Community: "Home Economics"
B+

Community: "Home Economics"

First of all, my apologies if I get any of the below wrong. I rely heavily on a DVR while writing these things, but this week, I’m hanging out in my hometown where my parents’ DVR only records one show at a time (it really IS the sticks!), and that record slot is for FlashForward. So if I got any of the quotes or anything like that wrong, you can blame the unsophisticated nature of these backwoods-y yokels who will surely teach me about how my life in the city has sapped me of the ability to love and care for others.

That said, it seems weirdly apropos that I’m back home in South Dakota on the week this episode aired because this episode zeroes in on one of the things that makes Community such a compelling show thematically – it’s all about settling for something, even though you might want something else. Everyone who’s at Greendale is there for some reason they’re probably not very proud of, and the way those reasons crop up in their lives and make them question their larger goals and dreams makes for a fairly realistic examination of the ways we cope with realizing we might be failures, might be mediocre in our everyday lives. That is, except for Abed, who’s pretty much just happy to be Abed and has found the things that give him a pleasurable life.

I know a lot of people like all of the characters on this show here in my home state. Plenty of people want to go elsewhere and do big things but realize once they head to one of the coasts that there are so many people out there and maybe it would just be better to go back home. Plenty of people go elsewhere to do big things and just fail. And plenty of people (like Abed) love it here and look at me askance when I say I live in California, as if to say, “How could you EVER like it there?” I’m lucky because I’m doing something I enjoy in an environment I enjoy doing it in, but way, way too many people end up falling short and having to turn themselves toward rebooting their lives. Hence, places like Greendale. A lot of human life is driven by people who want something wondering why people who seemingly don’t want anything aren’t bothered by that, while those people wonder why everyone else can’t just stop, smell the roses and be content. Maybe the central dichotomy of all of human existence is between the desire for more and the willingness to settle for less.

That’s an awful lot of heady talk for an episode that mostly centered on how badly Jeff smells since he’s lost his condo, but Community inspires those sorts of feelings. Unlike a lot of quirky single camera comedies, it’s really about something, even if it’s taking a little while to get to that “something.” There have been a lot of great comedies about failure but shockingly few in recent years, when comedies about people who were inexplicably successful at everything they did became the hip new thing. Starz’s Party Down is a great show about the unexpected pleasures of just giving up, but Community, increasingly, is about how hard it can be to admit that life hasn’t quite worked out like you thought it would and you need another leg up. No one wants to be at Greendale (except Abed), but, conversely, everyone sort of does want to be there.

As mentioned, the central plot device of the episode was Jeff losing his condo, which led to him living in his car. After asking around, he ended up living with Abed, which resulted in him dropping in to Abed’s rather passive lifestyle of eating Lucky Charms and watching TV. (Jeff only spent a quarter over the course of one day, he remarked happily.) Everybody knew that pair of guys – they were always guys – in college who never seemed to get up from the same spot on the couch and never seemed to change the channel on the TV, so I appreciated this gag as one of the few bits of universal college humor the show has gone in for (though, as I remarked in the pilot review, there isn’t a lot of universal college humor).

While I’m a touch skeptical that Greendale would have dorms (do a lot of community colleges DO this?), it was worth it just to see how Abed’s attitudes toward life seemed oddly unsettling when transposed over to Jeff. Jeff’s always been one of the guys who wanted something, while Abed is content with what he has, so trying to make Jeff into someone who was contented ended up seeming as odd as the show wanted it to. (Points off for tossing the resolution of the storyline to the Jeff/Britta pairing. You could have done the exact same storyline without having everyone remark on how Jeff and Britta have great chemistry. Saying two people have great chemistry makes us more suspicious that they have great chemistry.)

On the other hand, I’m warming to the attempts to force Annie and Troy together, perhaps because I like the way the actors are playing it, particularly Alison Brie’s way of making it seem like Annie has virtually no idea what to do with a guy she likes. (Donald Glover’s egotistical obliviousness is also very funny.) Perhaps because the show is more comfortable playing this for laughs than the Jeff/Britta pairing, it’s working a little better for me, but Annie’s attempts to help Troy get ready for a date and refusing to tell him how she felt were amusing throughout, particularly everything involving the heirloom blanket. Also great? Patton Oswalt turns up as someone who works at student health. Hopefully he’ll be back.

Finally, Pierce tried to help Britta by smoothing things over between her and Vaughn (and man I like the way this show is growing its guest ensemble) and somehow ended up in Vaughn’s band where he helped write a song about how Britta’s a bitch and ended up having a feud with Vaughn about how he’s a “B.” Not the world’s funniest subplot, but it’s always fun to see Chevy Chase’s befuddlement at the state of things. I do hope that the show quickly finds some more for Shirley to do. She’s becoming the least-used member of the ensemble, and I’d like to know more about her.

This wasn’t an all-time world beater of an episode like last week’s show, but it was still a really solid half hour of laughs, and there was plenty of stuff I missed because I was laughing and couldn’t rewind (or typing something down and couldn’t rewind). That it also played up some of the thematic ideas that make the show so enticing on a level beyond just that it makes me laugh so much was an added bonus. Put another way, this was the first episode of Community that my mom had ever seen (she’s not a big single-camera comedy fan) and she laughed at quite a bit before declaring it “silly,” so maybe this show’s got a brighter future than even I thought.

Stray observations:

  • "It'll be better if it's man to man. That way we won't be talking about our chubby thighs or how we can have babies."
  • "There's a silver lining here. You're attracted to bums."
  • "Jeff, did I say anything in my sleep last night about farm animals or Brian Williams?"
  • "I call it special drink." "And someday, you will know it by its true name -- diabetes."
  • "A picnic blanket! Genius. I was just gonna lay down newspaper."
  • "That song was disrespectful to me and to the definition of rhyme scheme."
  • "Assuming to Garfunkel somebody is to keep putting up with them even though they're a fat, lazy cat who eats all the lasagna."
  • "I'm kind of the Hawkeye around here."
  • "I was wrong. Material possessions are important. Look how much happier The Jeffersons were than the people on Good Times."
  • "I'm Pierce! The song's about me!"
Filed Under: TV, Community

More TV Club