“Football, Feminism and You” is the second of the two Community episodes that’s been bouncing around the NBC schedule for a while now, and while it isn’t as disappointing as last week’s episode, it still feels like it would have been better if it had aired when it was supposed to. Because it sets up so many story arcs that the series seemed to abruptly jump to between episodes two and three (which was the planned fourth episode, with “Football” coming in between), it feels like it’s reiterating a lot of things that have gone before but also setting them up, which presents the weird feeling that you’re watching a flashback even as you know you’re not. It’s proof of just how far serialization has infiltrated television when something as seemingly constant as the idea that any episode of any sitcom can be aired after any other no longer holds true.
In particular, the episode clarifies a lot of character relationships that have seemed a little confused up until now. Is Annie weirdly obsessed with Troy? Is she in love with him? Does she just want to be his best friend? Turns out, it’s all of them at once. The episode also would make a lot more sense with the Jeff and Britta sexual tension if it had aired back when it was intended to instead of right now, when that particular arc has moved on to a new point (and become one of the show’s weaknesses in the eyes of a lot of fans). The episode even sets up the dean character a little better than most of the other episodes did and introduces where the scenes between Abed and Troy that close out every episode originated from. This may not have been the funniest episode the show’s ever done, which may be why NBC wanted to shift funnier episodes around to give the show the best possible leg up, but “Football” did a bunch of necessary storytelling stuff that the show might have benefited from having show up earlier.
Yet, while this wasn’t as funny as some of the other episodes of this show, it was still pretty funny in bits and pieces. It’s interesting that Jeff, who seemed like he’d be the series’ clear lead, has become a supporting character in so many episodes, including this one. That’s probably a sign that the ensemble here is diverse and talented, but it’s still fascinating that we don’t really know much about Jeff beyond the fact that he’s kind of a jerk to everyone he meets and pretty much reflexively so. Here, he plays second fiddle to a story about how the dean wants Troy to join the Greendale football team (the Greendale Human Beings), even as Annie wishes he wouldn’t, lest he turn into the jock who ignored her in high school. Jeff gets roped into this because the dean is using him on promotional literature for Greendale, and Jeff would rather he not (for fear of his future career). Naturally, the dean cuts a deal with him: Get Troy to go out for football, and Jeff’s off the flyers.
What I find increasingly interesting about the show is how often one of the other characters ends up bouncing between Jeff and Annie, not Jeff and Britta, as it seemed might happen from the pilot. Jeff, of course, is the grizzled cynic who’s just trying to skate his way through life, and while the show was trying to paint Britta as his opposite – the idealist who wants the world to be a better place – it turns out, instead, that Annie, with her naïve nature and goody two shoes personality, is the better foil for Jeff. By bouncing one of the characters between the two of them, the show not only figures those two out, it manages to develop the character caught in between as well.
Up until this point, Troy has probably been the show’s least-developed character, the series mostly leaning on jock clichés to portray him (perhaps because this episode was scheduled to air earlier). It’s not as though the series escapes those jock trappings in tonight’s episode, but at least by showing us the contrast between the laughing, easy-going Troy who attends Greendale and the egotistical jock stereotype who attended he and Annie’s high school, the series has made him more than just a dumb jock. Troy’s never going to be the show’s funniest character, but there’s something about his easygoing nature that makes him a good partner in a scene for just about anyone (I find that’s true of just about everyone on the show, actually – all of their relationships with each other are different, which is one of the things I like best about the show). Knowing that he has this underlying ego should make further interactions with him in the future a lot funnier.
I liked the way the show dealt with Britta’s psychological issues in last week’s episode, but this episode still felt like the earlier incarnation of the character that the show started out with, the idealist who is hoping to make the world a better place. The series has been flaking off some of that characterization so well that it seemed odd to have it bubble back up again in the mostly undercooked plot about Britta, Shirley and Annie all having a bathroom rivalry, insofar as whom Shirley went to the bathroom with. While this eventually incorporated the Troy and Annie plot, it still felt like it was mostly just there to give some of the cast members something to do.
Slightly better was Pierce and the dean’s attempts to come up with a mascot to stand in for the Human Beings. The jokes about how the two wanted the mascot to be absolutely and perfectly politically correct were the sort of thing you’ve seen before (though I liked Pierce showing off all of the racially distinct features they had resolved not to use, like Irish chins), but the payoff to all of this – that weird, slightly frightening, silver-colored man in a body suit – was so odd and amusing that it almost validated the whole rest of the plot all by itself.
Community’s burned off both of the episodes that NBC kept bumping around the schedule now, so I’m hopeful that the series’ seeming downturn was just a network trying to minimize the effects of typical early struggling to define a show’s tone. It seemed as though the show was really finding its way to being a must-see show a few weeks ago, so here’s hoping that this momentary blip was just the need to burn off a couple of produced half hours that needed to be shown but maybe shouldn’t have been moved right up against each other.
- Fun facts: When I was a kid, I got tall really quickly at a young age. Hence, everyone assumed I would play basketball. While this never really panned out, my father insisted that someday, when I was the team center, everyone would cheer for me when I made a good play by yelling "Big T!" in unison and then stomping their feet. This never happened, but you can use this information as you will.
- "It was the Greendale Grizzlies, but I thought that a lot of these students have been called animals their whole lives."
- "That's sort of my gimmick, but we did lean on that pretty hard last week. I can lay low for an episode."
- "We're clearly looking at a naked drawing of Pierce doing jumping jacks."
- "That's a falcon with a gun. Now it's a falcon with an erection."
- "How did you know my nickname was T-Bone?" "Because you're a football player, and your name begins with T. Your name. Begins. With T."
- "I'm not having a conversation with someone who emerges from a bush." "Because I'm right?" "No. Because I'm not in a commercial for breakfast cereal."