Community – “Physical Education”

“Physical Education”

March 4th, 2010

This is going to sound like an insult, but every now and then my reviews of Community might as well be like a focus group response from small children. Every sentence would start with “I like the part where…” or  end up devolving down to “It was funny when the _____ did that thing with the _____,” and that’s probably not all that fun to read.

However, it really does reflect my love for this show: while I might be able to analyze individual plots, I’m rarely that concerned about particular plots, as in I don’t learn what an episode is about ahead of time and fear that things might go off the rails. I have an inordinate amount of confidence in the show’s ability to turn just about anything into comedy, a confidence justified this week as Dan Harmon turned his own personal shame and billiards dress code into top-notch comedy.

And so some part of me truly would be entirely content to respond, in my best impression of a five-year old, that “I liked everything” and grin wildly while shifting awkwardly in my seat. However, since I was probably already long-winded and overly analytical at the age of five, let’s stick with some more detailed thoughts after the break.

I think it makes me somewhat sad that, as soon as I heard the running joke about how Britta pronounces Bagel, I distinctly remembered Dan Harmon, the show’s creator, talking about the same subject on his Twitter feed. In fact, he even recorded a video (set to Sigur Ros, for some awesome reason) of him saying the word after his pronunciation (Bag-ull as opposed to Bay-gul) got some flack from both real and virtual acquaintances. One of the things that Harmon said at last night’s PaleyFest panel was that the best thing he could do for the show is bring in lukewarm material and let the cast run with it, and I think this is an example of this phenomenon (which isn’t to say that material is bad, just sort of one-dimensional): the joke is simple, but Gillian Jacobs makes the pronunciation stand out just enough, and the group constantly returning to making fun of her for it whenever another joke runs out managed to remain funny based on the cast’s enthusiasm. This is the show where jokes, to be entirely honest, can’t die: even when the life has all but drained out of them, this group of people can choke out a joke or two for old time’s sake.

This one managed to balance two separate storylines that were largely unconnected, but the stories came together at enough points to keep things pretty cohesive. Joel McHale is capable of handling a story on his own, and playing to Jeff’s vanity (in his choice of fashion and his choice of elective) is always good for some material. And while McHale could carry that side of the story, he was also instrumental as the voice of reason with the groups attempt to Can’t Buy Me Love/Love Don’t Cost a Thing Abed in response to a girl supposedly having a crush on him. And there’s plenty of ridiculousness in both of these stories, whether it’s White Abed, naked billiards, the various people whom Abed should emulate (Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes, Don Draper, the dude version of Jo from the Facts of Life, etc.), the idea that Jeff is more annoyed with being part Zach Braff than part Hilary Swank, and just about every line in Abed’s story.

But then the show is capable of having scenes like the one where Abed explains why he would allow all of them to manipulate him like that, why he would give up his identity for their sake. And by golly, it was right up there with the birth of Pam and Jim’s baby on the heartwarming scale, and exactly the type of speech that I wish The Big Bang Theory would let Sheldon have. There’s been a few pieces lately about whether Abed and Sheldon are highly-functioning autistics, and Community has called attention to it multiple times (including tonight, as Shirley keeps Annie from saying it early on), but I think the big difference between the two characters regardless of a diagnosis is that Abed is capable of communicating his feelings. And so he tells everyone that he is used to people trying to change him and just giving up, so he was encouraging them to try to change him (even when he has full self-confidence) because he wanted to make sure that they weren’t going to give up on him too because he was too difficult.

I get that Sheldon being difficult is part of Big Bang Theory’s humour, and so the show doesn’t want to give up on that, but that show has always had to deal with the central confustion of why Sheldon would still be friends with people who judge him so harshly, and why Sheldon’s friends would be friends with Sheldon when he judges them so harshly. It seems like Lorre/Prady are content to just chalk it up to “friendship” without ever really demonstrating what that means, but on Community the, well, community is always present, always bonding these characters together at a level beyond “they’re all in the same Spanish study group!” The show launches into a pretty ridiculous (and hilarious) pool showdown after this scene, but it’s such a strong emotional note that Jeff nakedly defeating his teacher manages to feel uplifting instead of silly. There’s a chemistry in this cast that can’t be inferred or implied, it has to actually exist to make the show work.

The community exists, the show works, and if this show doesn’t get a second season I am going to be really pissed: a show like this only comes around once in a lifewhile.

Cultural Observations

  • I knew that Billiards classmate was too hot to be an extra, so I presumed she would eventually speak (in this case, because she was interested in Abed).
  • Of the reactions to the naked pool, Britta’s horror and Annie’s intrigue were just perfect.
  • Shirley and Troy are a team to be reckoned with, and their translation of the cultural references (After school specials -> Fat Albert, for example) were a lot of fun; honourable mention to Pierce not getting any of them.
  • Danny Pudi was great throughout, but his attempts to be a different person (“I think it’s a vampire!”) cracked me the hell up, especially as he started back towards her after the group continued their conversation.
  • Fun little Bert and Ernie coda – it’s a sort of humour that doesn’t work in the context of the show, but it’s perfect as a little tag, so I’m glad that they know what they have with Glover/Pudi.
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2 Comments

Filed under Community

2 responses to “Community – “Physical Education”

  1. Kyle

    This episode was full of great moments, but I especially liked Abed’s “Rainman” moment…when the bagels fell on the floor, he looked and said “13”.

  2. I am a big fan of this show and found this episode to be the best yet!

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