Community – “Early 21st Century Romanticism”

“Early 21st Century Romanticism”

February 10th, 2011

Because of my busy Thursdays, Community has fallen out of the review rotation without falling out of the viewing rotation.

This is, in many ways, unfortunate. I still enjoy the show, and I think the show is doing things that demand critical analysis, but I’ve had to leave it to Todd, Alan, and everyone else taking a look at the show week by week.

This week, though, I had the benefit of a screener, which is why I was sad to see that “Early 21st Century Romanticism” was…well, it was a little on the straightforward side. This is not to say the episode is bad, but rather it is very blatant about what it is trying to accomplish, and I don’t know if that simplicity necessarily worked in all instances. It does, however, raise questions about to what degree this series can claim to feature consistent character development, and whether or not we buy the various character beats which punctuate this Valentine’s Day-themed episode.

You’ll be able to listen to me complain about Pierce’s characterization in an upcoming episode of the TV Times Three podcast, but in short: it doesn’t matter why Pierce has been so terrible recently, because either way this particular form of the character just isn’t entertaining. I don’t find villainous Pierce enjoyable, and therefore it doesn’t particularly matter that we’re now learning that his recent upswing in douchebaggery has everything to do with the painkillers which he has been taking since breaking his legs. This does explain the behavior, grounding it in something approaching reality (or as real as a tiny Andy Dick dressed as the Conductor from Shining Time Station can be), but it doesn’t necessarily justify the creative decision. It marginalized Pierce from the group socially, but it also marginalized Pierce from the show comically, and I think the latter has proven to be one of the show’s few outright mistakes this season.

I do think it’s sort of wonderful to see Pierce end this episode sprawled on a park bench having bottomed out on his painkillers, in a dark and sadistic fashion. I want the character to hit rock bottom so that he can be rehabilitated, and so this shows immense promise; however, it’s not like this is a particularly funny storyline, or even a particularly substantial one. This is not a payoff: it is a tipping point, the conclusion of which will more clearly define the storyline’s impact. If it lands, perhaps we’ll look back and say that Pierce’s trip into villainy was all worth it; if it doesn’t, perhaps it’ll still make me laugh (or care) more than the character has recently.

A lot of “Early 21st Century Romanticism” sort of depends on the way current actions relate to previous character development. In the case of Britta and her lesbromance, it takes a single part of her character (her annoying insistence of her own tolerance) and plays it out in a fairly broad comic scenario. I didn’t particularly find the story that fantastic, but I liked the core of it: the funniest thing is that Britta actually found someone who is basically her new best friend, considering that they were both doing exactly the same thing. That touch, along with the idea that Other Britta also had an Other Annie, were enough to charm their way through the story, but the truth or dare feel to their kiss (intersecting with Pierce’s drug trip) just didn’t land for me.

Troy and Abed’s story works in a similar fashion. It stems from their concern over a shared affection for a librarian tearing their friendship apart, they embark on a tremendously enjoyable shared attempt to woo her, and then eventually realize that their friendship is more powerful than the power of a no-good book jockey who thinks Abed is weird. It’s a very cute and fluffy storyline, just letting Troy and Abed be Troy and Abed, but because I quite like Troy and Abed I enjoyed the storyline. Nothing complex, nothing meaningful, but a fun sitcom storyline which works to the characters’ strengths.

I have reservations about Jeff Winger’s storyline here, though. I think that it’s about the time, as Duncan points out, that Jeff admits that he cares about the rest of the study group and that he should be more willing to engage with them (and, for that matter, with people like Chang and others who attend the school as well). However, have we seen enough evidence of this to accept Jeff’s epiphany? Or, perhaps more specifically to this episode, is enough of that evidence made clear in the episode to drive Jeff to that final realization? I just felt like the storyline was meandering to the point of boredom, never quite coalescing to the point where a deep and meaningful mass text message would result. Sentiment is fine, and I think that I can connect the dots as anyone else could, but I don’t know if the episode itself earned the heartfelt conclusion so much as it felt it was logical in the grand scheme of things. It sold it as a formative moment for the character, and while I appreciate a more subtle approach I wonder if this was a bit too subtle.

As a result, this wasn’t a classic: despite the overarching Valentine’s theme, it wasn’t particularly cohesive, and I think the verdict is out on whether Pierce’s state has made a positive influence on the show. However, the episode remained funny, and the Troy and Abed story in particular was just one of those really well-executed sitcom plots that we should not fault the show for doing. The show does not always need to be ambitious, and so this solid outing is perfectly acceptable (if not, perhaps, personally consistent).

Cultural Observations

  • The decision to have Pierce’s prepared statement play during the opening credits, and just bringing us back at the end of it, was a really intelligent bit of writing.
  • I think I prefer sadsack Chang to obnoxious Chang, but there’s so much bleed between the two that I still am not entirely on board.
  • Frankly, I don’t know if I can adequately defend the Barenaked Ladies now that Steven Page has left the group following a cocaine arrest, as the remaining members don’t quite add up as well. However, as a Canadian, I can at least say that the band’s pre-American breakthrough material still stands the test of things, so everyone but Jeff wasn’t crazy.
  • As noted, I probably won’t be checking in on the show all that often – the screener this week was a one-time deal, so we’re back to the occasional tweet from now on.


Filed under Community

6 responses to “Community – “Early 21st Century Romanticism”

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Community – “Early 21st Century Romanticism” | Cultural Learnings --

  2. Kent

    Personally, I’ve enjoyed the take on Pierce the last couple of episodes. I thought last week did an incredible job of making you simultaneously laugh at and want to throttle Pierce. If anything, I’m disappointed that they are explaining away his ass behavior with his painkillers rather than outright toss him from the group over his behavior in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and make him deal with the fallout.

  3. I’ve personally been conflicted about Pierce’s behavior these last few episodes. On one hand Chevy Chase plays the villain so well that it was fantastic to see him get some more screen time (especially in the D&D session – his lair was brilliant), and I completely buy that Pierce would be so hurt and outraged at being so noticeably excluded he’d go overboard towards Fat Neil. On the other, as Alan pointed out in last week’s episode, his behavior has been so extreme (even though it’s reasonably explained beyond the painkillers) that it’s getting harder and harder to justify why the group lets him stay around. However, it looks like the next episode will land Pierce in the hospital, so I’m going to be patient with this arc until it reaches the end.

    Overall though, this felt like a very solid episode of “Community” to me. You say that the episode was too straightforward, which I can completely buy as an argument, but that honestly worked better for me. As the first half of this season’s episodes felt very thematic, it’s occasionally nice to see that “Community” is still a sitcom, and while it plays with the conventions constantly it can still be traditional when it wants to. Plus, doing so let it incorporate more of the personalities that rotate around the main cast (Starburns, Leonard and Duncan to name a few) while still giving the rest time to breathe. I’m content to let “Parks and Rec” be the more traditional sitcom on a weekly basis, but it’s still nice to see “Community” decelerate every so often.

    And I am listening to the Barenaked Ladies as I type this comment. Not on Jeff’s side, I have to say.

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