Community – “Interpretive Dance”

“Interpretive Dance”

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.

While returning to Jeff’s student-teacher relationship from Halloween might seem a bit sudden, it is something that the show can more or less handle: it’s always nice to see the show engaging with Jeff’s maturity in the context of his time at Greendale, and although the story was a pretty rote sitcom tale of two people on different pages coming together and confronting the truth of their relationship there were enough fun moments throughout (primarily the Dean’s involvement, especially the idea that they rank students and teachers based on hotness) to keep it from feeling too much like a cliche. They fight, they make up again, and in the process Jeff is confronting his commitment issues.

However, I felt like returning to the idea of a relationship between Jeff and Britta is really dangerous, since I personally had moved on beyond that initial setup. The group has become so cohesive that the idea of a relationship wasn’t even in the back of my mind, and I guess I was hoping they would be ignoring it in the future. Instead, the second Jeff has a real relationship, the show has Britta suddenly become overwhelmed with her feelings for Jeff, and in a story not that dissimilar to last night’s Cougar Town insinuates that Jeff is a long-term “someday guy” once she spends a fair deal of time changing him to be more suitable. I’m not against Britta getting a storyline, as Gillian Jacobs has been perhaps the most underused member of the cast as of late, but it felt odd to be returning to this particular note at this time.

I thought Britta and Troy’s story was a fun bit of comedy, and I thought the idea of Britta being the one who is brave and deals with her “secret shame” while Troy backs out would have been a nice way for them to have a character moment. However, when Britta literally froze as her prediction of Jeff failing to commit didn’t come to pass and he was even holding hands while in the audience, it felt like the show let Jeff define Britta to too great a degree. I wanted to see her get her own story, or find her own path, and instead the story is “Britta actually likes Jeff.” I wanted this to be more her story than another part of Jeff’s journey, and the dancing just never came together enough for me to buy that. I want character development, but it seemed like Britta’s character went from underused to undercooked, regressing (almost) to her early pilot days as opposed to showing any sort of growth on her own. However, more of that could emerge in upcoming episodes, and perhaps this blast from the past could really enliven the character; for now, though, it was a bit jarring.

Of course, the episode had plenty of funny moments, with Pierce offering a particularly large amount of comedy (in terms of both his reaction to the recital and his general demeanor) while Troy’s dancing (in particular his concerns over the increases in his breakaway clothes budget) brought some nice levity. I think it’s an episode thought that felt a bit more laboured than previous weeks in terms of laying down its stories, as if the show were in some way restricted (or, if you prefer a pun, as if the interpretive dance were too literal, too forced).

Cultural Observations

  • Perhaps the episode’s real problem was a criminally low amount of Alison Brie (although her reaction to the idea of Britta and Troy being a couple reminded me of both how great Brie is and that her crush on Troy still exists and should come back soon).
  • Of Pierce’s recital reactions, the best was easily “This is culturally unacceptable, but it’s theatrical dynamite!”
  • Enjoyed the coda with the crossword clues, both for the joke and for Joel McHale’s perplexed face in the background of the scene.
  • Abed’s tap dancing wasn’t much of a surprise, but I did enjoy how surprised he was that Troy’s secret was keeping Annie’s secret.
  • I really want to know how Pierce thinks Jeff’s relationship is at all like Rosa Parks.

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