“Pascal’s Triangle Revisited”
May 20th, 2010
Last week felt like a finale, or at least how I had anticipated a Community finale to feel like. It felt like it solidified the group dynamics, offering evidence that the show has grown a great deal over the past season. It was a confident statement on which to head into a second season, emphasizing the dynamics that we’ve enjoyed thus far and would continue to enjoy into the future.
“Pascal’s Triangle Revisited” also feels like a finale, but I’m not entirely convinced it felt like what I anticipated a Community finale to feel like, or even what I want a Community finale to feel like. Throwing the group dynamics out the window, and focusing a lot of its time on supporting characters who aren’t part of the core group, the episode places the group’s future in chaos and delivers a traditional “shake up the status quo” finale that doesn’t feel like it reaches any of the series heights.
Instead, it feels like Dan Harmon and company have taken a small network note and delivered a slightly exaggerated, but never quite subverted, take on what you would traditionally expect from a sitcom finale. I don’t necessarily think that the events which transpire are bad, and I had a few good laughs in the episode, but the show I love was purposefully placed into peril, and I don’t really think that it resulted in a particularly great half-hour of comedy even if I respect the show for some of the choices it eventually made.
I think the episode’s biggest problem was honestly John Oliver’s Ian Duncan, not because he isn’t funny but because I don’t particularly care: the character’s long disappearance did not make our hearts grow fonder, but rather made the character feel like an artifact of an older show. I didn’t need that character to be a part of these stories, just as I didn’t need quite so much time spent with Dean Pelton. I felt a little bit like the characters in the Video Tearbook Coda: while these people may be funny, I don’t particularly know them very well, and the lack of connection to the characters made it all seem a bit hollow. After “Modern Warfare” managed to make a giant pile of cliches feel like a story about characters, it seems strange that this episode would actually feel less organic as a whole, but that’s just sort of how it played out.
The sudden focus on the Transfer Pageant (and the race for Tranny Queen) comes out of nowhere, and Slater’s return into Jeff’s life feels very conveniently timed; there’s a point where the show sort of comments that this all seems pretty convenient, just as Abed points out that Annie’s sudden decision to spend the summer in Delaware is your classic last day at school plot twist, but then they sort of just let it play out. I don’t think the show always has to go all-out with its reference humour, and in fact would suggest against it, but this was one instance where they seemed unwilling to avoid the temptation of the all-out love quadrangle at episode’s end. It didn’t feel like they found a particular novel way to get to the point where Britta and Slater were fighting it out for Jeff’s love, and that kept me from really embracing the episode as I have previous stories that felt like they were aiming higher.
Now, I’m not a robot: I liked seeing Britta confront her feelings for Jeff in a rare moment of honesty from the character, and I liked seeing Jeff confront his own emotions about both Britta and Slater in a realistic fashion. I don’t think the show should avoid romantic subplots, as the end of the finale indicated that they have a pretty good handle on where these characters stand in their lives; plus, I think we all need to give the show credit that we aren’t entirely grossed out by Jeff and Britta together after it seemed like such a predictable and lazy development when it was introduced in the pilot. However, I just don’t think that anything they did to get there felt like it was inspired, or felt like it was something that only this show would be able to do. Sure, little moments like the crowd aligning with Teams Britta, Slater and Coco were a lot of fun, and distinctive of this particular show, but much of the episode just didn’t feel the same way.
The one part of the episode that unquestionably worked was the element which is probably the most divisive. The show teased Jeff and Annie’s sexual chemistry in the debate episode, and I think everyone sort of agreed that it would never happen thanks to the age difference between them. And early in this week’s episode, we see Annie confide in Jeff about her decision to transfer with Vaughan in an effort to be impulsive, and Alison Brie was so great in that scene that you saw how much Annie looked to Jeff as someone she could trust and how much she needed someone like that in her life. And so it’s only fitting that Annie would be Jeff’s sounding board later in the episode, and that Jeff would open up to her about his choice between Slater and Britta, and that they would after a brief embrace start making out something fierce.
I’m not saying that it’s entirely “right,” but I like that the show is willing to be a little bit wrong: it’s the one subversion that feels entirely earned, as the show drives right through the middle of the fork of the road and into a brick wall named Annie. I don’t know where the show is going with that move, and while it has obviously been foreshadowed by earlier episodes it still feels like it was coming out of nowhere. However, as shocking as it is, its development has been more subtle than the way Jeff and Britta have come together, and certainly more subtle than Slater’s sudden rush of interest in Jeff at this convenient time. It may not be the direction that people expected the show to go in, but that’s part of what makes Community so charming, and what I wanted to see more of in the episode.
The episode’s subplots can often be relied on to perk up a more traditional A-story, but these just didn’t go anywhere: Troy realizing that Abed didn’t want to live with him because he didn’t want to ruin their friendship felt hollow coming from a cookie metaphor rather than Abed himself, and the first storyline with Senor Chang as a student rather than a teacher relied too heavily on Oliver and honestly makes me a tiny bit concerned about how they’re going to integrate Jeong into the cast in the years ahead. After an episode where everyone banded together, it seemed weird to have the group separated for so long, and there just wasn’t the dynamism that I have come to expect from the show.
“Pascal’s Triangle Revisited” is perhaps a smart finale: it makes us really curious about what comes next, and certainly indicates that the show is willing to go out on a creative limb. However, I don’t know if the first 19 minutes of the finale actually demonstrated any of those qualities, which makes me slightly disappointed that the show didn’t go out on a higher note as a whole. That said, of course, this is still one of the funniest shows on television, but I don’t think that show necessarily came out in full force for the finale.
- The one scene which clearly played with the idea of sitcom finale cliches was Abed’s scene trying to find the right line to turn off the lights with, as seen in many location-based sitcom finales (most famously Cheers, I believe).
- I pick on the Dean above, but I did enjoy his awkward moment when he realizes that two people replied to his creepy personal ad. I also enjoyed that we never found out which gender the people in the dog costumes were – I don’t dislike the Dean, and there’s a time and a place for larger stories featuring the character, but I’d rather have had more Shirley/Abed in this case.
- Noticed one of the Tranny Queen contenders was named Danielle Harmon.
- Alison Brie and Joel McHale really do have ridiculous chemistry, don’t they? I think Harmon is on record as saying that they hadn’t really thought of pairing them romantically until the viewers reacted so positively to their sexual tension in the debate episode, so interesting to see how fan response has potentially changed the series’ trajectory.
- That’s two John Michael Higgins guest spots in one week, even if this one was pretty pointless.
- EDIT: per NeoGAF, I feel I need to point out that the Chang/Duncan scenes actually featured a pretty fantastic “inside Baseball” Lost joke that completely went over my head, so kudos for that, Community.