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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Community: "English as a Second Language"

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After last week's episode, pretty much anything Community did would seem like a disappointment, but the show avoided that sense of disappointment, mostly, by taking a hard left into the series master plot. Ever since the show began, the big, unspoken question of the series is just where this show goes after season two or season four, when the characters have all graduated (assuming Greendale is the greatest community college ever and offers copious numbers of four year degrees). The conflict in the show has always been between the idea of community college as a purgatory and the idea of it as one of the best places you could possibly be. The early episodes skewed heavily toward the former, but for quite a while now, the show has been heading more toward community college as a place where people can be free to be themselves, a place where everyone has some sort of value.

"English as a Second Language," as a matter of fact, feels quite a bit like a season finale. Annie puts the group's ability to pass Spanish 102 and move on to the rest of their lives in danger because she so wants the group to stay together. Troy realizes that maybe he's cut out for a life of manual labor. And Senor Chang has to figure out a way to not let the dean know that his credentials are fake. The latter and former plots intersect nicely, while the middle plot is little more than a conceptual gambit that is really, really funny, but the episode nicely dealt with the show's central conflicts without being too heavy-handed. Community is not a show that's ever going to have anything so weighty as a "mythology" - I have absolutely no desire to see a flashback episode where we learn that Greendale was built atop a mystical glowing cave - but I like that it has something like a continuing story to go along with all of the shenanigans.

But let's start with the part of the episode that must have seemed the most inconsequential. Troy realizing that he's a plumbing savant is the sort of storyline that doesn't need much more than just that to be funny, and, indeed, the show didn't really do anything beyond making Troy a plumbing savant and spinning Good Will Hunting on its head. But I still really enjoyed the whole thing, especially Abed's joy at seeing that Troy was going to be pursuing his true life's work. The idea that someone in college would really be happier with a life in the working classes is the sort of thing that actually happens (one of the guys I roomed with in college eventually realized this), but you never see that story dramatized. Now, obviously, Troy isn't leaving the cast to be a plumber, but to see the show flirt with that idea was still funny.

The main plot seemed a little too dedicated to making Jeff the asshole he was at the start of the season for the sake of the story. It makes complete sense that he would have no desire to take Spanish 103 and would still be committed to his desire to make it out of school in four years flat. But I'm not sure he'd be as big of a jerk about it as he is in the episode's earliest moments. That said, I completely bought the way he turned the group against Annie when he realized what she'd done, so I was mostly OK with his story throughout. Community, like all TV shows, occasionally has to act as if its characters haven't really changed one bit, but it's rarely as flagrant about it as it was here.

On the other hand, I loved pretty much everything about Chang being removed and replaced by someone who revealed very quickly that he had taught the class basically no Spanish whatsoever. While Community is rooted in the world of college and going to class and that sort of thing, we've seen very little of the characters actually applying their knowledge (granted, that's not exactly the sort of thing that would be tremendously exciting). I think the show has always let us assume that the characters were learning enough Spanish to get by, so having it acknowledge that there's pretty much no way Chang would have taught these characters anything was terrific. Even better was the way it figured out how to keep Chang in the cast. He's going to be a student like everyone else next year. While Chang has his detractors, I like the idea of him as an undercutting of the sitcom breakout character (your Fonz or your Urkel), and I like the way the show uses Ken Jeong's manic energy most of the time.

I'm not sure why Community saved many of the developments that might have led to a great season finale for the week before the season finale. I can only assume that next week will conclude with everyone sleeping with each other or something. But at the same time, I'm glad we have one more half hour of nonsense and fun before the summer arrives. Community is a show that started out funny, went through some growing pains, and came out the other end one of the best comedies on TV with nothing but up-side from here on out. I don't know what next week will bring, but I'm glad there's one more left before a long, long summer.


Stray observations:

  • I approve of the return of the full theme song.
  • Terrible music always makes me laugh. One of my favorite episodes of Friends involves Ross dragging out his keyboard and making his music again, and hearing Chang noodle away on his keytar made me laugh harder than just about anything else in the episode.
  • Nice touch: The grade everybody gets in the final moments of the episode is completely apropos for each character. Annie gets a 95. Jeff gets an 80. Britta gets a 79. Etc. These writers really know these characters.
  • Annie with a crush on Chang would be a really strange turn to take. I get that she didn't have the most chemistry with Troy, and I get that the show is a little weirded out by putting her with Jeff. But, Lord, that would be so bizarre.
  • Actually, I do know what's set for next week's episode. It's set at a prom, of all things! I hope this is just as bizarre as Grey's Anatomy's hospital prom.
  • "And now … crickets!"
  • "I have a table for one at Morty's steakhouse where I will celebrate becoming a lawyer again, which will only happen if I take a full load … DON'T! A full load of classes."
  • "It's obvious from your name your parents smoked pot."
  • "One question. Where did you learn to count questions?"
  • "The world wasn't ready for an Asian man on keytar."
  • "Did you just say keytar? Or did you just pronounce guitar like a hillbilly?"
  • "Why is she teaching Spanish if she's a doctor? Go cure something!"
  • "Safety first!"
  • "Picture her as Paul Giamatti!"
  • "Did the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants poison each other's food so they were too sick to leave. No! I've never seen it, but I'm pretty sure they mailed each other pants!"
  • "I'm gonna be sophisticated and have no job. Or a job that looks from a distance like I do nothing."