I’m very tempted to just write “’Competitive Wine Tasting’ was fine” and leave it at that.
Actually, you know what? Screw professionalism. I’m gonna do that.
“Competitive Wine Tasting was fine.”
- "We got him?!" "I know."
- "We don't discuss the special gym."
- "Drunk ladies. Fancy bathrooms. And a room full of free coats."
- "Please take weird haircut, stupid grin, and go sniff another dog's ass."
- "Which do you think is better? Trevor St. McGoodBody or... David?"
- "That happened this morning."
- "I'd like to begin with a simple question: Who was the boss?"
- "I'm on the chapter right now where he traces Tony Micelli's genealogy all the way back to Caesar."
- "It's the only place to get fireworks that are too dangerous for Mexico."
- "Don't preach to me about romance, Annie. I had a three-way in a hot-air balloon."
- "Britta's attracted to men in pain. It helps her pretend to be mentally healthy."
- "My emotions. MY EMOTIONS!"
- "... season three caterer Gordon 'Giddy-Up' Gallagan."
- "Cornhole. Cornhole. CORNHOLE."
- "Pierce, Troy was molested." "Cool."
- "I wasn't so much 'molested' so much as I 'made it up.'"
- "Very impressive, Veronica Mars."
- "Before my ex-boyfriend Pablo was arrested for forging church relics..."
- "My uncle never stuck his finger in my plop plop. I know. I'm bummed about it too."
- "There's a path you take, and a path untaken. The choice is up to you, my friend."
- "It's called Fiddler, Please!"
- "You both come from moist wipe dynasties."
- "How about Thai? They're like Chinese Mexicans."
- "It's hard to be Jewish. It's hard to be Jewish. It's hard to be Jewish in Russia, yo."
Fuck, you’re still here? Fine. But none of the philosophical bullshit. I’m not feeling that strongly one way or the other tonight.
One of the problems with all of the time comedies have lost to the increased network demands for more commercial space is that there’s less time, even as shows want to have more plotlines. Shows that deliberately try to have just one storyline are in the minority, but one storyline is often the maximum amount an episode will have time to develop. This, obviously, isn’t a hard and fast rule. There were episodes of Arrested Development with six or seven stories bouncing off of each other in a satisfying comic chaos, and there have been episodes of Community that ran three storylines parallel to each other and were quite enjoyable.
“Competitive Wine Tasting” wasn’t one of them. Part of that, honestly, may stem from the fact that all three storylines featured guest stars that needed to be solidly integrated and given stuff to do, including two characters we’d never met before. Now, granted, the Stephen Tobolowsky character, Peter Sheffield, doesn’t require much in the way of introduction. He’s a man who’s dedicated his life to the study of Who’s The Boss. That’s, honestly, all the character introduction you need (plus the fact that he’s played by Tobolowsky, so you know he’s going to be a fun character). But Wu Mei is not just a completely new character who needs a little time to set up—she’s a woman who’s attracted to Pierce but not Jeff, apparently. She’s a character who’s got a built-in twist about her motives that needs a bit of time to pay off. (Kevin Corrigan’s Sean Garrity, of course, needs no introduction.)
Anyway, this results in an episode that feels overstuffed, in a way where nothing gets the amount of time that it really requires. (It also completely sidelines Shirley and Annie, but I don’t have a problem with the show not bothering to fit every character into every episode in an integral way.) There’s just too much going on and not enough funny to offset the fact that the whole thing is kind of messy. In a lot of ways, it feels like an episode from early season one, when the show was still trying to figure out just what it could and couldn’t do and tried out some experiments that didn’t work as well as others. There are things that work in all three storylines here, but there’s also a sense that this could have been sharper if whittled down to just two of the stories.
My favorite storyline involves Troy and Britta joining a drama class, where Garrity encourages the students to use the pain from their lives to build theatrical performances. Everybody else in the group has some sort of tremendous pain to share, and Troy doesn’t have anything, even as the show’s returned to the fact that he’s nursing a bit of a crush on Britta. So he makes his big decision: He says that his uncle molested him, but it’s something he’s completely made up. It pays off for him, as the rest of the class is jealous of his pain and Britta kisses him, attracted to emotionally damaged men as she is. Troy crying is something that’s always funny, and I liked Abed acting as his conscience, even as Troy liked the way his pain made Britta more attracted to him. But despite this story having the most laughs, it also had the most disappointing ending, where Troy revealed the truth to his classmates and the professor gave him a reprieve because he felt the pain of having no pain. Then Garrity made a speech about how actors weren’t writers, and we were out. A disappointing ending all around.
I take that back. The Sheffield/Abed storyline also had a disappointing ending, though it was such a comic sketch that it didn’t really matter. Abed takes a class from the eminent Sheffield, who has written a book (Who Indeed?) on his theories of Who’s The Boss. Abed, however, has also developed an elaborate theory of the show, which runs contradictory to Sheffield’s theory. Abed says Angela was the boss; Sheffield challenged him to teach the class if he knew so much (presumably, Sheffield would say Tony was the boss). Abed proved his case, and Sheffield opened a drawer containing a gun… then reached for a book called What WAS Happening? And… scene. I’m always fond of seeing Tobolowsky (who had some nice thoughts on this episode and why he was in it so little published at The Wrap), and I liked his showdowns with Abed, but it’s almost not worth calling this a “storyline.” It’s more a collection of scenes that give the episode something to cut to. There was potential here for an amusing take on what happens when people take this shit way too seriously, but it was not to be. (Come to think of it, for my own sanity, that's probably best.)
Finally, we have the Pierce and Wu Mei storyline, which has some pretty great “Jeff Winger is vain” moments but doesn’t have a whole lot of laughs beyond that. Still, it has the most heartfelt moment of the episode, when Pierce calls out the fact that Jeff simply wanted to make him feel like nobody wanted him after the truth about Wu Mei (she’s a corporate spy designed to help Red Dragon Wipes take over Hawthorne Wipes) is revealed. There are some funny moments here, and I actually liked the ending of this one (involving Jeff convincing Wu Mei and Pierce to go on a date together, which I hope comes back at some point), but the overall impression the storyline left me with was that it had a nice enough emotional core but was probably a touch too busy (particularly since it also sporadically tried to drag Annie in as JEFF’S conscience). With a little more room to spread out, it could have really been something. As it was, it was intriguing but not as solid as I would have liked.
What’s fascinating is that this episode really does feel like a season one episode, through and through. The main relationship in the episode is the Jeff and Pierce relationship (one that season one returned to time and again), the thrust of all three storylines involves the characters taking a new class, and there are tons of little moments that might have felt as much at home in season one as they do here. (The Troy and Britta storyline, for instance, is fairly similar to the one where they take the dance class together, though this one has more of a focus on Troy and the relationship between the two than just goofy dancing.) It’s very much a season two episode in how seriously it takes the characters’ emotions, but the sheer amount of things going on necessarily requires that the emotional moments are even more abrupt than they usually are. All in all, it makes for a disappointing episode of Community.