December 3rd, 2009
There was some discussion earlier this season surrounding ABC’s Modern Family about whether its eleventh hour moralizing (where a character, usually Jay, clearly states the episode’s theme so as to wrap everything up in a neat little package) was damaging its credibility. No one was arguing that the morals were themselves issues, but rather it was a question of whether their impact on our impressions of the characters was being limited by the repetition. Every comedy in its first season is out to define its identity and where its characters sit within that identity, but to actually draw attention to that fact in such a blatant way simply turns me off. Since that point, Modern Family has done a number of nice episodes that avoided this crutch, so the dialogue has drifted off.
What keeps me from raising the same issue with tonight’s Community, which is also about morals and what characters learn about themselves in the span of the episode, is that the show has always shown a deft hand with how it handles its more sentimental material. While Modern Family feels as if it started to end on that note regardless of an episode’s content, Community loves revelling in the fact that sometimes it’s a mature female escort who teaches you to respect women, and sometimes what makes you comfortable with your sexuality is entirely ignoring that sexuality.
I think this is an episode that wouldn’t have worked early in the season, and yet here feels like a nice bit of character work and comic execution for the folks at Greendale.
Joel McHale has literally made a living out of being a bit of a douchebag, which is inevitable when you’re effectively the hollywood gossip equivalent of Jon Stewart. The Soup has established this persona to the point where early on Jeff Winger was, effectively, Joel McHale, and this is both effective (since hipsters, myself included, like Joel McHale) and problematic. The show has been using the Spanish group to soften the character, having him play along with Pierce or help Annie when she’s in trouble, but it’s clear that there are still parts of his persona that read as generic overgrown frat boy who does, in fact, look for a place to hang his underwear rather than a place to hang his hat (a pearl of wisdom from Pierce Hawthorne, everybody).
And I thought guest star Sharon Lawrence and a girl who really loves horses were a good way of demonstrating this. This isn’t a particularly elegant story, but the twist of Pierce’s date (and, later, Pierce himself) getting through to Jeff about his awkward position at the moment really worked. Jeff can’t be blamed for feeling like a twenty-something considering he’s a student at a community college (the blonde, after all, thinks he is a professor, and you can’t really blame her), and law isn’t a profession that humbles a promiscuous youth into changing their ways (please correct me if I’m wrong, Mr. Ahn), so for Jeff community college is as much about self-discovery as it is self-improvement. Jeff needs to be humbled, and while I was a bit annoyed to see him change Britta’s number first (implying that she’s the person he’s most serious about, which isn’t something the show needs to be flagging at this point) I think that putting names to descriptors is a nice start for the character.
The other side of the episode is yet another instalment in why Alison Brie is turning into the breakout star of this television show. Yes, Danny Pudi’s Abed is great, but he’s also strikingly one-dimensional in all but one episode; he’s great for one-liners, and for running jokes like the Batman gag, but he’s rarely at the heart of the show’s message. Annie, meanwhile, represents the character who most effortlessly crosses between the comedy at the expense of community college (volunteering for everything, playing the overachiever) and the sort of sympathy that we’re meant to feel for some of these characters. Annie, separated from the comedy, has been disconnected from society ever since her breakdown, skipping years of development where she would have seen Harvey Keitel’s penis and where she would have perhaps become comfortable with sexuality. But, because of her breakdown and the subsequent time spent in rehab (where she was, of course, voted most likely to succeed), she doesn’t know enough about a penis to feel comfortable demonstrating how to put a condom on one of them, and as funny as that becomes it’s not just a little sad.
So, while the scene in the office as the Dean and the guidance counsellor get everyone to say penis and discuss sexuality, Annie has had enough. You see, while some characters are uncomfortable in the community college environment (Britta due to her cynicism, Jeff due to his ego, Troy due to his previous success), Annie is dead set on fitting in. And, rather than change who she is (as she, unlike Jeff, isn’t at the point in her life where major life change is really necessary), she’s simply decided to accept herself for who she is. She is, to quote Grayson from Cougar Town, comfortable with her (discomfort with her) sexuality, and that’s how she gets through each day. It’s a scene that’s really funny, yes, but it also provides Annie yet another in a series of episodes that combines her child-like enthusiasm with a real commitment to succeeding that just makes me fall in love with Alison Brie even more.
The episode wasn’t as strong as some of the ones previous, as the pacing overall felt off, but the show still knows how to best fill its time. The Troy/Abed subplot was silly but allowed Abed to extend his savant-like commitment to certain tasks to athletics (it’s all in the eyes), and the STD Fair was both another fun storyline for the Dean and a nice bit of sensationalism to close things off with Abed’s somewhat contradictory message regarding the broken condoms. It wasn’t as elegant as the Irish dancing-inspired “Somewhere Out There” or anything, but it works.
- Annie should really watch The Piano – quality film, there.
- “You will get Aids…unless you go to the STD Fair” proves once and for all that two-line phrases on two separate pieces of papers (or cue cards, or sides of a handout) always work.
- Loved Troy spending an entire scene at the Spanish study group trying to figure out a job about clams related to Pierce’s comment, although I thought the end joke could have been a bit better or worse, either or really.
- How much would YOU pay for a caricature of you in a dune buggy with syphilis?
- I’m not sure if it’ll catch on, but consider me on board for “Congatuhorrible!”