Community: Season 1, Episode 20
The Science of Illusion
Community gets a lot of mileage out of its willingness to be absurd, and that is a type of comedy that can work brilliantly, but can also be somewhat off-putting. If you're willing to suspend your dibelief, you can be treated to a sailboat on a rescue mission in a parking lot, or a buddy cop movie involving two inherently non-threatening characters in a competition to see who is the badass among them. If that sort of set up plays a little too fast and loose with reality for you, this is probably not a show for you. But Community is developing in to an excellent show, and as it becomes better and better at determining what works, it seems to be trending more toward a masterpiece of the absurd than a standard subversion of cliches, which many early episodes aimed for.

For about the first half of this episode I thought it was a pretty mediocre outing for the show. The show has already done storylines about Britta's failure to be funny, Pierce's naivete, and Jeff's penchant for mockery, which is fine, but none of these stories seemed to be going anyplace new. The only plotline that worked for me from the get go was Annie and Shirley being deputized as campus security in preparation for the coming April Fool's Day tomfoolery. Where an early episode of the show probably would have cast Troy and Abed in these roles, as the two are the group's best parodists, Community is letting itself get weirder, and instead came up with an original take on the parody: Annie and Shirley, with their respective past breakdown and bitter divorce, but also their incredibly sweet personas, could each lay claim to the standard "badass" or "by the book" character trope that comes along with a buddy cop movie. With Abed along to provide meta-commentary and keep their story chugging along as a buddy cop film would, the two were able to let loose in a constant competition to be seen as the more badass.

As I said, the A-plot worked for me from the beginning, but at about the halfway point, each of the otherplotlines started to click into place. When Britta lost the frog she was trying to steal, I immediately feared we were going to get a rehash of the hint for Fievel from earlier this season, but the show took a much darker twist, having Britta dump a cadaver out a window and kill the frog, both on accident, and thus create the crime at the A-plot's center. Instead of having Jeff just mocking Pierce the whole time (which was funny enough as is), he was framed for Britta's crime, and launched into a hilarious police chase that ended when Annie pepper sprayed herself while chasing him. And Pierce's bit even transcended the standard "Pierce is naive" jokes when he revealed that he knew all along he wasn't psychic, but just wanted to fit in.

At the end of the day, "The Science of Illusion" worked because of just that fact. I have said many times that Community impresses me because its a sitcom that wants to be about something, and one of its major themes is each character's struggle to fit in. The comedy ended up coming together very solidly by the end, but more to the show's credit, the very funny scene at the end where everyone (but Jeff and Abed, the "sane" ones) broke down crying showed each of their inherent vulnerabilities. Britta wants to be as funny as everyone, but at her core she cares too much to really make fun of anyone. Pierce wants so desperately to fit in, he will dress up like the wizard from Cookie Crisp to impress his friends. Annie wants to be taken seriously as an adult, Shirley wants people to see she retains some vitality, and Troy wants everyone to think he's smart. The reason that this show transcends its simple sitcom trappings is that beneath each joke, beneath each insane plotline, are real characters with real doubts and insecurities. Not only does the show make me laugh on a weekly basis, it makes me care deeply for its characters, it invests me in its masterplot, and it even allows for the possibility of one of its characters pepper-spraying herslef in the face to show what a bad ass she is. In short, Community is a beauty to behold.

Grade: A-

-Leonard is a great recurring character. Something about everyone getting angry at this meek looking old man is hysterical every time.

-"I assume I'll fight better if I can see more, dumbass."

-I liked that Abed just appeared in the Dean's office to provide buddy cop exposition, almost without explanation. It was gloriously weird.

-"Buddha arrived on a meteor!"

-"She loves rules. I only have one: Stay out of my way."

-"Drop 'em if you smoke 'em!"

-"These are not tears! This is self-inflicted friendly fire!"

-"April 1st is officially March 32nd forever."

-That African American police chief Abed was playing was right."

-"I don't even deserve this Buddhist Meteor Wand!"

-"Knock, knock. Who's there? Cancer. Oh, come in, I thought it was Britta."

-"That's not even a reference I get because Cookie Crisp Mascot wasn't a wizard when I was a kid. It was a burglar!" Me too, Troy, me too.
Tags: Community
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