November 12th, 2009
Community, effectively, operates on two levels. One of them is a broader investigation of the community college lifestyle, this week in the form of a debate competition. The other is a character-driven model where archetypes are either challenged or substantiated in an effort to create comic interest. The show doesn’t necessarily need for both to work in the same fashion, but it depends on both to be present in order for the show to seem moderately balanced.
“Debate 109” is intriguing because of how it brings to the surface the question of how unique these characters really are, and as Jeff and Annie debate about human nature everyone else discovers that in the eyes of Abed they are as predictable as they are quirky. The former storyline offers some fun interactions and more opportunities for Alison Brie to outright steal this show out from under the rest of the cast, while the latter manages to give the episode the sort of manic connectivity that made the show’s Halloween episode so effective.
It was just a really well balanced half hour, something that I’m not sure the show had a handle on during early episodes.
Now, to be fair, I debated in university for five years, so I think that I was probably more akin to enjoy that storyline than some other viewers might have been. However, what made the debate story work is less that I have personal experience with the practice and more that it was just a really fun comic story. While the Jeff/Annie flirtations were perhaps a bit sudden, and a little creepy in a way that the episode never really fairly acknowledges, they ended up in that rather amazing end sequence where Jeff and Annie’s human nature came to the surface. Alison Brie was amazing throughout this story, especially her early robotic debating style, but in that final moment as Jeremy flew through the air and was then dropped to the ground the storyline (and the theme of the debate) paid off gloriously. Humans are not, of course, simply good or simply evil, and we saw how Jeff was nice enough to catch a disabled man but too horny to keep holding on, and how Annie’s competitiveness overcame her shyness when she kissed Jeff to make her own outrageous point. Debate does tend to bring out the best or worst in people, so I like how the debaters quickly became the debate as things became heated.
However, really, the episode’s piece d’resistance is how it managed to tie all of the other storylines and even the main one into the rather twisted idea that Abed’s videos from his film class are capable of predicting the future. The storyline was both an interesting meta-commentary on the archetypal design of the characters, so basic that Abed is able to predict how they will react to certain events before they happen, and the sort of thing that keeps a pretty simple story like Britta trying to quit smoking with Pierce’s help into something that never feels like a tangent away from the episode’s narrative. It also gives Troy, Shirley and everyone else a reason to be in a lot of different scenes, and manages to tie them all together without feeling like it was distracting from the “story” of the debate. When the storylines connected, like Abed’s prediction of the kiss or Pierce’s injury, it kept the episode moving and provided some great laughs at the same time. When it came full circle with Pierce being proved a hypnotherapy genius and Abed runs off to protect Shirley from a werewolf, it was one of those fun and quirky conclusions that the show does so well.
There wasn’t a lot of heart to this one, as the debate win was wrapped around Abed’s storyline and Jeff and Annie’s sexual attraction, and Jeff and Annie’s awkward final greeting went for laughs (“Pat me!”) over sentiment, but I think that’s okay. The episode never felt mean-spirited, and was simply going for zany over some sort of real investigation of human behaviour. It was able to use the characters within a structure that felt unique and still offer an enjoyable storyline that led to sequences like the bulk of the debate being done through humorous one-liners that included “Ketchup is a Vegetable.” That’s a strong big of comic television, if not exactly breaking any new ground.
- As noted, I’m no stranger to debates, but what they’re doing here is very much more high school than it is university, which perhaps makes sense considering what we know of Greendale. Such a broad topic is kind of tough to introduce any new material on, so usually debates tend to be about specific situations that refer to, rather than directly discuss, those kinds of questions. And that’s your “Thing I didn’t care about” of the day.
- John Michael Higgins is always welcome to return to the show, but he didn’t get much to do here. I also felt the Dean was kind of underused, and though his offer of sexual favours to Jeff seemed out of place.
- I do love the continuity of the “Human Beings” mascot, however, so I hope we see more of the Dean and his sporting events in the future. I would wonder what happened to Troy saving the football team, but I think that’d be expecting too much.
- I refuse to believe that Jeff wasn’t attracted to Annie before she took out her hair clip: she was adorable before and after, period.
- They really just want to have Chevy Chase fall down, don’t they? He’s amazing at physical comedy, but I do want them to try something else too.