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.
The opening scene in this episode, once we get past Ken Jeung’s useless little cameo that establishes that Jeff is overtired, is a lot of fun. When Troy approaches Annie with a hypothetical about asking out a girl, we know enough about these characters to know that Annie will believe that Troy is talking about her and that Troy isn’t actually talking about her but is too clueless to realize that this could be a problem. And yet, despite how sure we are of this, there’s still a moment where Troy seems to realize where the awkwardness is coming from, only to pull right back into his typical mode and assuring her that Randi is, in fact, female and not male despite the androgynous nature of her name. The show loves those sort of balances as characters who could potentially evolve into something more are so stuck being nervous or clueless to get to that point.
The episode also uses it to demonstrate that Jeff Winger is not perfect, as he ends up living in his car after his Condo is falling out from under him and all he can do is hold tightly to his beloved Italian faucets. Jeff is someone who has defined himself as a stuck-up jerk, but who is told by Britta and others that he has a great chance to turn over a new leaf in his life by living within his means and finding a better version of himself. However, the episode shows that you can take such advice to heart a bit too much, as he devolves into a total slob living with Abed, losing any sense of the confidence that basically sustains him. The lesson he learns through Britta is that he can take parts of his own life with him (in this case, represented by his fancy faucets) in order to maintain part of his identity while crafting a new place for himself. The storyline served to both humanize Jeff (who can be a douchebag sometimes) and offer a nice shade to Britta and Jeff’s relationship. They’re not constantly trying to date one another, or constantly trying to avoid dating one another, and in this instance (despite Jeff’s teasing) this was really a gesture of genuine friendship and personal concern more than some sort of bizarre courtship ritual.
Annie and Troy got their similar moment, of course, but on a much lesser scale: while Jeff and Britta are real-life adults who are capable of making their own decisions to some degree but who have devolved in this particular setting, Troy and Annie are really just teenagers with no idea what they’re doing, so Troy victory is being able to do everything Annie tells him to and Annie’s victory is refusing to allow Troy to use her Grandparents’ courting quilt as a picnic blanket (after her attempts to ruin the date with fake appendicitis proved her previous best strategy). Alison Brie continues to give Annie a loveable insanity that’s pretty hard to dislike, and I like how Troy has remained both likeable and pretty stupid. They’re fun to watch, like the Natalie and Jeremy to Jeff and Britta’s Dana and Casey.
The episode was a bit more uneven with how it dealt with its three other characters, who I all enjoyed but to very different degrees. I liked how Abed was both an enabling influence on Jeff’s devolution and the person who first notices that it is growing unbecoming to the point of needing an intervention, and how Jeff realizes that Abed could be happy doing just about anything as long as he puts his mind to it. And I thought this was a downright great episode for Shirley, whether it was her frustration over stalking the wrong couple out of Spanish class or her advice-giving to Annie during her story. And while it proved more distracting than anything else, letting Chevy Chase have some fun with Vaughn and get trapped in the middle of keyboards was enjoyable if slight.
The show is just in a really solid place right now, and it came together into a fun episode that really did achieve both indulgence and some nice nuance, and made me laugh in the process.
- I think the first scene had Vaughn indicating that being toxic was the exact opposite of being an anti-oxidant, which just made me laugh.
- I do enjoy Patton Oswalt, but he seemed a bit wasted here as the male nurse in the clinic.
- I think I prefer “Britta is a B” to “Pierce to a B,” although the rap did give the latter a nice edge to it.
- Pierce’s “defence” of Britta was great, especially the Clown Makeup comment – Chase is doing some fine stuff with some limited material, and I enjoy this.