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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Community: "Advanced Criminal Law"

Illustration for article titled Community: "Advanced Criminal Law"

“Advanced Criminal Law” looks like it was originally scheduled to air a little earlier in the season and then got bumped back to this week for some reason, and it’s pretty clearly the most inconsistent episode of Community yet. That’s OK, of course – all new shows have a few duds in the first 13 – and even as the show had an episode that was devoid of big laughs for quite a while, it was still sticking to the stuff that makes Community one of the season’s most promising new shows. The A story tonight was pretty good, but the other two stories didn’t work nearly as well, particularly a Troy and Abed story that was just too weird by half.

But let’s start with that A story, which finally got around to deepening Britta. When the show began, it seemed like she’d be the kinda snooty goody two shoes that gradually wore down Jeff because of her otherwise winning ways. At the same time, despite her seeming intelligence and those winning ways, she’s still stuck at a two-bit community college, and we don’t really know why, something we know for all of the other characters. Gillian Jacobs is such an appealing actress that she makes her character’s harder edges seem almost endearing, but it occasionally seemed like the only reason she was on the show was to be Jeff’s love interest, especially as Jeff’s rehabilitation as a truly rotten guy seemed to be progressing much more quickly than it might usually.

I don’t object to Britta and Jeff’s coupling, simply because I think Jacobs and Joel McHale have pretty dynamite chemistry, but the show’s constant attempts to put them into pseudo-romantic situations has seemed a little forced because Britta just hasn’t been as well developed as some of the other characters. To that end, I wouldn’t be surprised if “Advanced Criminal Law” wasn’t slotted as the second or third episode just because it seems like an attempt to give Britta more of a character edge, appropriate, since she’s the second lead. Tonight, she confessed to cheating in Senor Chang’s Spanish class on a test after Chang threatened to give everyone in the class a zero if the cheater didn’t confess. (Annie screaming “NOOOO!” when she realized that she could get a zero was amazing.)

The rest of the storyline focused on Britta’s trial – Jeff was her lawyer, of course – which was held at the campus’ pool, despite the fact that the judges in the trial sat behind a table with a built-in sound system (something the Dean holds over Yale, apparently) and everyone involved was in constant danger of electrocution. So many comedies over the years have been obsessed with the idea that everyone is special in their own, unique way, but Community flips that on its ear. In Community, everyone’s terrified that they’re actually mediocre, even when they clearly have things they could contribute to society or even Greendale. Something about Britta just being used to failing, to the idea that success is somehow unattainable, even though she’s a smart, confident woman puts everything else the character does in a new light and makes her that much more interesting.

In addition, most everything that happened at the trial itself was funny, especially the whole idea of having the thing take place at the pool, which allowed for some great sight gags, particularly Chang and Duncan having a discussion in a shower while a fat old guy was also showering or the visual of people diving into the pool while Jeff was trying to argue that Britta should be allowed to stay in school. Some of Chang’s antics went a little too far over-the-top, but the decidedly goofy tone of the whole storyline, as well as the idea that the school is really proud of this whole system made it all work. Also enjoyable was Duncan tricking Britta into sort of dating him, something I hope the show comes back to at some point in the near future, since more John Oliver is always a plus. The one moment that didn’t really work at all here was that first act break, with Chang recounting what happened during his day and then the music rising to take us to commercial. It felt far too abrupt and leaned on the score in a way this show hasn’t been doing for these first few episodes (though this was an unusually score-heavy episode).

The other two storylines, sad to say, were varying degrees of problematic. Troy and Abed have rapidly become one of the show’s best pairings, but having Abed not be able to understand humor, which drifted a little close to the provenance of The Big Bang Theory, ended up heading in a really strange direction that didn’t make a lot of sense. Having Abed set up an elaborate practical joke to prove to Troy that he was an alien just didn’t really work. It was the sort of surreal turn a show like this might engage in in its fourth or fifth season when everyone’s become a shell of who they were at the beginning of the show, but it felt like going too weird, too soon for Abed’s character. On the other hand, continuing to put him and Troy in storylines together is a winner. Let’s just hope this one was an aberration. (Did like Abed’s exchange with Jeff and Duncan about sitcom titles early in the episode, though.)

The Annie and Pierce storyline was somewhat better, though it didn’t really go anywhere and was mostly just an excuse to get Chevy Chase singing at a piano (not complaining about this). Pierce’s lyrics were really funny – “Slop pails and pantyhose” and “AT THE PICNIC!” are already things I’m randomly shouting at my cats – but the story itself mostly just seemed to be there to have something to cut to. The show has been underusing Pierce a little bit, which is unusual due to how heavily NBC used Chevy Chase in the show’s promotions. He’s still kind of a standard weird, old guy, and I hope that the series finds ways to work him into some interesting stories with the other characters fairly soon.

So, yeah, “Advanced Criminal Law” was probably Community’s worst episode yet, but it was still a pretty good episode, particularly for building character depth. It didn’t reduce my faith in the show to any real degree, though I wish Chang would tone it down a little bit. As far as the show figuring out ways to use its characters to illuminate each other and shed light on their hopes and dreams, though, the series is still doing a bang-up job. Here’s hoping this was just an early dud that came out of no one involved quite knowing what to do with some of the storylines.

Stray observations:

  • I loved that Luis Guzman statue, however. I’d like it in my house.
  • "The only difference between Senor Chang and Stalin is that I know who Senor Chang is."
  • "Did you hear him call me Jackee like I'm some black female caricature? If the good Lord hadn't been watching, I'd have slapped him upside the head."
  • "Well, I may be a genius, but I'm not a lesbian."
  • "We are mature! Too mature to sit in a class with a cheating, lying poopface. OK. Time to learn some formal greetings."
  • "And then she stormed out of the room like it was tampon time."
  • "Hey! British dentistry is not on trial!"
  • "Do you mind if we have this conversation in a room with less balls?"