Community: “Studies In Modern Movement”
B

Community: “Studies In Modern Movement”

B

Community

“Studies In Modern Movement”

Season 3, Episode 7

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I have some issues with this episode of Community, but I’m almost willing to sweep them under the rug because the sequence where Jeff and the Dean sang “Kiss From A Rose” in one of those make-your-own-music-video booths at the mall is exactly the sort of odd kookiness I turn to this show for. And then the sequence turned to a hallucinatory Pierce imagining that he was playing the piano for some hula girls. And then it returned to Troy and Abed putting on the shadow play for Annie. And finally, we saw Britta and Shirley listening to the hitchhiker Britta had picked up (named Jesus, of course), who was singing a song about how marijuana should be legal—and so should drinking human blood. It was the sort of weird, go-for-broke thing Community usually does so well, an impromptu medley of one song that exists, two that don’t, and puppets, and it was all the better for coming out of nowhere.

Plus, it reinforced the season’s recent turn toward warmth, something I’m glad to see the show embracing again. I think the show is always better when it takes an opportunity to embrace a character moment over an easy joke, and this was an episode seemingly based more on character moments than anything else. In a lot of ways, the episode it was most similar to was “Mixology Certification,” one of my favorites in the show’s history, in that it all took place away from Greendale, and it divided the characters up into several separate stories. But where “Mixology” really nailed the ending by taking a strange left turn into poignant and dark drama, this one couldn’t quite pull it all together in the end. The Annie-Abed-Troy story and the Pierce story both got solid endings, but the Britta-Shirley and Jeff-Dean storylines just kind of… stopped.

Like “Mixology,” this episode began from a very time-tested sitcom presence: Annie is moving into Troy and Abed’s place, and she asks the study group to help her. Easy enough. You’ve seen that on a million shows, but there’s enough room to maneuver there that it’s not going to make you pre-emptively roll your eyes like, say, a high school reunion storyline would. Moving is a universal experience, one of those things that nearly everybody watching this show is going to have some small amount of exposure to, at the very least, and commemorating Annie’s move is a better idea than just having her suddenly live with Troy and Abed. There are a couple of stock plot devices reheated here, including Britta telling Annie she’s going to find everything she likes about Troy and Abed irritating after living with them for a while (true enough, as it goes) and Jeff begging off helping by pretending to be sick. Again, the episode gets away with them by being goofy and clever: Troy and Abed are annoying, but the things they do that are annoying are the things we’re usually endeared by (putting us in Annie’s shoes). Jeff fakes being sick while at the Gap, but it’s a remarkably complicated fake, involving roping one of the saleswomen on the floor into his scheme.

Now, if you’ve been reading these reviews for any amount of time, you’ll know that Annie’s not exactly my favorite character on the show. I don’t hate her or anything, and I think the writers generally know how to approach writing her—something I’m not sure I could say for Shirley this season—but I still find her particular mix of character attributes, including uptightness, slight immaturity, and a compulsive competitiveness, to be a hard mix of character traits to get right in terms of comedy. (The character I guess I’d say is closest to Annie is Cheers’ Rebecca Howe, and she became a better character once the writers started abandoning the original conception of her entirely and embracing that immaturity.) Alison Brie plays the hell out of her, too, but it’s hard to get around the fact that Annie still seems to be defined by a central innocence that she keeps losing, over and over again.

And, yeah, that makes sense, because you don’t lose your innocence all at once. But it’s not a character arc I find terribly interesting. It also doesn’t help that a lot of Annie’s storyline since the end of season one has been wrapped up in the Jeff and Annie relationship drama, and I’m never a fan of will-they/won’t-they stuff, even on my very favorite shows. I don’t find Annie episodes inherently bad or anything—season one’s “Romantic Expressionism” is one of my favorite episodes the show’s ever done—but they do have a higher bar for me than they do for most of y’all. And that’s cool.

Furthermore, the Annie storyline here—while not incredibly risky or anything—is pretty good, if a little clichéd, what with the whole “Troy and Abed are going to get super annoying!” angle. I almost always like scenes between Annie and Pierce for some reason, and this episode was no exception, as the part where she returned to find that Pierce had passed out in the process of trying to fix the tiny problem with the electrical outlet, a process that led to the wiring in the wall burning a line down the wallpaper, which led to Pierce trying to open a paint barrel and ending up passing out from the fumes (as the window that was propped open closed). The Pierce storyline, like in “Mixology,” was mostly an excuse to let Chevy Chase do some physical comedy. But, hey, he’s good at it, and that’s fun to watch. Plus, Annie has consistently been the one person Pierce treats with some sort of decency, and it’s always nice to see his soft spot for her. Having these two share the conclusion—then leading into everybody needling Jeff about “Kiss From A Rose”—is a good call.

But the storyline still leaves me a touch unsettled, and I don’t know why. I generally enjoy the whimsical nature of Troy and Abed’s exploits, but they really were kind of annoying here, and while the show deserves credit for putting us in Annie’s point of view, there’s also often a weird sense of infantilizing her, just a little bit, as the series did during the shadow play. (That said, Jeff being deeply moved by the death of Horsebot 3000 was hilarious.) Something about the calibration of her character’s maturity or lack thereof just isn’t working for me this season, and this storyline highlighted that in a lot of ways.

Meanwhile, there was a storyline that seemed entirely predicated on playing up the problems I’ve been having with Shirley this season—in which she’s been turned into the shrill Christian stereotype she might have seemed to be in the earliest days of the series almost entirely. I still have faith that the show is going somewhere with this, since I like Yvette Nicole Brown’s work and would like to think there’s a method to all of this, but the past few episodes haven’t filled me with a tremendous amount of hope. So that this was another episode where Shirley tossed out some shrill judgment of the other characters, only to get into a pissing contest with Britta over who could be more moral. But once the two picked up the hitchhiker, who first seemed to take Shirley’s side, then literally claimed to be Jesus, the whole thing  got a comedic momentum that let the story remind us that even if Shirley can be shrill from time to time, she still loves the members of the group, and they love her. I wish there had been more of a scene to close this storyline off, but I’ll take the moment when Shirley and Britta both yell “GET OUT!” as a sort of mutual apology all the same.

By and large, the most successful storyline was probably the one the show spent the least time on, and that was Jeff and the Dean hanging out together at the mall. The creepiness of the Dean invading student e-mail continues some of this season’s fleshing out of the weirdness at Greendale without once visiting the campus, and the amazingness of the music video goes without saying, I think. (It’s the kind of scene that seems almost certain to eclipse the episode it’s in, so that years from now, you’ll remember the video but not quite what else was going on in the episode surrounding it.) But the pairing of Jeff and the Dean is just one of those ones the show is always able to get good comedic mileage out of, and I liked, in particular, the Dean forcing Jeff to order for him at the Mexican restaurant and the way that Jeff really did come to enjoy the music video, in spite of himself.

It sounds like I’m ragging on this episode, I guess, and in some ways I am. I enjoyed watching it quite a bit, but I don’t think it’ll go in my personal pantheon, maybe because I hold episodes like this to an impossible standard in “Mixology” and maybe because I’m sick out of my mind with a cold. (It’s very possible that I’ll like this episode much more when I watch it un-sick, and I’ll try to make mention of that somewhere if I do.) There are a lot of good ideas in “Modern Movement,” but I don’t know that they ever really coalesce into anything more than a collection of stories, and I’m anxious to see the show do something with Annie other than worrying about how she’s going to make it in the big, scary world out there.

Or, hey, this is rambling enough already, but I think my problem boils down to the idea that Annie always needs to be saved, and it sometimes doesn’t seem like the show realizes she can save herself. In Troy and Abed’s shadow play, she’s the fairy tale princess who’s saved by the brave Troy and Abed; by the end, she’s taken a more active role in the play, but she hasn’t taken a more active role in her own story yet. She’s a passive character far too often, and other people have a tendency to be the ones who help her out, whether literally or emotionally. I’m hoping that the end of this episode foreshadows a more active role for the character to come.

Stray observations:

  • Okay, I can’t go any lower than a B for an episode that ends with Dean Pelton’s face superimposed on the moon. I mean… what better than that, right?
  • I enjoy the look on Gillian Jacobs as Jesus says that he is the one true son of God.
  • I think we’re going to need to see an episode about Spaghetti. And, also, about Troy, Abed, and Annie eating the girl yogurt from Jamie Lee Curtis that makes you poop.
  • My wife is watching the West Coast broadcast as I write this, and I only just now noticed that Jeff and the Dean are wearing matching outfits. That’s great.
  • I’d also like to see an episode about Annie’s slumlord, the Senator of Pierce’s fantasies.
  • I couldn’t pick out the second song that plays as Jeff and the Dean are fighting, but I liked the footage of the bunny and duckling appearing to smile at each other.
  • My wife insists we need our bedroom, but after watching this, I’m going to start insisting we need my office and a dreamatorium. I think we all need a dreamatorium. It’s a playroom that only works in your mind!
  • I suppose it could be that I’m too churlish and that the moment where Annie wonders why no one ever adapts to hang out with her is meant to point forward to when she’ll be taking more agency. But the show’s hit the reset button on her character too often, so I’ll believe it when I see it.
  • All things considered, I'm surprised at how good of a singer Jim Rash is.
  • Jeff has a therapist? I'm sensing an upcoming multiple-episode arc for Lorraine Bracco or someone!
  • Hey, but did you know, that when it snows…
Filed Under: TV, Community, Cheers

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