Community – “The Art of Discourse”

“The Art of Discourse”

April 29th, 2010

Episodes of Community have been airing out of order for a while, so once I heard a moment in “The Art of Discourse” where Vaughn was mentioned I presumed that it wasn’t in chronological order. Turns out, contrary to the original review written under this false assumption (it was Annie and not Britta that it made mention of, it was in fact in order: however, my confusion still makes me wonder about whether it really matters where this episode was placed

Regardless of whether it was out of order, the episode works: there were some funny moments, and while the episode seemed like it gave into the show’s gimmicks a bit more heavily than others there remained a clear sense of purpose and character within the story. My confusion was likely the result of some strange “early group dynamic” material about why precisely characters like Shirley and Pierce are part of this group; placed at this late point in the season, it seemed a little bit unnecessary, and while the episode ends up being funny enough to survive it doesn’t quite feel as evolved as some of the more recent material.

Or maybe I’m just bitter at myself for writing the review under false assumptions and now having to rewrite it to look like less of an idiot – sorry, “the Art of Discourse,” if you bear the brunt of my frustration.

The Abed/Troy story here was one of those early stories where Abed’s search for pop culture within his own reality was his entire purpose rather than part of his character. The story doesn’t actually reflect back on either character, but it’s well-played because it doesn’t become a story of its own: rather than spending a lot of time with the two characters, they tend to walk into other people’s scenes already in some sort of costume, and a single line tends to establish the joke and move back to the stories that have more of a narrative to them. It wasn’t overly great, and was probably a bit on the nose, but it didn’t entirely fall apart or anything.

As for Jeff and Britta’s story, I should have known it was airing in order since it picks up on the really fun prankster dynamic that the two characters developed at mid-season. The show got to a point where it realized that Jeff and Britta have a great dynamic when disconnected from romantic notions, and here they were quite the team as they protected their egos from the dastardly high schoolers (who were all pretty darn awesome in their over-exaggerated ways). They don’t really learn anything about themselves, but the show clearly lays out their inability to handle humiliation and defeat, and so the story fit the two characters quite well.

The Pierce/Shirley side of things starts off at a really broad place, as Pierce takes the pantsings one substantial step too far and causes a rift within the group, but it allows the episode to actually bring the two characters together. They are the most “similar” of the characters in the series, each slightly too old to relate to the other students, but the challenges they face as a result are never really respected by those around them. Yes, Pierce is obnoxious, and Shirley has every reason to be upset, but they eventually come together to demand respect from the group or, at the very least, realize that the way the group treats them does nothing to diminish their relative maturity considering the “Duh” fight that Britta and Jeff get caught up in.

I think the episode comes together a bit too cleanly, with Lisa Rinna’s character never really coming together and the food fight seeming a bit too obvious even though that was part of the joke, but the little things in the episode always win out. The idea behind the various chyrons about where they eventually ended up wasn’t all that funny in isolation (and some, like Annie’s, were bad without being humorously so), but Britta’s made me crack up quite a great deal (picking up on the Discman earlier in the episode by referencing her 2014 purchase of an iPod Nano). And while the final scene seemed like it didn’t really come together thematically, rather just placing the characters all into the same place, the earlier scene as the group breaks down without Pierce to pick on made me laugh way, way too much for me to say that this wasn’t worth the time.

The show has had better episodes, but the individual parts of this one worked well enough that even with my confusion over where it was supposed to be airing it felt familiar. Perhaps that’s the power of the show’s character work to this point, making things feel comfortable and “normal” even when you spend the entire episode thinking that something seems “off.” Ultimately, I think that I wanted it to be out of order so I could look past some of its story issues: it was good, and I laughed a lot, but it felt a bit like a throwback.

Cultural Observations

  • I really enjoyed the high school kids: the three of them, Mark especially, had a lot of fun playing into the broad stereotypes of high school kids, and I really hope that casting agents had a chance to see these tapes before pilot season was in full swing.
  • Not much Senor Chang in this one, but his Girl Scout Cookie-stealing Chinese Kid scene was great stuff.
  • I love the little moments on Community, like Abed trying to go into the Women’s bathroom or Troy actually turning to the goat for advice before deciding against it for reasons other than the fact that it was a goat. Just watch Glover’s look, it’s fantastic.
  • The goat in general deserves a mention: as soon as they called Pierce a scapegoat and I realized a goat was in the room, I threw the imaginary papers in my hands up into the air in resignation to the show’s genius with those sorts of things.
  • “We lost our Turtle…or Johnny Drama…or E. Man, that show has problems.” Amen, Abed – Abed. I never get mad at an episode which makes fun of Entourage.
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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Community – “The Art of Discourse”

  1. Carmichael Harold

    I liked how they used Abed to comment on the broad place that Shirley and Pierce’s story started (at one point, Abed crossed off the item on his list that was something like: “a ridiculous moment turns into melodrama to provide an illusion of story”.

    Also, I had thought that the comment was about Annie dating Vaughn, rather than Britta. Though I could be wrong (often the case), that might mean it wasn’t as aired that far out of order.

  2. Tim

    Actually, Shirley references Annie dating Vaughan. Add that to the Britta mentioning her dead cat and I think we have an episode that is explicitly in order, and one that deals with various season long concepts (the group dynamic, Abed’s obsession with pop culture, Piece/Shirley, ‘the college experience’ or lack thereof and Jeff and Britta’s egotism) in time for the season finale. Exluding, of course, next week’s concept busting enterprise.
    I see your point about conceptual regression, but I think it’s more just playing this stuff up specifically because it’s late in the season to make it seem like there was retro-actively an arc to the show.

  3. Ricky B

    I can see your points about the episode feeling like a throwback in some ways, but it was so damn funny that I didn’t mind one bit. The scapegoat/Pierceless group scene was among the best the series has done to date. The food fight wasn’t totally working for me until they cut to the sight of Troy and Abed in togas accompanied by Boob-o-tron… and I was powerless to resist that.

  4. Marc C

    What was the song they played during the food fight?

  5. Ricky B

    Apparently the song from the food fight scene was written just for this episode.

  6. do you know who sings the song? it’s awesome! very meatballs/early 80s kitschy.

  7. Cory

    I’m also hoping to find out who sings this song and where I can buy a download of it.

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