Community: Season 1, Episode 19
Beginner Pottery
Community is a show about a group of people pulled together by their mutual failures and desire to underachieve and forced to form a family of sorts that will care for each other through thick and thin (its also a show about many other, less cliche things, but since that sentence works for this episode, I'm going with that this week). Both of those themes are shown tonight, yet the show deftly avoids the standard cheese that goes along with either of them by steeping tonight's plots in absurdity.

The A-plot has Jeff, along with Abed and Annie, seeking the ultimate blow-off class again, this time in the titular pottery course, taught by guest star Tony Hale (hilarious as always, veering between his half crazed revulsion of "ghosting," the practice of recreating the pottery scene from Ghost and an odd attraction to pottery wunderkind Richard). Jeff is thrown by a charming doctor who excels at pottery, and becomes determined to expose him as a grifter, or at least a previously experienced pot-maker. This reveals Jeff's belief that he is the best at everything, a belief that is obviously false and had to be shut down at some point. The moral of this plot is ostensibly the simple "you can;t win them all," theme that has become a totally cliche, but it gets extra points for packing in some cynical honesty as Jeff's imaginary mother tells him that he'll be very good at a few things in life, and really crappy at the rest. A great message that isn't broadcast on TV that often.

Meanwhile, the rest of the gang enrolls in a different blow-off class that promises to teach them sailing, in the span of a week, in the school's parking lot. This plotline is so gleefully absurd that it too covers up the treacly lesson at its center, which has Shirley learning that while the sea may be cold and unfeeling, she is not. However, that sort of simple moral is sandwiched by Pierce drowning...twice...in a parking lot, and Troy dramatically asking, "What in God's name have we done?" after Shirley allows Pierce to "drown" to save the rest of the crew. Its also mitigated by a great Pierce moment where he divulges to Jeff that he came out of the womb screwing up and just kept going because that's part of life. Another great message that rarely gets screen time, and helped to buoy a plotline that otherwise might have been too heavy on the absurd and too light on the meaning.

As I've already noted, both plotlines tonight have pretty simple, cliched morals behind them, yet both were handled so well and provided so many laughs, its hard to complain. they each also offered a slightly more subversive message that tied in with the main plots, but reminded us that this isn't just any sitcom, but one of quality and a certain amount of truth to it. This episode may not have had anything new to say, but it certainly had some surprisingly new ways to say it, and it was willing to say some things that most television shows don't have the brass to communicate. "Beginner Pottery" also gets credit for the sheer comic glee of watching half the cast pilot a sailboat across a parking lot to rescue Pierce, who has managed to spring a leak in his canoe...on land. It is to Community's credit that even when it stumbles in its efforts to be a sitcom that's actually about something, it can fall back on its stellar cast and tendencies toward the absurd to turn in a pretty excellent episode.

Grade: A-

-Also, there was a scene in which Allison Bree gently massaged something phallic. I'm pretty sure that's worth about half a grade right there.

-"Abed, what did we discuss?" "No voice-over. I'm sorry, it is kind of a crutch."

-"Yes, I was robbed at the YMCA...again."

-"I don't see students here, I see seamen. Amd I didn't create them. From the moment you came aboard I've seen seamen within you... And the fact that you've all stopped laughing when I say seamen proves that you are true seamen."

-"I may be able to reach it. It landed on the Hyundai...I mean mermaid's car."

-Joel McHale has a shockingly good Jeff Goldblum impression.

-"Now I know what the C in Captain stands for. Crabapple."

-I loved Tony Hale's Patrick Swayze sign with an X over him. "I had it made before he died, its not in bad taste!"

-What an awesomely dark ending to the episode, with the voice of Richard's mother giving us insight into his past. "It was supposed to be you on that roller coaster Richard! it was supposed to be you!"
Tags: Community
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