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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Community: "Introduction to Statistics"

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“What the hell, VanDerWerff?” some of you have been saying, in so many words. “Community is awesome! Why do you keep giving it B’s!” To that I say, yes, Community is awesome, and I keep giving it B’s because I know it’s capable of episodes like this, which is easily the best the show has done since "Spanish 101" way back in week two. It’s not that any of the episodes between then and now have been terrible – indeed, they haven’t – but this was the first to have nearly non-stop laughs and a series of strong storylines to tie those laughs to. This show has felt in danger of losing that strong, storyline center that made those first few episodes so good in the past couple of weeks, but “Introduction to Statistics” made it all better. This was some great TV.

There’s been some grousing that the heavy-handed insistence on playing the Jeff/Britta pairing so avidly is dragging down the rest of the show. Folks who think this tend to think that Joel McHale and Gillian Jacobs don’t have a lot of chemistry (which I disagree with) and that the will they/won’t they aspect of the series is ladled on a little too thickly (which I tend to agree with). This episode, then, must have been great for those fans, particularly as it treated the Britta/Jeff thing as kind of a joke and allowed Jeff to flirt with another woman – his professor – while getting Shirley more upset about this flirtation than Britta was (though she did break the head off the professor’s statue). I get that a will they/won’t they pairing is kind of standard in a show like this, but it does occasionally feel like the show is trying too hard to make us care about this relationship. By mostly shifting it to the background and letting whatever jealousy Britta had play out naturally (like in her confrontation of Jeff at the faculty party), everything felt much more natural, and that gave everything else room to breathe.

Meanwhile, we had Pierce engaging in a storyline that I’ve seen a number of times before but which never fails to be funny: The most unlikely character in the ensemble goes on a bad drug trip, and things go haywire from there. Pierce’s fear of being old was the emotional underpinning here, but it was mostly just an excuse to let Chevy Chase cut loose in a Beastmaster costume, and as far as that sort of thing goes, it was hilarious. When Pierce started seeing the creepy dancing skeletons flanking an Annie who kept asking him about Woodstock and Sputnik as he laughed in creepy, slow-motion fashion, it was one of the greatest things this show has ever done. Also, he constructed a fort out of chairs and tables! If you didn’t laugh at that, this show may not be for you.

Another really well-executed scene was the one at the faculty party, where Jeff’s attempts to hit on Professor Slater kept getting interrupted by his classmates, who first interrupted him to say that Annie was sad he had bailed on her party and now was feeling unpopular and then to say that Pierce was having the aforementioned bad trip. It all culminated in Pierce wandering in and crashing into the scenery, then laughing at the stuffed falcon perched on his arm. Also, Joel McHale was wearing a cowboy hat, and everything’s better when Joel McHale’s wearing a cowboy hat. (I hope NBC pull quotes that.)

But most everything worked here. Even the little stuff was hilarious, like how Annie loudly sobbed the words “laid back” when she was explaining to Jeff that she saw all of this as her chance to be more popular than she was in high school. Or take, for example, Abed’s Christian Bale Batman impression, which seemed a little over-obvious at first but quickly became weirdly endearing, ending with him rescuing Jeff and Pierce from the desk fort and then launching into a long, intentionally pointless monologue about how he would be out there guarding the night and protecting Greendale from those who would do it harm (though mostly just talking about keeping parties from getting boring). Community’s pop culture gags work because the show doesn’t rely on them too much, but when it does, it does them about as well as anybody, and this was a nice take on the Batman gags everyone’s been making since The Dark Knight came out. (Also: Kudos for not doing a Heath Ledger Joker, since I think every comedy on TV last year made a joke about that around Halloween.)

But I really liked Britta in this episode too. I know that Britta is not someone a lot of fans of the show like, but I think she’s an interesting new type of character. She’s a little bit goody two-shoes, yes, but she’s also someone who’s constantly undercutting herself in everything she does. She’s got a point that it’s irritating to her to see women use Halloween as an excuse to dress up like sluts, but at the same time, she completely undercuts her point by dressing up ridiculously as a squirrel. Maybe she’s doing it to prove a point, or maybe she’s doing it because she’s still a little uncomfortable in her own skin. I feel like we’re going to get more backstory that explains everything about her, but at the same time, I’m really enjoying how the show is gradually filling in both who she is and who she wants to be.

But I feel like the show is doing that with all of the characters by this point. A week ago, I complained that Troy had been the weak link of the ensemble for me, but I feel completely stupid for saying that now because the guy’s been consistently hilarious in both of the last episodes (and his Cookie Monster Batman voice was aces). Similarly, look at how Alison Brie is creating this nice, tightly-wound character that’s both a type and a specific spin on that type and how she makes things like her woundedness when her lame party isn’t a smashing success seem both funny and endearing. Community had to have a few episodes that didn’t quite click because it’s got a lot of parts that need to fit together, but when it figures out a way to use all of its ensemble like it did tonight, it’s one of the funniest shows on the air.

Stray observations:

  • I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I love seeing what all of the characters dress as in Halloween episodes, but I still can’t quite place who Troy was supposed to be.
  • Favorite running gag: People mistaking Shirley for Steve Urkel.
  • "Which is actually quite offensive to people familiar with Mexican Halloween as a sexual position."
  • "I have a conflict. It conflicts with the enjoyment of my life."
  • "Then I can mark you down as definitely being there from 7 sharp to upside down question mark?"
  • "I was so unpopular in high school, the crossing guard used to lure me into traffic."
  • "Oh look, it's the eavesdropping matador."
  • "Are you saying my people are sneaky?"
  • "Can I ask you something I've always wanted to ask the real Batman?" "Yeah." "Am I good looking?"
  • "I think the words that you're looking for are, 'I own a cowboy outfit, and it is tight too.'"
  • "Pierce took something and he is trippin' balls. He is touching people and dancing weird. It's like Grumpy Old Men but not hilarious."
  • "Are you like a court-appointed guardian for these people?"
  • "I'm gonna crush myself to death with desks and tables, Jeff."
  • "I never saw Beastmaster. I just wanted to be cool."
  • "And more importantly, you're dressed like a gladiator in a desk fort that you built during a bad trip."
  • "I am Batman. Or am I? Yes, I am Batman. Happy Halloween."