No doubt I've been extra wary towards Community
this season what with new showrunners David Guarascio, Moses Port and their (largely new stock of) writers taking over for the old hands that have moved on. I've sometimes been very critical of a show that while never perfect, felt ever more clunky and uneven in its quest to keep the formula that creator Dan Harmon and co. kept so lively for three seasons.
A few episodes back with Jeff finally meeting his estranged father things started to fall into place with Joel McHale delivering an incredibly rich and rewarding performance, building Jeff's humanity in all its many shades to something so poignantly bitter and broken, yet strong. Last week Greendale rallied behind supporting Chang in his imaginary illness known as Changnesia, and while less Chang is best, the episode was largely pleasurable and moved along comfortably.
It satisfies me to say that tonight's episode may be the very best of a season that has come on in fits and starts. This is a very good feeling to get out ther as I at times was worried we'd never make it and stay wallowing in the Body Snatcher-esque hallowed bowls of Community-lite. But like many things, it seems Guarasico, Port and co. just needed a little time to practice getting the formula down. Or else I've gone soft in my show watching and am living in delusions of once former grandeur...
Naw. While not every plot or gag clicks tonight, one has to look no further than the pre-credits opening where everybody is on point and cracking. The Dean presents to the study group a plan that will convince a rich stoner kid named Archie to join Greendale. Archie spent seven years in highs school before his parents bought him a GED, thus it is the Dean's hope that the kid will pump huge volumes of cash into the nearly broke school, just like Pierce has done for nigh on two decades. This three minutes that had me snickering right on into a full on guffaw more than once. From Annie's forensic club's desire for a new body farm (to which the Dean gives a very Deanish "Mmmm...") to Britta's declaration that the school does need money, citing that the biology lab has been dissecting the same dead pig for ten years (to which the Dean replies dean-seriously: "If we land this kid we can buy a hundred dead pigs and make everybody happy!") and Jeff's insistence that this time he truly wants to help (this after the Dean assumes he'll sit this out because "of your track record of literally being too cool for school!") there's a flow to the banter here that we've rarely experienced this season. And it feels both familiar and fresh, which has gotta be a good thing.
The study group then falls into their appropriate A-D plots. Annie and Britta help the Dean woo Archie (which includes convincing him snowboarder Shaun White teaches a class called 'Half pipes and Hash pipes'), while Jeff occupies Pierce so as not to get him upset about someone taking what he assumes is his limelight. Meanwhile Troy and Shirley begin a P.E. class which turns out to be P.E.E. -- Physical Education Education, ie how to teach physical education. While wacky this really does sound like a legit college class more than a lot of the show's classes. As for Abed, he sees this an opportune time to start a frat called the Delta-Cubes, which only purpose it seems is to mess with the Dean in classic college comedy fashion.
Abed's bit while cute doesn't work, but perhaps that's because it's the absolute D-plot of the episode, an extended peripheral gag more than anything. While not all the stories bring the characters together at the end, each largely succeeds in their own right, and are bridged together in the thematic conclusions that it's best to be your yourself -- no bullshit -- and to see the dignity in others.
For Jeff's lesson this means a visit to Pierce's Italian barbershop hangout (where his crude gay jokes are welcomed with a Frank Sinatra like good-old-boyness), with Jeff realizing that he really enjoys spending time with Pierce, even if the guy can be a self-centered dick. The barbershop setting alone is worth it for Pierce line about old National Geographics: "There's just something about a breast that's never been touched by white hands."
For Shirley it means helping Troy out when she excels at P.E.E. and he fails in one embarrassing moment after another. While the training sequence with Chang is perhaps the lowest point of the episode, Donald Glover running manically around the room when he can't control a fake locker room crowd is a great, if familiar, site to see. And for Annie this means once again bumping up against her own code of ethics and morals as the Dean stoops lower and lower to woo Archie.
While all of this is indeed a hearty helping of some of the show's most core aspects that we perhaps did not need a refresher on, I'm moderately okay with the episode's reiteration because it flows so well and truly feels like the new guys get it. Let's just hope they don't feel the need to rinse and repeat too often and too on-the-nose in the future. And yes, the Dean's realization and speech at the end about Greendale staying Greendale no mater what felt like a direct statement to wary fans like myself, but I'm largely okay with that too. As it is things felt goofy, but not zany, again feeling somehow both fresh and familiar. My hope is that if the new guys can keep that balance moving into the final half of the season then we'll be in more than moderately good shape.
My one concern now that the show is getting back on track is whether or not we'll actually have enough quality time at Greendale before the season is out, and quite possibly the series ends. Like everything with Community
this season, we'll just have to take it one week at a time.
Random observations and thoughts:
- Yeah, like Jeff has never received a professional shave before.
- The title of this episode comes from the Dean describing Archie as a whale they're going to catch, ie a whale is big and whaling brings in big bucks. How un-PC...
- Britta's line about the rich Sheik she met at Trader Joe's was quite on the mark for Ms. Perry
- Pretty awesome to get some substantial Magnitude ("Pop, Pop!") this week as well as a little Vicki, Neil and Garret.
- The Dean having Greendale endorse Let's Potato Chips was pretty amusing. Also... "Splingles"