Community: Season 2, Episode 8
Cooperative Calligraphy
Cooperative Calligraphy is pretty much everything Community does well, done very well. After a season in which the show's signature "big group fight" scenes have been scarce, this week provided us with an entire episode centered around one (a bottle episode, as Abed kept reminding us, in which the characters were all on one set, the sort of budget saving maneuver that allows for zombie apocalypses and space ships in other weeks), but it was also filled with the character based humor, pop culture references, and plenty of absurdity. A bottle episode is a way for the show to turn in an incredibly cheap episode, sure, but on Community its actually almost the ideal for an episode. On a show that has designed its characters so well and let them flow together so fluidly, what could be better than throwing them all on one place and just watching the hilarity fly. This is a show that does very well with its excellent ensemble, so much so that other components of the show, though hilarious, can sometimes get in the way of the awesomeness at the core of the group. Community is focused on a group that becomes more and more tightly knit over time, and the more the whole group is together, the better for the show in my mind.

The plot of the episode is pretty simple: As the gang prepares to leave to go to a puppy parade on the quad, Annie realizes that she's lost her pen. This is not a big deal to anyone else, but Annie quickly reveals that this is a huge deal to her, as its the ninth pen she's lost and she is losing her trust in the gang. Its an absolutely silly reason for everyone to be locked in the room, yet the way its played is nothing short of fucking brilliant. The show, knowing that we're all rolling our eyes at the obvious contrivance to keep everyone locked in the room, does the same, both through Abed's frankness ("Are we going to the puppy parade or not? Because this is starting to feel like a bottle episode.") and through the rest of the gang's annoyance. That's enough to get the ball rolling, but a pitch perfect understanding of these characters is what keeps it going for the whole episode. Annie is a bit of a control freak who feels like she's losing control and wants it back. Britta is a super liberal who feels her civil rights have been violated, but she's also more than a little petty and wants everyone to suffer the same indignities as her. Jeff has an insane amount of ego, and refuses to have his credibility besmirched. And everyone else is increasingly curious about who among them might be inconsiderate enough to strand them in the room and make them miss a puppy parade (let's also not ignore how hilarious that concept is).

The show quickly becomes much more than just a bottle episode. Its a classic drawing room mystery starring characters we already love and understand. And as things get pushed farther and farther, it becomes obvious that much more than the pen is at stake for these characters. First off, the show makes the pen work to bring up other conflicts that have been simmering on the sidelines, from Shirley's potential pregnancy (by Chang, as you may recall), to Abed's trouble relating to people (he's been tracking the girls' menstrual cycles, which is creepy, but for good reason--so he can be more senesitive to them), and even to Pierce's legs, which are awesomely still broken from his trampoline accident last week.

The core of their relationships with each other become the center of the episode, and somehow the stakes couldn't seem higher. On a show like Glee, every time a plot contrivance comes along to break up the Glee Club (aka once every two or three episodes) you roll your eyes because its fucking ridiculous and you know it won't happen. Yet somehow Community manages to usually pull off the "someone is leaving the gang/the gang is breaking up" plotline with enough pathos to make you care about how they end up staying together. Tonight, its a very moving scene in which Jeff points out that the existence of ghosts is more plausible than a member of the study group not belonging in it. Its silly, yes, but its also a beautiful little moment in which these pretty crazy people agree to a collective lie so that they can keep believing in each other, because they are that important to each other. However, again, this ending doesn't just come out of nowhere because the episode has to end; it is based in the characters and how they would actually act. Jeff needs this group to stay together, and is becoming increasingly ok with saying that, Abed has to make commentary on the side, and Troy is never happier than when telling an elaborately constructed ghost story. This all works because its funny, sure, and because its sweet (I'm a sucker for heart string pulling when it works), but also because its completely believable for these characters.

The best episodes of Community, and make no mistake, "Competitive Calligraphy" is among them, bring the laughs hard and fast, but also ground them in the relationships at the center of the show, and in each of these characters' personal journey towards self-improvement. Each character makes a sacrifice this week--of their privacy, of their time, and finally, for at least one moment, of their sanity in order to maintain the relationships that have become vital to all of them. On a lesser show, this episode would probably feel every bit the bottle episode it is, but on this show, on this beautiful, brilliant little show, it jsut reminds us how deeply invested we have become in these characters and in keeping them together so their weird, wonderful adventures can keep going on and so that each of them can move slowly forward to becoming the people they hope to be.

Grade: A


-I love the revelation at the end that Troy's monkey (named Annie's Boobs, as you may recall) Abed released is now living in the vents, stealing things from the group and constructing some little shrine to them. I really hope this monkey comes back. He is awesome.

-I have to be honest, the show also did a really good job at the mystery thing. I really was curious about who had the pen, and for at least a moment in the episode, every character seemed like a viable culprit.

-Again, the puppy parade is a hilarious idea, and part of a bottle episode tradition in which the show's cast would rather be doing something insanely awesome, but are instead stuck inside missing it.

-"I want to see if weiner dogs are born that way or start out normal and then get weiner."

"Sometimes I think I lost something really important to me and then it turns out I already ate it."

-"Do they find our thoughts in our butts? I knew I should have read that book!" Troy had a really great episode, even in an episode when everyone was on fire.

-"Happy?" "Not if that's a used cue tip..."

-"Verbal dysphasia and octopus loss. I don;t see anything about memory here Troy!" A nice joke which returned later with, "Pierce, don't you have a bag?" "Giraffe."

-"Gwennifer, its me. I can't make it. Well tell your disappointment to suck it. I'm doing a bottle episode!"

-"People like you are the reason we took so long to get into Vietnam."

-"It smells like a wafflehouse sink!"

-"Something you and your puppies could only dream of you non-miraculous son of a bitch!"

"It used to be about the puppies, not the politics."
Tags: Community
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