One of the reasons I’ve been pretty high on Community this season, even as there are some grumblings going around that the show has become wildly inconsistent (probably true) or shouldn’t have attempted a massive serialized story arc because it’s hard to make that work within existing sitcom structure (I’m waiting and seeing), is because this is the single best season for Britta Perry, my favorite character on the show and occasionally all of TV. In the early episodes of the season, when the show was struggling a bit, Britta was consistently the funniest character, and now that the show has settled into a really nice groove, she’s still the funniest character on a fairly consistent basis. “Origins Of Vampire Mythology” showed that she can still be the center of the show’s more sentimental elements as well, and that’s a good thing as we head into the season’s last third.
The enjoyably ridiculous premise: Britta has an ex-boyfriend named Blade. She knows he’s bad news, but she can’t seem to tear herself away from him. To top it all off, he works for a carnival that’s come to town to set up on Greendale’s campus. Inevitably, he will text her or call her, and inevitably, she will come running to him. He just has that kind of power over her. Thus, she entrusts Annie—who knows something about addiction—with her phone and asks her to make sure that Britta doesn’t get in touch with Blade. How should Annie do that? By locking Britta up in the apartment Annie shares with Troy and Abed, who’ve gotten it in their heads to watch Blade, the fantastic kick-boxing vampire movie. Meanwhile, Jeff just has to know what’s up with Blade, so he and Shirley head to check out the carnival, even as the Dean, at the behest of Laybourne, shows up at the apartment to try to convince Troy to join the air conditioning repair program.
Once again, we have an episode that gives (almost) everybody something amusing to do, which has been a hallmark of the show since it returned from hiatus. You may not always think what the characters are doing is funny, but they’re all being given a chance to get laughs and all being utilized beyond just a line or two. That wasn’t always the case in the season’s first half. One of the show’s greatest strengths is its comedic ensemble, which is airtight and works almost as well as a large group as it does in smaller pairings (something not every comedy on show can say). The way that the show gradually got away from the larger group scenes in the back half of season two and first half of this season spoke to the group’s fragmentation, but it also deprived us of one of the series’ very best benefits. (Is it any surprise that the consensus best episode of this season is “Remedial Chaos Theory,” an episode that’s just the ensemble hanging out together?)
Thus, I was pretty sure this episode was going to work—no matter what flaws it had—thanks to that opening scene with everybody sitting around the table. The conflict between Troy and Abed was glossed over a little quickly for my tastes, but, then, this isn’t an episode about them. As soon as the Dean wandered in dressed as a train engineer, the opening scene hit a nice run of jokes, topped by everybody laughing at the fact that Britta’s boyfriend was named Blade. (I knew he would be from the episode summary, and I still laughed.) Watching the gang interact inside and outside of class is the best thing about the show, and this was a good scene to watch all seven bounce off of each other.
Impressively, the episode continues that streak as it goes on, gradually bringing everybody over to the apartment. While it starts out with the three who live there and Britta, soon, the Dean has dropped by, and by episode’s end, both Jeff and Pierce are there as well. The episodes in this back half increasingly seem to start with one comedic premise—Shirley is getting married, Britta’s boyfriend is in town—then give everybody in the ensemble different storylines that branch off of that. It’s a more interesting way for the show to operate than something like, “The members of the group are taking three different classes, and here are some stories about how those classes have wacky teachers!” It also suggests how the show could be about a group of friends post-college, which is something the show will almost certainly have to consider at some point in its future. (Though the ratings were down last week, it was still the number one show on NBC Thursdays, and with the impending meltdown of The Office this could inexplicably and unexpectedly become the strongest comedy on the network’s lineup, not because it’s particularly huge but because everything else is just doing that poorly. Six seasons and a movie doesn’t seem so far-fetched, is all I’m saying.)
By far the strongest stuff was happening in the apartment, where Annie had switched Blade’s number in Britta’s phone with Annie’s own number. The constant buzz of texts was funny, yeah, but even better were Annie’s attempts to impersonate Blade (and Troy, Abed, and the Dean’s attempts to impersonate a carnival) and Annie’s inability to understand that if Blade treated Britta poorly, that was only going to be more of a turn-on to her. I also liked the way the episode circled back around to the question of the Troy and Britta relationship, which has been a slow-burn for a ridiculous amount of time now but finally seems to be heating up just a bit. Troy’s nice text message was what got Britta to drop Blade (since she was convinced he had suddenly started treating her well), and the final moment where Annie confirms to Britta that Troy sent it was a nice bit of wordless interplay. I’m impressed with how well the show has done with the more dramatic moments this season, and I even liked the Winger speech here. Somebody on the show’s writing staff is working through something, and it’s resulted in better, less sappy Winger speeches than we got last season (where the show finally had to make fun of them). (Another highlight: the Dean’s “Well, that’s what I get for improvising!”
The business at the carnival wasn’t as strong, but that was only because everything in the apartment was so good. I actually rather liked Blade’s nonchalance, particularly his line about how something wouldn’t change how mustard tastes. (In general, I’m a fan of characters like Jeff confronting weird bumpkins with strange secret knowledge. Call it a weakness.) Kirk Fox made for a good twist on the old bad boy formula, presenting someone Britta found irresistible just because of how little he cared. Jeff and Shirley make for a strong pairing, and I like the way the two of them can help each other when they’re stuck on a particularly self-destructive path. After the early episodes showed a depressing tendency to slot Shirley into the “Christian” box, the episodes since her foosball anime fight with Jeff have been much stronger for the character, and I wonder if placing her in the same storyline as Jeff helped the writers realize things about the character that would make for funny jokes beyond just being judgmental about things. On the other hand, Jeff’s final list of questions to Blade wasn’t as strong of a capper as it might have been, and the solution to the mystery of Blade was a little lackluster. But you can’t have everything.
The Pierce and Chang runner was mostly just there to give the two actors something to do, and it didn’t really offer much in the way of storytelling or laughs. I liked the end, with Pierce locking himself in Annie’s bedroom, but the whole thing just felt like a way to get the two characters who are most dedicated to stirring up conflict within the group off to the side while the group was working through some stuff. If last season was dedicated to getting us to accept that Pierce could do terrible things and the group would still forgive him, this season seems to be treating the character a bit more lazily. I enjoyed his antics in part one of the blanket fort episode, but other than that, I’m hard-pressed to come up with something that’s really worked for him this season. At least Chang got that crazy film noir spoof back in the season’s early episodes.
But I ultimately liked “Vampire Mythology” because it circled back to my favorite theme of the show: These are all damaged people, but they somehow fill in the gaps in each other. Just as Troy and Abed had to stop their fight, because they couldn’t stop being friends, these people need each other in their lives to help them realize that they’re all worthwhile. The modern world so often seems like a place dedicated to making everybody feel like shit that it’s nice just to have people around to remind you that, no, you’re not an insignificant cog in the machine. Britta, of all people, needs to be reminded that more often than not, and “Vampire” ultimately took off in its closing portions, as she came to see that she, too, is worthy of something more than a carny named Blade.
- I didn’t get a screener this week, while the show’s new best friend, apparently, Alan Sepinwall, did. If I don’t get a screener for next week’s Dreamatorium episode, then my hellfire shall be general over the Eastern seaboard.
- I quite enjoyed that final tag, and I’m planning to start saying, “It’s from his album” any time I start laughing at something nobody else finds amusing. (This happens more often than you’d think.)
- “Pillows And Blankets” update (because I know you care): I liked it even more the second time through (especially in HD), and I continue to find the closing passages some of the most moving stuff the show has done. I’m sorry some of you were unconvinced by the conclusion to Troy and Abed’s fight, but it really rang true to me.
- I just wanted to let you all know that Parks & Recreation is back next week, as it has always been scheduled to come back since NBC announced its hiatus. I will also remind you that the show would have been in reruns if it had been running these six weeks, unless you’d rather it be shoved into the post-Office rerun slot to burn off new episodes and garner disappointing ratings, as Up All Night has. And then you’d have to wait even longer for season five. What I am saying is this: I do not understand your complaints.
- I liked the Dean specifically pointing out that thing Alison Brie often does where she smiles, then turns it into a worried frown inside of about three seconds.
- I really feel like the show has somewhat wasted one of John Goodman’s episodes with this one. He was only in one scene, and was just there to remind viewers of the ongoing conflict. He didn’t even get anything funny to do! Laybourne couldn’t have sent a lackey?
- Blade finally got that promotion. Maybe next time, he’ll be running the “Guess Your Weight” booth.