“Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy”
March 17th, 2011
Earlier today, Community was renewed for a third season. And during tonight’s episode, critic (and friend of the blog) Jaime Weinman tweeted the following: “maybe now that Community is safe I can enjoy watching it w/o feeling guilty about not loving it.”
While I like the show more than Jaime, I’ll admit that various circumstances have conspired to make me less of a fan than many others. Part of this is a busy Thursday schedule which largely keeps me from writing about the show, which means that it’s often the next day before I get a chance to watch. However, I think it’s also a sense that the show has been somewhat hard to pin down this year, consistently raising questions (like “The Problem of Pierce,” discussed in numerous locales over the past month or so) in a way that I think is very interesting but has threatened to keep me at arm’s length.
In some ways, I had the opposite response as Jaime: was it possible that I was resisting the urge to be more critical of the show because of its uncertain future? Perhaps its renewal would awaken underlying frustrations that had been suppressed in solidarity, revealing that my general appreciation for the show was being challenged by growing concerns over its direction.
It’s certainly a possibility, but I don’t think “Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy” is the episode to test the theory. A simple, effective half-hour of television, this week’s episode of Community sticks to the basics and forms a perfect release for those fans no longer fretting about being on the bubble: it’s sharp, it’s charming, and it’s light on Pierce.
May 6th, 2010
This episode is a triumph, so let me first make a note regarding its tremendous (or, if you prefer for me to actually complete the reference completely, huge) success – the various action movie parodies which run throughout “Modern Warfare” are expertly designed, tremendously directed by Justin Lin, and result in a really funny and successful episode.
However, I am sort of at a loss about what to really say about it, if only because I haven’t seen a lot of the action movies that the show parodied, and the brekaway narrative used by the episode (and most action movies) meant that the number of characters onscreen diminished as the episode went on. While the episode embodied the show’s propensity for pop culture references and for its meta-subversion of sitcom stereotypes, it also disrupted (as we saw in “Contempoary American Poultry”) the show’s traditional character dynamics. With only twenty minutes, the show rushed head first into the central dynamic between Jeff and Britta while largely “writing off” the other characters, which helped get to the various cliches the episode wanted to address but which kept me (who, as with the Goodfellas parody, was sort of left on the outside here) at arm’s length.
It still really freaking cool from my vantage point, but it wasn’t so much a high water mark for the show so much as it was an important test for the series’ future that it passed with flying colours.
Which were, you know, paint balls.
“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.
November 12th, 2009
Community, effectively, operates on two levels. One of them is a broader investigation of the community college lifestyle, this week in the form of a debate competition. The other is a character-driven model where archetypes are either challenged or substantiated in an effort to create comic interest. The show doesn’t necessarily need for both to work in the same fashion, but it depends on both to be present in order for the show to seem moderately balanced.
“Debate 109” is intriguing because of how it brings to the surface the question of how unique these characters really are, and as Jeff and Annie debate about human nature everyone else discovers that in the eyes of Abed they are as predictable as they are quirky. The former storyline offers some fun interactions and more opportunities for Alison Brie to outright steal this show out from under the rest of the cast, while the latter manages to give the episode the sort of manic connectivity that made the show’s Halloween episode so effective.
It was just a really well balanced half hour, something that I’m not sure the show had a handle on during early episodes.
November 5th, 2009
One of the greatest qualities a comedy have is being both indulgent and nuanced at the same time, a task that Community has taken on with varied degrees of success in its first season. There are times when something like Abed’s love of pop culture references feels forced, but then there is something as hilarious as BatAbed (which is nuanced in the sense that it is both unquestionably funny and is worked into the plot of the episode) and it’s largely forgiven. That’s an important quality for a successful comedy, and what’s interesting with Community is how it seems like nearly every character is on that tightrope between becoming insular and one-minded before eventually breaking free and showing a more complex side.
“Home Economics” has nearly every character approaching the precipice of one-dimensionality, but the twists and turns within each story either perfectly service the nuances of their characters or, just as effectively, stick to what they’re best with. While Jeff went through a transformation in the episode that smartly humbled the character, Annie had a chance to experience a similar transformation and was unable to walk over the edge (of self-actualization – the edge of crazy was easily overcome). In both instances, elements of the storylines seemed like indulgences (of Joel McHale playing a complete slob, of Alison Brie playing a crazy person), and the supporting characters largely operated in their most base modes, but yet it managed to shed light on their characters even with that sense that this was more fun than it was functional.
While I’m not quite sure if Pierce has been getting the same treatment, even his subplot seemed to hit just as hard when it needed to, demonstrating that the show is definitely back in the pocket, so to speak.
“Introduction to Film”
October 1st, 2009
I feel a little bit awkward writing a review of “Introduction to Film,” as if I should be out impulsively making out with someone or climbing a tree or telling 10 people I love them. The week’s class, considered a bird course and a chance at an easy grade, is all about “carpe diem,” with a professor straight out of Dead Poet’s Society and the kind of class that seems like the ideal fit for this cast of characters in that it is in fact that most awkward fit imaginable.
It’s an episode that, like the class in question, lulls us into a false sense of awareness, making us believe the episode is about one thing when in fact it’s about something else entirely. It does it in a really subtle way, like a sneeze that just keeps threatening to arrive but doesn’t, as the show demonstrates a mastery over the sneeze that one did not expect.
All in all, it’s a simultaneously funny and kind of heartbreaking episode that continues to show some really great tones to the show’s brand of humour.
September 24th, 2009
While I love being able to follow and communicate with TV critics when it comes to the Fall TV season, sometimes they ruin some pleasant surprises. I don’t mean that they spoil episodes or anything of that nature, but rather that they ruin the pleasant feeling you get when you watch “Spanish 101,” an episode which confirms that Community’s pilot is not a one-hit wonder and that this is a very funny, very well-constructed series. By learning that the second episode lived up the expectations of the first ahead of time, I knew going in that this was going to be an entertaining half hour of television, so I don’t have some sort of catchy opening about how this broke down all of my apprehension.
What it did do, though, is make me laugh a whole lot. In many ways working like Modern Family’s pilot and many episodes of 30 Rock where the final sequence is a lavish and bombastic affair which has enough laughs packed into it to fill an episode of a lesser sitcom, in others it did still manage to surprise me by taking characters in directions I didn’t expect them to go. By only visiting the study group session once, and yet remaining central to the shared experience of these characters, it humanizes the characters who needed to be humanized while lampooning (but not insulting) those who are still rife for some simple comic pleasure.
The result is a fast-paced episode of comedy which out-paced The Office for me tonight, although the two shows are obviously peddling different styles of humour.
September 17th, 2009
While I understand the logic behind putting the Community behind The Office for its first month or so, I will say this: for now, sound logic or no, it’s not doing the show any favours.
Yes, the show has a strong lead-in and a higher success rate in terms of ratings, which are financially speaking the lifeblood of a series. However, Community’s “Pilot,” which is about as cookie cutter as it comes in terms of the way it sets up the show (you can almost see the show yelling “Setting!” and “Character” with its collection of scenarios), cannot help but seem contrived and simplistic when placed against The Office, which now in its sixth season is totally confident about who its characters are and has no such awkward transitions. I’m not suggesting that it’s a fair comparison, but it’s one that you can’t help but make: after writing reviews of two season premieres for shows that have put their setup days behind them, Community is jarringly disassembled.
I think that the show’s pilot, ultimately, does assemble into a solid foundation for a series, and through a strong sense of humour and some great casting has me extremely interested to keep watching. However, as a pilot, there is something about it that lacks that element of surprise, and which is vague on specifics in a way which makes one worry if it’s all going to fall off the rails with time – critics who’ve seen second episode say it doesn’t, which is great news, but I still think that there’s some warning signs around.