group in any meaningful way. But Annie's been closer to Chang status than you might expect from one of the remaining members of the original study group. Last year, Harmon told me how excited he was to finally write for Annie as a woman, which was evident in season five's early episodes like Jeff's first day as a teacher and the Fincher parody. Unfortunately, she fell off the map midway through the season, and on a whole she feels like a character the show (both Harmon and McKenna and, briefly, Port and Guarascio) has struggled with a lot since the end of season 2. When you take away her crush on Jeff(*) and you take her away from the more girl-ish qualities that initially defined her, there's still a person there, but it's someone the “Community” writers haven't always known what to do with. When Frankie was introduced last week, Abed – so often the voice of the show's writers – even expressed worry that she made Annie redundant.
(*) Even if you're a believer that the door in the season 5 finale only opened because Jeff looked at Annie, the show hasn't followed up on that at all, unless the idea is a duplicate of season 2 with Jeff and Britta, where these two are hooking up, only we don't know about it yet.
“Basic Crisis Room Decorum,” thankfully, was an Annie spotlight episode that managed to find the elements of Little Annie Adderall that work even when she's in her mid-20s.
There was a lot of good material to go around this week, including a drunken Britta crapping her pants (and then spending the rest of the episode wandering around in Elroy's, looking even more like a hobo than ever), Dean being conned by the Japanese kid whose number he believes to be Jeff's, Elroy being completely in the dark about everyone so far(**) and Chang just going off to make a porn on the City College campus.
(**) It's a smart move to integrate him and Frankie into the group at different speeds. Not only does it allow the show to mine humor from at least one of them being baffled by all that goes on among these people and in this college, but it creates the illusion that they're not both being introduced to the show at the same time, even though their debut episodes were released on the same night.
But what drove the episode was the durable, elastic, never-ending conflict between Annie the idealist and Jeff the cynic, as they each had very different responses to the news that Greendale once gave a degree to a Staffordshire Terrier mix. Jeff sees a problem to be defused by any means necessary; Annie sees something to feel genuinely embarrassed about. It's not just that she doesn't want to get out in front of the scandal: it's that she can't believe she has given so much of her time and energy and youth to a place that would, in fact, give a dog a bachelor's degree.
The best “Community” episodes tend to have an emotional story at the center, even if it's covered up by the usual Greendale absurdity (the hot lava episode last year, for instance, was about Abed's difficulty saying goodbye to Troy), and Annie's dismay at what her friends were doing, and what Greendale had already done, gave this story enough grounding that we were then free to go to strange places like Britta imagining herself in a faux-Lilith Fair music video, or the Dean being strung along by the Japanese kids (made possible because Jeff is always texting when he's not talking to people), or anything else that happened here. It wasn't a wildly funny episode for Alison Brie, but it was a satisfying one for her and her character, and – with the Yahoo transition and character introductions taken care of – the first season 6 episode to feel fully settled in.
Some other thoughts:
* This is the series' 100th episode, but I suppose between the move to Yahoo and the disavowal of virtually everything that happened in season 4, there wasn't an attempt to do something special to mark it. Then again, given all the strange ways “Community” has bent itself over the years, I'm not sure exactly what a “special” 100th episode would look like. In a way, doing a relatively simple and small-scale episode is among the more unusual directions they could have gone in for this.
* Speaking of the scale, there are a few different ways to define a bottle episode. One involves everything taking place on a single set, like “Fly” from “Breaking Bad” or this show's “Cooperative Calligraphy.” But the other simply involves shooting only on pre-existing sets, which this essentially did. The Japanese apartment was new but likely not expensive to put together, and I expect to be seeing at least as much of Elroy's trailer as Annie and Abed's apartment.
* Britta's reaction to realizing she had just soiled herself was the episode's best reaction shot by a country mile (I also enjoyed seeing her scramble around in the background of the library set for a while as she searched for a way out of this literal mess), but Elroy's response to Frankie's pronouncement that she doesn't own a television was awfully funny, too.
* Other great body language: the Dean trying to avoid coming right out and admitting to Annie that the dog got a diploma. Also, everyone but Abed's response to the Chang porn.
* I sure hope there is a full-length version of Britta's music video fantasy floating out there somewhere on Yahoo Screen by the time y'all are reading this.
* Great moments in dog-related political apologia: Richard Nixon's speech about his dog Checkers, which I suspect the “Community” team watched a time or three in the process of writing this episode.
* The running gag with Takashi had a wonderful, sad, funny payoff – and at a length the show likely wouldn't have had time for on NBC – as he finally reaches out to the Dean for some human contact after being scolded by his father, only for Craig to be too blinded by his crush on Jeff to realize what's happening, sending the kid on a path where he will one day become the highest leader of the Yakuza. The season is definitely three-for-three on end tag scenes.
* Really enjoyed Paget Brewster in this one. They're finding a sweet spot where Frankie not only exists somewhere on the axis between Annie and Jeff, but also between straight woman and insane woman, where she says ridiculous things but in this very serious (and very deep) voice Brewster is using for the character. Dryly funny in a way no one on “Community” has really been before.
* Your director tonight: Bobcat Goldthwait. Steve Guttenberg is guesting later this season. Waiting to see if Harmon and McKenna will eventually try to smuggle every “Police Academy” alum of note into the series.
* Meta: Dave, one of the background Greendale students, notes he's been getting more to do lately (perhaps because Fat Neil and some of the other recurring players have moved on to other jobs), only to have Vicki warn him they'll be lucky to get three words in, right as she's cut off by a main character. Also, the line about the dog getting a four-year degree evoked the many questions Harmon used to get (and maybe still does get) about how Jeff could get his bachelor's degree from a community college, when most people assume they only offer two-year associate's degrees.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org