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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Community: "The Art of Discourse"

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Community's about a lot of things, really, but one of the things it keeps buried until it's useful to trot it out thematically is the fear of getting old. I mean, just aside from the fact that the show has an elderly guy and a middle-aged black woman as characters and actually takes them seriously beyond the stereotypes other shows would reduce them to, a big portion of the series is about two people who are realizing that they're getting older without having accomplished what they set out to do, that the personas they've constructed for themselves are, to some degree, an attempt to stave off getting older and having to confront that their lives are pretty empty. As much as everyone loves the supporting characters on the show, Jeff and Britta are its heart, with Annie and Troy as reminders of who they were, Pierce and Shirley as ideas of who they might become, and Abed as the odd man out, observing and always commenting.

So, yeah, if nothing else, tonight's episode of Community allowed me to zero in on one of the things that I really like about the show, even as I found some of the episode strained. Now, don't get me wrong. I found it strained for exactly the reasons the producers wanted me to find it strained. And I suspect that part of the point was to make me realize that youth - and young people - often aren't all they're cracked up to be. And it feels weird to say this before I turn 30 (seven more months!), but, man, the young are just awful, awful people.


OK, I mean, not really. There are plenty of great younger people, plenty of Annies and Troys out there, who aren't the little punkasses Community showed us tonight. And, all things considered, the "old people finally get one over on the young people!" plot is such an old one that I was a little disappointed that Community didn't do very much new with it. But at the same time, I know that television especially values youth above all else. It's harder to get a show about 20somethings made than a show about teens. And a show about anyone older than that who doesn't work in a police station, hospital, or courthouse? Forget about it.

But in the real world, if you treat kids like this, they get spoiled, and they get incredibly annoying. Teenagers on TV are sexy and glamorous, often because that's how we want to remember how we were as teenagers. But in real life, teenagers are awkward and sullen, and if they try to overcome that, they usually end up just seeming like they're overcompensating. And I think that's what tonight's Community was going for with that irritating gang of teenagers that kept mocking Jeff and Britta (and eventually the rest of the gang). There's something almost malicious both about the conception of the characters and the way the show regards them with complete and utter scorn. I don't know if this is how Dan Harmon and the writers think about teenagers, but I think it's safe to say this is how they feel about teenagers on TV.


So while I could sort of get behind the intent of that plotline, I just couldn't get past how irritating the characters were. I mean, yeah, that's sort of the reason they're there, but it just ended up rubbing me the wrong way. Whenever they turned up, I was ready for the scene to be over. Considering that's the intention of the characters, I suppose this should be a sign that it worked, but, I dunno. I don't watch this show to cringe, if that makes any sense, and the show's visit to something approaching cringe humor was, while well-executed, something that turned me off of what was going on. If you really dug it, I'm not going to disagree. It just wasn't my thing.

That said, I liked the other two plotlines in the episode quite a bit. Pierce and Shirley's relationship with the other characters has always seemed odd, and I liked that the episode did a whole story about just how tenuous that connection is but also how much all involved sort of value it, even if they'd never come out and say it like that. Shirley and Pierce are the two characters who've probably been least-served by the writers this season, but the back half of the season has done a better job of addressing that problem, and I laughed quite a bit at the way this episode played these two characters off of each other. (And as far as cringe humor goes, that whole scene where Pierce gave the flowers to the wrong black woman was just expertly conceived of and handled. And I liked the coda to that, where Jeff and Britta got distracted from Shirley's feelings by their new plan to take out the teenagers.)


I suppose the Abed and Troy plot should have bothered me, by virtue of the fact that it was the second big movie parody in a row, but it was a movie parody that was very scattershot in its approach. It made fun of pretty much every college movie ever - though especially Animal House - and it also made fun of The Bucket List. I like a lot of the moments in this - like how Troy and Abed were suddenly wearing togas in one shot - and even though it didn't really rise up above the level of Troy and Abed just goofing around, I like it when Troy and Abed just goof around. Lots of this was very funny, so I ended up liking it quite a bit.

Someone last week said in comments that the best comparison point they have for Community is early episodes of The Simpsons. And I think there's something instructive in that. Early Simpsons was a show that could do very elaborate pop culture parodies, but it never lost sight of who the characters were and where they were in relation to each other, even as they were going through the world's biggest Jurassic Park parody. Community's devotion to its characters - to the idea that Jeff and Britta have a nagging feeling of not being fulfilled that they're trying to get rid of - is truly admirable, and even when I find bits and pieces of it irritating or not really my style, I'm enjoying the way that it bounces all of them off of each other. I hope that Community doesn't just do movie parody after movie parody (especially as next week looks like that action movie thing), but even if it does, I think it'll find a way to keep them vital and entertaining.


Stray observations:

  • "Why do you think I'm knitting a tiny little eyepatch?"
  • "It is a studio apartment, and knitting is hip. Winona Ryder knits!"
  • "I call the other women Flat Butt and The One Abed Wants to Nail."
  • "If you're not, I'm sorry. If you are, I'm a hero."
  • "You said I have a crafty Jew brain." "Nobody knows how to take a compliment anymore!"
  • "Have you seen a Chinese kid?"
  • "We've lost our Cliff Clavin! Our George Costanza! Our Turtle … or Johnny Drama … or E. Man, that show is sloppy."
  • "We do make fun of a lot of what you do and say."
  • "Just pretend like you're asleep. Just pretend like you're asleep!"