22
Mar
2013
Community: Season 4, Episode 7
Economics of Marine Biology
Jordan
Economics of Marine Biology is a far from perfect episode of television. There are some messy, inexplicable choices here, and Community is still not making me laugh like it used to. Yet there were moments tonight, especially in the Pierce/Jeff story, where I was at least in the same emotional ballpark as this show used to place me. Often, this episode feels like a throwback to the show's first season, with a class-based storyline and a central theme that carries throughout each of the subplots. And while it isn't as good as that season often was, its at least working within the same range, which is an improvement over the last few weeks.

Let's start with what doesn't work here. Perhaps the biggest flaw in the episode is the complete nonstarter that is Abed's quest to start the Delta Cubes. I sort of buy that this is something Abed would do, even if it is entirely a rip-off of "Homer Goes to College," but as it stands, it basically just let's Danny Pudi do a bunch of weird stuff in the background and occasionally get yelled at by Jim Rash. I don't mind either of those things, in theory, but it didn't connect with me because ultimately, it was thin and redundant.

I was also less than enamored with the P.E.E. story, which starts off as a dumb joke, and gets only marginally better as it goes on. The inversion here--Troy, the natural athlete, is terrible at teaching P.E. and Shirley excels at it--is obvious, but the show hides Troy's incompetence for too long, to the point where I wondered whether the episode was just asking us to believe Troy was bad at this because obviously he would be in sitcom land. When it finally shows Troy trying to control the Mocker Room, its pretty funny stuff, and the moral here, that friends should stick together and that Ken Jeong is still drawing a paycheck for this show, is fine I guess, though it just didn't sing for me.

The Archie story did mostly work for me, though, even if I barely laughed at any of it. This has been an intensely strong season for Jim Rash, always one of the show's MVPs, and he once again hit it out of the park tonight in his quest to land a "whale," a rich slacker who would pump money into Greendale for years to come. This storyline falls into the same trap that many of the show's season four episodes have, in that a lot of its jokes are actually "jokes"--they sound like jokes and bear the structure of a joke, but they aren't actually funny at all, even when they are being delivered by Jim Rash, who I firmly believe is one of the funniest people alive. But by its end, this story revealed itself to be fundamentally empty and devoid of much of the creativity that made me love Community in its earlier seasons. The Dean decides to honor Greendale's spirit and tell Archie off (because of course he does), but then Archie decides to stay because no one has ever treated him like that before. Its basically a story we've seen a million times before done in exactly the same way. Which, again, would bother me less if it was funnier.

The Pierce/Jeff storyline suffers from some of the same problems, honestly, but it works better for me. How many times has Community done a "Jeff begrudgingly gives Pierce a chance, only to find he sort of likes him" story at this point? Off the top of my head, I can tell you the show did this in its second episode, and its returned to that well quite a lot over the years. So it feels a little disingenuous to have Jeff rolling his eyes at Pierce at this point--we have seen that Jeff has a lot of love for Pierce, even if the guy annoys the crap out of him. Yet the idea of Pierce as a pseudo father-figure for Jeff has always worked for me, and it works again here, even if the show is just coasting on an emotional beat it has been hitting since its earliest days. Pierce's naked need for acceptance and Jeff's walled off, cloistered yearning work well together, and even if the show is drawing on feelings it has better utilized before, at least it is using the pairing correctly here (something I can't say for every story this season).

Community doesn't make me laugh like it used to, which is not necessarily a problem, and is something that would probably have happened eventually even if Harmon had stayed on the show (aging sitcoms eventually run out of steam, and season three of Community was already uneven). The bigger problem is that it doesn't make me feel like it used to. There was a tender, subtle melancholy to the show at its best, and a sentimental, heart-on-its-sleeve approach to its characters that made it hard not to love. The show recognized the myriad flaws in its central gang, but it loved them anyway, because they needed it, and because ultimately, warts and all, they deserved it. No show on television made me feel the strange combination of joy and poignant melancholy as this one (though Louie does an excellent job at both emotions, I would classify its feel as a different one), and it used to nail the resolution of episodes so well and so consistently that I was fundamentally satisfied by each week's end, even if everything hadn't worked for me. "Marine Biology" sort of peters out into a Let's joke (see, its funny because they say "damn"!), and then is out of my mind, probably forever. It isn't a bad episode of television, but it isn't revelatory either, and it doesn't even feel like its aiming for the highs this show used to hit on even an off-week. This may have the feel of classic Community more than pretty much any episode this season (perhaps excepting the Halloween episode), but it also exhibits the hole at the new show's core, to the point where I can't even really tell if the show is getting better or if I'm just caring about it less and less by the week. What does that say about Community as it currently stands? Its an important question, if you're into this sort of musing, but it can't help but feel less than what the show used to make me ask: What does this say about humanity?

Grade: C+

Notes:

-"Ugh, Britta."

-"Magnitude is a soft yes." "Oh wow. That's a get!"

-"Britta, where do we get drugs?"

-"Release the whores."

-"Shirley, help! I can't control the drama students OR their characters!"

-Its weird the show didn't really do anything with Annie this week, right? I mean, she was there, but if you ask yourself why it gets fuzzy fast. This is not a criticism of the new team, specifically, as Harmon had trouble with her as well, but its still a strange note that didn't really fit with my thoughts above but stuck out to me. The plotline would have worked just as well without Annie in it, to the point where I wonder if, in some earlier version of this script, Archie did something to Annie to turn the Dean against him instead of just stealing "Pop pop" from Magnitude.

-Also, Magnitude is still awesome. Just sayin'.
Tags: Community
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