27
Jan
2011
Community: Season 2, Episode 13
Celebrity Pharmacology 212
Jordan
Community gets a lot of mileage out of mocking and subverting sitcom tropes. The show alters or comments upon cliches, and generally makes meaning where there is normally just overwrought story points that have been done to death. "Celebrity Pharmacology 212" didn't really mock or subvert any of the tropes it traded in. Instead, it just told a story we'd seen many many times before in pretty straight fashion. The lame "Drug Free" presentation the characters are forced to participate in. The one friend loaning the other friend money and then using that to extort favors out of them. The friend texting another friends love interest and ending up in a wacky situations. This episode didn't have a lot to offer by way of originality. And when a sitcom is telling a pretty conventional, overdone story, the only thing it has to rely on is its characters.

Fortunately, perhaps Community's best asset is its characters and their well drawn, believable relationships and interactions. The usual "the gang is forced to participate in the show" contrivance, which can derail this type of episode from the start, is bypassed by how realistic it is that the gang would reluctantly do the show as a favor to the overachieving, hyper-motivated former prescription drug addict Annie. The "friend loans other friend" money plotline is as old as television itself (a similar plotline is the center of several I Love Lucy episodes), yet the Pierce and Annie relationship is one the show doesn't examine too often, and both of them came to the situation in a realistic way.

Pierce continues to be probably the saddest character on a show filled to the brim with them, as tonight we learn that in his childhood, his father refused to cast him as his son in a moist towelette commercial, and he has been craving the attention of a crowd ever since. Back in the series' second episode, Pierce paid Britta for the chance to win Jeff's respect, so it's well established that he is willing to use his financial superiority to extort his friends. And it has been well established this season that Annie lives in a terrible neighborhood, and could probably use a little money. So sure, I would have preferred not to see Pierce extort his way into a more prominent role in the show because he'd given Annie money, but at least it made character sense. And at least he used his role to make all of the kids in the audience want to take drugs.

The Pierce and Annie storyline plays out entirely in well known plotlines, yet it still gives us a window into each of the characters, both reminding us what we know about them and giving us a little something new. One of the things I enjoy most about Community is the way it handles character development. Its characters have all by this point admitted that they'd like to be better than they are, but that doesn't win the battle for them. Every week one or more of these characters comes up against one of their flaws, and more often than not, they fail to improve. This week, Pierce steals the show and alienates his friends, again and Annie holds herself to a standard she cannot possibly live up to, and tries to breach her ethics just a little before it spirals completely out of control. But by episode's end, the two are friends again, because, as Pierce says, "You and I are alike. We're independent. We need each other."

The B-plot in which Jeff texts "Marcus" for Britta and ends up causing her nephew to lust after her was for the most part a bust. It was obvious, overdone, and added pretty much nothing to the Jeff, Britta, or Abed dynamic. What it did do, and successfully enough to get some laughs out of me, was have Britta's 14-year-old nephew fall in love with her. I kind of hope this comes back. But then again, I kind of plan to forget this pretty bad subplot ever existed.

Finally, I think it would be exaggerating to call the Chang and Shirley story a C-plot, but it provided for perhaps the best character moments in the episode, and the only parts of it that didn't feel cliche. I am really enjoying the way this show is dealing with the pretty serious implications of Shirley and Chang's dalliance. Many shows have thrown accidental pregnancies in before, but I can't recall one that dealt with it as well as this show has so far. Chang is an absolutely ridiculous character most of the time, but the show very rarely gives us a reminder that he is also a very sad character, and his desire to at least be recognized as a human by Shirley (and his willingness to be pelted by baseballs to save the group he is now a member of) both reminded me how great Community is at grounding its characters in realistic pain and sadness, and made me wonder if the show has a new angle for this Shirley pregnancy story that might turn her away from her ex-husband. The more I thought about that storyline (which I kind of bagged on last week), the more I realized that it could possibly be used to show Shirley and her husband trying for a second chance, affirming the show's main theme, and yet I wonder if the show may be slowly making Chang the kind of real character that Shirley could come to respect, and possibly even be interested in (to be clear, I don't think this will happen. My point here is just that I think the show is good enough at characterization to pull something insane like that off realistically enough to make me cheer for it).

This was perhaps the most straight forwardly cliched and overdone episode the show has done yet, and I hope its a far outlier from anything else the show has coming. Yet even in an episode full of overwrought tropes that just didn't work for me a lot of the time, the show managed to pull out some real character moments and remind me what about it I really love. In an episode heaped with things I didn't like, Community was still full of characters I love, and still had them interacting in real, and sometimes meaningful ways. Even on an off week, Community will keep me coming back.

Grade: B-

Notes:

-"Does marijuana make people work faster? I thought it just made people custom paint their vans and solve mysteries."

-"How come he gets a front stinger?"

-I liked the police lights flashing outside Annie's window. That is a terrible neighborhood, and a great running gag.

-"That's my landlord, and if he wanted to rape you, you'd be raped!"

-You save your eggs for a rainy day."

-"I'm here. Zabadazoey!"

-"What does this symbol mean? Its a number eight and an equals sign and a greater than symbol..."

-"Are you ignoring me because I'm Korean?" "You're Chinese!" "There's a difference?"

-"I'm flying higher than I ever have, thanks to not drugs..."

-"Did someone say crazy person?" "No." "Well I heard it."

-"I'm gonna wear your little brother's skin like pajamas!"

-"By the way, your Mom is the period fairy, right?"
Tags: Community
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