5
Apr
2013
Community: Season 4, Episode 8
Herstory of Dance
Jordan
I had a reaction to "Herstory of Dance" that is complicated, that I expect will be divisive in one of two ways, and that almost certainly places me in the minority. If I thought this episode would be discussed in ten years, or even in ten weeks, staking out this position might have more meaning (though if this was to be a monumental episode of Community that wouldn't change the way I feel about it, just perhaps how that feeling is perceived). On the one hand, I thought this episode lacked many of the problems I have had with this show's fourth season. On the other, it still didn't connect with me comedically like it might have. It did connect with me emotionally, at least in fits and starts, though I suspect this has more to do with the episode's placement than with its content. You see, we are now closer to the end of Community's fourth season than its beginning, and that means that, barring a renewal (which I would gauge as still possible, considering NBC is grasping at straws, though unlikely), we may be only five episodes from the end of a show I have loved dearly for the past several years.

I feel less emotionally about this ending than I did when season three ended with the show's future still up in the air. At that point, the show went out on a high note after weathering some serious missteps, but it was hard not to look at season three as flawed but fitfully brilliant and constantly interesting. When "Introduction to Finality" ended, it felt like a potential ending of a show that meant a great deal to me. If the show shuffles off this mortal coil in a few weeks, it will feel somewhat more like a mercy killing. But a lot of my conflicted feelings about this episode likely stem from the idea that I may not get too many more chances to just hang out with the characters I love, or to watch one of the greatest comedic ensembles of all time bounce off each other.

To begin with, I have to praise "Herstory of Dance" for the way it handles Britta. I think Britta Perry is one of the great television characters of the last decade, and perhaps the most original one in this show's cast. She is the perfect mixture of self-righteous and clueless, of inept and devoted, to make her both easy to laugh at and hard not to root for. She transformed, over the show's first season, from the boring, stock-type of the woman Jeff would make himself better for into the type of woman anyone could love or hate, or both at the same time--in other words, she became human, and that transformation was wonderful to watch. Britta is the show's most complex creation (and that's saying something on a show I think has done wonders with character development), and "Herstory of Dance" is the first time I feel like this new regime has nailed her character.

When Britta makes the silly mistake of mixing up Susan B. Anthony and Sophie B. Hawkins while ranting against the misogyny of the Dean's proposed Sadie Hawkins Dance, she refuses to admit she "Britta'd" the rant, and finds herself planning a dance that celebrates both feminism and a mostly-forgotten singer-songwriter from the '90s (as someone who unabashedly loves specificity in humor, I quite enjoyed the episode's commitment to Sophie B. Hawkins). She is challenged both by The Dean (who just wants someone to recognize how hard it is to throw all these dances together all the time) and Jeff (who just wants Britta to admit she was wrong), but she stubbornly refuses to give in to them or to reality. And along the way, through sheer force of will and a little benevolence from Pierce, she manages to succeed more fully than Britta has in quite some time.

The episode also has fun with a B-story that would feel like a retread of things the show has done before if it didn't perfectly execute the chemistry between Abed and Rachel (Brie Larson, who I hope the show keeps around). Abed is trying to swear off hijinks, but when Annie and Shirley each secure him a date to the dance, he cannot help but try to execute the "two dates at the same time" trope, and along the way, he develops quite the rapport with the coat-check girl who helps him execute his caper. This plotline worked for me mostly because of the addition of Rachel, who twisted the standard trope the show was trying to mock just enough that it felt like it wasn't simply coasting by on parody. Without her, this is another example of the new show trying to execute a send-up of a genre staple and ending up with an empty exercise in aping cliches. With Rachel, its an episode that at least feints at being about Abed finding a connection. And while it doesn't really nail the landing, emotionally, I have enough affection for Abed as a character at this point to fill in the emotional blanks for myself and to enjoy the idea of him finding love (Eliza Coupe is too busy on the also endangered Happy Endings to return as his Secret Service paramour from season one).

"Herstory of Dance" isn't a perfect episode of Community. It isn't even a really great one. I laughed a sum total of three times in the episode (if you're curious where, I will make it clear below), but I smiled more and groaned less than I have in most episodes this season. The episode also shared a quality with the others that I have enjoyed this season: It seemed to understand the characters and to take place in the place in the show's universe it is located. In other words, not only did Britta act like Britta, Jeff like Jeff, Pierce like Pierce, etc., but they acted like themselves after all they've gone through over the course of the show. Often in this season, it has felt like the writers get the characters, but are writing them as they were in season one. Last night, they wrote the characters as they are now, and that was a definite step in the right direction.

I haven't loved season four of Community. Often I haven't even liked it. But I've liked enough about it that I will be sad if it becomes the last for the show, and enough that, if there is a season five, I will be watching it (whether I write about it is an open question). "Herstory of Dance" was another step in the right direction, even if only tentatively, and it shows that if this team had been given a full 22 episode order, they may have made something worthwhile out of it. Whether they will get to making a great episode before the shortened season ends is an open question. But that I'm asking it at all says something about how far they've come from their worst missteps.

Grade: B

Notes:

-Emotionally, I'm inclined to give this episode a B+. But as long as the show feels like its striving to be hilarious and falling short, I have trouble grading it all that highly.

-All of the praise I just hurled at the new team may go out the window with next week's "puppet episode." I love the Muppets as much as any sane adult (ok, fine, WAY more), but this episode already threatens to be another example of the writers thinking "this show does gimmick episodes!" and not knowing how to execute those well. I hope I am proven wrong in my concern, and next week is great. But it could very easily be the paradigm example of everything I have disliked about this season and destroy all the good will this episode built up.

-"Why don't we both pick a girl and let Abed decide, instead of making it a competition?" "That is exactly a competition."

-"At the risk of discovering I'm living two parallel lives like that guy in Awake, don't you already have a date to the dance?" As a confessed lover of specificity in comedy, and a fan of the short-lived Awake, this joke landed for me.

-"Are you enjoying the sock hop? A sock hop Britta has all but Britta'd by not Britta-ing her own dance."
Tags: Community
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