Community – “The Science of Illusion”

“The Science of Illusion”

March 25th, 2010

We all knew going into Community that Chevy Chase is both a gifted physical comedian and great at playing someone who’s a little nit aloof , and in the supporting role of Pierce there is plenty of room for the show to just sort of run with that. And so we get Pierce having falling down, and Pierce being the brunt of various jokes, and the show tends to default to that role for his character.

You could probably try to claim that the rest of the show’s characters could fit into similar categories, but part of what make Community so great, and what makes “The Science of Illusion” so enjoyable, is that these are rigid structures. Characters are able to become something different in the context of other stories, and more importantly characters want to try to be something different, which makes for the kind of episode that says as much about the show as it does the show’s characters.

I remember an episode of Scrubs where it turned out that Carla wasn’t able to tell a joke, which turned into an episode of terrible jokes. The problem was that the jokes were terrible, and the show didn’t really have anything special to do with the story, so it just dragged down the episode. It is possible for characters who are “unfunny” to drag down a comedy, but there is also the potential for “unfunny” characters to be an integral part of a comic ensemble. Not every character can be the same “type,” and so there will be characters that draw humour from acting in ways which are not actually funny in the context of the show’s universe.

Britta is a character that isn’t all that “fun” in the context of the central study group, but the character has proven pretty enjoyable from an audience perspective. And so the show raises the question of “Buzzkill Britta” but then proves that this isn’t true for the show itself, giving her a fun bit of physical comedy with the corpse and the frog (I smell a new Disney movie). Gillian Jacobs is a fun actress, and while her character isn’t quite Jeff in terms of getting laughs from the other characters, her position as the “Anti-Winger” makes her quite invaluable for the show as a whole, and “The Science of Illusion” has, well, no illusions about that.

The point of the rather hilarious fake-crying conclusion is that for all that people want to change, they’re not nearly as pigeon-holed as they think they are: sure, Pierce often shows himself to be naive and the brunt of other people’s jokes, but he’s self-aware enough to know that he’s not a wizard. Annie wants to be older, Shirley wants to be younger, Troy wants to be someone who understands Cookie Crisp references, and Britta wants to be a prankster, but the episode demonstrated that they can be all these things with ease within a show as loose and free-flowing as Community is. As much as the conclusion was ultimately meant in jest, with the characters all getting “too” emotional as it relates to their situations, the basic sentiment of self-awareness and realization rings true.

And frankly, the show was really funny getting to that point. While I thought the Pierce and Britta stuff was fine, this episode belonged to Shirley and Annie’s buddy cop drama. Not only was it one of the most inspired uses of “Pop Culturally Obsessed Abed” (I’m waiting for the action figure), as he directed the circumstances to fit the cop cliches the show wanted to be able to parody, but both Yvette Nicole Brown and Alison Brie were delightful trying to both be the bad cop. The pepper spray scene was highly predictable, but it was played so very well by Brie. With plots like these, it comes down to how long you would watch that particularly story: while Pierce as a wizard pretty much reached its limit with the over-the-top “Psychic Reading of Gayness,” I would easily watch weeks and weeks of the interracial Cagney and Lacey, and I await with baited breath the animated gif of Annie smashing Jeff’s head into the…wait, it’s already here!

The point of a practical joke, according to the episode, is to shake up the system; however, Community is always in a state of heightened shenanigans, and so this episode felt entirely comfortable even when it was dealing with characters pushing outside their usual stereotypes, and I never want it to change.

Cultural Observations

  • Interesting that Annie and Shirley make an argument about being stuck on the margins of their social group while being unquestionable front and centre in the episode itself; Community isn’t a show where the “leads” are privileged above other characters that often, and that’s one of its finest qualities.
  • Troy and Abed in the morning is a fun Coda gag, and I like that Community throws away continuity and just sort of lets the world run wild in the pieces.
  • “Do you want a bite of my wand” was such a wonderful double entendre, and I love that no one picked up on it.
  • Old people hooligans just plain work, really.
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