“Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy”
March 17th, 2011
Earlier today, Community was renewed for a third season. And during tonight’s episode, critic (and friend of the blog) Jaime Weinman tweeted the following: “maybe now that Community is safe I can enjoy watching it w/o feeling guilty about not loving it.”
While I like the show more than Jaime, I’ll admit that various circumstances have conspired to make me less of a fan than many others. Part of this is a busy Thursday schedule which largely keeps me from writing about the show, which means that it’s often the next day before I get a chance to watch. However, I think it’s also a sense that the show has been somewhat hard to pin down this year, consistently raising questions (like “The Problem of Pierce,” discussed in numerous locales over the past month or so) in a way that I think is very interesting but has threatened to keep me at arm’s length.
In some ways, I had the opposite response as Jaime: was it possible that I was resisting the urge to be more critical of the show because of its uncertain future? Perhaps its renewal would awaken underlying frustrations that had been suppressed in solidarity, revealing that my general appreciation for the show was being challenged by growing concerns over its direction.
It’s certainly a possibility, but I don’t think “Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy” is the episode to test the theory. A simple, effective half-hour of television, this week’s episode of Community sticks to the basics and forms a perfect release for those fans no longer fretting about being on the bubble: it’s sharp, it’s charming, and it’s light on Pierce.
“Early 21st Century Romanticism”
February 10th, 2011
Because of my busy Thursdays, Community has fallen out of the review rotation without falling out of the viewing rotation.
This is, in many ways, unfortunate. I still enjoy the show, and I think the show is doing things that demand critical analysis, but I’ve had to leave it to Todd, Alan, and everyone else taking a look at the show week by week.
This week, though, I had the benefit of a screener, which is why I was sad to see that “Early 21st Century Romanticism” was…well, it was a little on the straightforward side. This is not to say the episode is bad, but rather it is very blatant about what it is trying to accomplish, and I don’t know if that simplicity necessarily worked in all instances. It does, however, raise questions about to what degree this series can claim to feature consistent character development, and whether or not we buy the various character beats which punctuate this Valentine’s Day-themed episode.
“Pascal’s Triangle Revisited”
May 20th, 2010
Last week felt like a finale, or at least how I had anticipated a Community finale to feel like. It felt like it solidified the group dynamics, offering evidence that the show has grown a great deal over the past season. It was a confident statement on which to head into a second season, emphasizing the dynamics that we’ve enjoyed thus far and would continue to enjoy into the future.
“Pascal’s Triangle Revisited” also feels like a finale, but I’m not entirely convinced it felt like what I anticipated a Community finale to feel like, or even what I want a Community finale to feel like. Throwing the group dynamics out the window, and focusing a lot of its time on supporting characters who aren’t part of the core group, the episode places the group’s future in chaos and delivers a traditional “shake up the status quo” finale that doesn’t feel like it reaches any of the series heights.
Instead, it feels like Dan Harmon and company have taken a small network note and delivered a slightly exaggerated, but never quite subverted, take on what you would traditionally expect from a sitcom finale. I don’t necessarily think that the events which transpire are bad, and I had a few good laughs in the episode, but the show I love was purposefully placed into peril, and I don’t really think that it resulted in a particularly great half-hour of comedy even if I respect the show for some of the choices it eventually made.
“English as a Second Language”
May 13th, 2010
A week after Community’s most “epic” episode yet, it’s a bit jarring to return to a low-key episode about Spanish class and study groups. However, after a bit of a re-entry period, “English as a Second Language” nicely falls into a rhythm that fits with the show at the end of its first season. The central premise of the show means that they might not be in Spanish class next year, which raises some logical questions about how the show will work if they’re not all in the same class with an excuse to see one another every day.
Frankly, I think Community could have gotten away with keeping them in Spanish class forever and just not caring, but the show isn’t going to settle for that sort of laziness. Instead, they throw the entire group into chaos over the pending changes, and eventually come to a conclusion which speaks to the ways in which the group dynamic is changing and (more importantly) a glimpse at what the show will look like in the future.
May 6th, 2010
This episode is a triumph, so let me first make a note regarding its tremendous (or, if you prefer for me to actually complete the reference completely, huge) success – the various action movie parodies which run throughout “Modern Warfare” are expertly designed, tremendously directed by Justin Lin, and result in a really funny and successful episode.
However, I am sort of at a loss about what to really say about it, if only because I haven’t seen a lot of the action movies that the show parodied, and the brekaway narrative used by the episode (and most action movies) meant that the number of characters onscreen diminished as the episode went on. While the episode embodied the show’s propensity for pop culture references and for its meta-subversion of sitcom stereotypes, it also disrupted (as we saw in “Contempoary American Poultry”) the show’s traditional character dynamics. With only twenty minutes, the show rushed head first into the central dynamic between Jeff and Britta while largely “writing off” the other characters, which helped get to the various cliches the episode wanted to address but which kept me (who, as with the Goodfellas parody, was sort of left on the outside here) at arm’s length.
It still really freaking cool from my vantage point, but it wasn’t so much a high water mark for the show so much as it was an important test for the series’ future that it passed with flying colours.
Which were, you know, paint balls.
“The Art of Discourse”
April 29th, 2010
Episodes of Community have been airing out of order for a while, so once I heard a moment in “The Art of Discourse” where Vaughn was mentioned I presumed that it wasn’t in chronological order. Turns out, contrary to the original review written under this false assumption (it was Annie and not Britta that it made mention of, it was in fact in order: however, my confusion still makes me wonder about whether it really matters where this episode was placed
Regardless of whether it was out of order, the episode works: there were some funny moments, and while the episode seemed like it gave into the show’s gimmicks a bit more heavily than others there remained a clear sense of purpose and character within the story. My confusion was likely the result of some strange “early group dynamic” material about why precisely characters like Shirley and Pierce are part of this group; placed at this late point in the season, it seemed a little bit unnecessary, and while the episode ends up being funny enough to survive it doesn’t quite feel as evolved as some of the more recent material.
Or maybe I’m just bitter at myself for writing the review under false assumptions and now having to rewrite it to look like less of an idiot – sorry, “the Art of Discourse,” if you bear the brunt of my frustration.
January 21st, 2010
After a particularly noteworthy return last week, where the show played with some very dangerous material with Jack Black and came out of it funnier than ever, there’s no question that “Interpretive Dance” is a step backwards. This isn’t to suggest that the episode is unfunny, and if we’re judging purely on the level of character development there’s some nice stuff going on here.
It seems like a bit of a sudden turn for the show, however, especially since a lot of the issues it is working with here haven’t popped up in a while. I like to see shows like Community engaging with more long-term character arcs and development, but the show has to avoid seeming like it is just going to stop in on occasion: there’s some subtle stuff here which indicates that this is not necessarily the show’s strategy, however at the same time they stayed away from these stories long enough that it felt like the show had to take some time to rediscover the rhythms of those interactions, leading to a weaker episode if one that could prove beneficial in the long term.
“The Politics of Human Sexuality”
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.
November 5th, 2009
One of the greatest qualities a comedy have is being both indulgent and nuanced at the same time, a task that Community has taken on with varied degrees of success in its first season. There are times when something like Abed’s love of pop culture references feels forced, but then there is something as hilarious as BatAbed (which is nuanced in the sense that it is both unquestionably funny and is worked into the plot of the episode) and it’s largely forgiven. That’s an important quality for a successful comedy, and what’s interesting with Community is how it seems like nearly every character is on that tightrope between becoming insular and one-minded before eventually breaking free and showing a more complex side.
“Home Economics” has nearly every character approaching the precipice of one-dimensionality, but the twists and turns within each story either perfectly service the nuances of their characters or, just as effectively, stick to what they’re best with. While Jeff went through a transformation in the episode that smartly humbled the character, Annie had a chance to experience a similar transformation and was unable to walk over the edge (of self-actualization – the edge of crazy was easily overcome). In both instances, elements of the storylines seemed like indulgences (of Joel McHale playing a complete slob, of Alison Brie playing a crazy person), and the supporting characters largely operated in their most base modes, but yet it managed to shed light on their characters even with that sense that this was more fun than it was functional.
While I’m not quite sure if Pierce has been getting the same treatment, even his subplot seemed to hit just as hard when it needed to, demonstrating that the show is definitely back in the pocket, so to speak.