I don’t know, you guys – I kind of laughed out loud a few times at this one. I’m not saying Community is back with anything approaching its former glory, but this episode felt much funnier, and even a little more complex and creative than the first three of this season. Dare I say it gave me hope? At least just a little? Or have I just adjusted to the way things are now, lowered my expectations and, as a result, found a few gems among the detritus? Among these gems for me was the toss-away line from Troy about Aronofsky – a reference I can’t imagine Troy making which was, as a result, kind of hilarious – and Jeff’s reference to a time before the concept of “too soon” – a rare moment of insightful cultural critique in the midst of a joke that honestly transported me back to season 2 for a moment.
Now, all that being said, I was left a little dissatisfied by what felt like a good return to some important themes for the show (particularly to those whose absence I complained about last week), but I can’t say it pulled them off fully. As I mentioned last week, this show has always been about the beauty of an unlikely community formed outside of traditional family structures to me – not just the power of friendship, but the power of community itself. Getting the crew back into Greendale brought us back to home base and removed the threat of the group’s dissolution coming from more so-called grown up moves of folks coupling off or people reconciling with their families of origin, known and unknown (a good remove, imho). This week the threats felt more in keeping with the shows themes – 1) Chang! 2) External threats like the Germans; 3) internal threats like the ways in which the bonds of a particular community can inadvertently leave others excluded and pissed off about it – in other words, the types of selfishness that love can generate. This third one in particular offers a place where the show is strongest – where it questions the good of its own central good. Here we enter the deeper territory of asking what’s at stake in complex relationships and why they matter. It’s the place where Community actually cuts to the heart of who we are – the place that usually leaves me a little weepy without being able to figure out why.
Lingering quietly at the edges of this was the revelation that Abed has yet another friend outside the group – another resurgence of an old theme. I usually have this sense that Abed has finally found a home with the group, only every now and again to be reminded that he has all sorts of relationships about which we don’t know, usually online, always meaningful. And so I’m occasionally reminded that any sense I have that Abed lacks meaningful relationships comes from my own neuro-typical (thanks for picking up that new word, Erinn – it’s a good one!), neuro-normative views, not anything the show has actually told me (this is when Community is at its best in my view – when it changes the way we see the world for the better! Another type of moment when I’m weepy but can’t quite put my finger on why).
It was working, I thought, right up until the end. The protest was portrayed as Occupy so, you know: an image of people at their wits’ end, unwilling to take it anymore, finally exploding into something powerful, if not immediately efficacious, nevertheless having long-term effects. And yet the crew responded in an immediately efficacious way. They painted some rooms, fixed some chairs and then felt all great about themselves. This felt completely unsatisfying – capped off by Jeff’s self-congratulatory proclamation: “everyone deserves to have what we have” (as if everyone is just longing to have what they have). It felt arrogant – like the 1%ers tossing out $20s to the other 99% and expecting a big smiley thank you for it.
Now, maybe the show was trying to do something really interesting here – reverse the villains one more time by maintaining the status quo in a way that will ferment and erupt later. But my sense is that writers felt pressure to have a feel-good Winger speech close the whole thing down.
The thing is, it didn’t leave me feeling good at all.
That being said, I still thought this was the strongest episode of the season thus far.
Aside: um, what Travis?? I talk during shows? Cough, cough. This needs expansion, my friend – I have no idea what you’re talking about!
You had me at ruse, (but then you kind of lost me again…sigh) –
I, too, laughed out loud a few times during this episode. The low level of funny in this season has been a real disappointment for me, so even a few laughs are reassuring. I was prepared for the show to be less interesting and incisive in its humor, but I thought it still would be funny. My love of comedy is strong enough that even silly jokes would help me overlook the other shortcomings of the show–I’d just need to think of it as a different kind of show than I used to, more Friends than Arrested Development. This episode had some good moments, like Troy’s Aronofsky line and the looks on everyone’s faces while their chairs slowly collapsed (like I said, I’m ok with silly).
For me, comparing the study group to the Nazis was a mistake. If old Community had pursued that in a meta way, it might have been bold enough to be worth the risk. As it was, it felt precisely like the throwaway comparisons to Nazis that people make all the time instead of exposing the way such comparisons dismiss major harm by elevating mundane complaints to the level of genocide.
So that was a shame on two levels: first, because it was an absurd comparison without being a comment on absurdity, and second, because it distracted focus from the really interesting issue Natalie pointed out about one group’s bonds leaving out others. That’s a theme I’d like to see the show explore more, though I suspect it will devote more attention to the shifting dynamics internal to the group as Troy and Britta date and Jeff and Annie continue to be a potential couple.
And what should we make of the return of Chang? Is it really the return of Chang, or is it the arrival of Kevin? I suppose the season needs an ongoing villain, so Chang likely will show his malevolent self soon. If that’s the occasion for the dean to team up with the study group again, I’d be happy to see that, so long as the dean actually gets to do some of the caring and leading of which he’s capable.
“The return of Chang” vs. “The arrival of Kevin” – what a great way of putting it! Was anyone else, like me, sort of bowled over when the Dean shouted out that Chang had him locked in a basement for months on end (without even a drop of moisturizer)? For all the play of this show, that was actually a pretty stinking horrific storyline – the horror of which I’d never actually contemplated before. So yeah, another point for new Community, I guess.
You’re so right! When you consider what a terrible thing Chang did, it makes everyone’s reaction to him–screaming–feel realistic and not just like a ploy for laughs (but I did laugh).
So, the general consensus here is that we have an episode that was actually mildly amusing, and recaptured a hint of the dynamic of seasons past. Malcolm McDowell was, true, mostly wasted; the show has used guest stars brilliantly before (Jack Black, LeVar Burton) and squandered them a little (Betty White), so I wasn’t too bothered by that; the “we are the 99%” bit was a little forced, but still more resonant (with a mini clip show!) than in The Dark Knight Rises, and the Dean-Chang storyline kind of felt rushed, like a writers’ exercise in restoring a regular character to the show. Those things aside, the central gag had a certain amount of inspiration to it, because for the first time this season, I felt like the writers understood the show they were talking about, rather than writing a series of spec scripts on that one show they watched a few times that one time in film school.
I think you give a great analysis of that premise, Natalie: it has to do with foregrounding the complex dynamic of the group, how casually they’ve been become exclusivist since the beginning, and how ultimately unbelievable the central conceit of Community is (I mean, Greendale’s universe revolves around these guys). I was thrilled the moment we realized we were going to have an episode about, of all things, the study room: the central stage of this show, the place where the show has to fall back on its character dynamics (notice how it reference two of its most powerful character-driven episodes in that clip montage, “Cooperative Calligraphy” and “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons”). One of the things missing so far this season has been precisely that – the study room, the whole premise of the show – as the writers fell all over themselves giving us the ambitious Community that tropes and parodies pop culture, and missing the point in the meantime. The return of Chang/Kevin nicely illustrated the social fragility of the boundary that the study room actually offers (and I’ll have to admit, the Dean/Chang puns, while a bit forced, kind of got me tonight). That said, I think you’re both right – the Winger monologue* of fixing up the campus felt unearned, and the episode didn’t really follow through on the Nazi analogy, even if I did like Prof. McDowell calling the group on their narcissism.
*Really, enough with calling attention to this conceit. We get it, Jeff’s feel-good moments are sentimental. One of the things I love about Community was how it kind of just went with it with Jeff’s big speeches.
P.S. Oh, and Natalie – well, let’s just say I know more about Desperate Housewives than I ever wanted to after watching it just once with you…