17
Mar
2011
Community: Season 2, Episode 18
Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy
Jordan
Community focused during its first season on Jeff and Britta, leaving enough room for Annie and the occasional Troy and Abed plotline, though most of those were B-plots. This season has for the most part done the opposite, focusing on the supporting cast of the show (especially Troy, Shirley, and Pierce) at the expense of Jeff and Britta. While Jeff has stayed a large part of any given episode, Britta has floated toward the background all season. We have been desperately in need of a Britta episode to tell us where she's at, how the other characters are relating to her, and where she may be going. The show has done an excellent job of establishing Britta as a character. We know that Britta is a self-righteous and often hypocritical "caring liberal" who focuses on the potential issues in any situation before focusing on the humanity, and that has carried her through this season with a sense of consistency. Yet while most other characters have developed in a recognizable way this season (Troy as the heart of the group, Abed realizing his outsider position, Shirley judging less, Jeff caring more, Pierce struggling with addiction and stubbornness, and Annie realizing her perfectionism), Britta appears to have remained in stasis of yet. This episode's focus on her was expected and potentially refreshing, yet for the most part this fell short of my expectations for what a Britta episode should do.

The storyline focused on her dating Luka (Dollhouse's Enver Gjokaj, who I've been hoping would get more work since that show's cancellation, and here mostly just reminds us how good his Russian accent is), a friend of Troy and Abed's, and on her tendency to ruin things with her righteousness. This is something we already know about Britta, and the only aspect of the storyline that might reflect development is her realization that her PC nature has a tendency to ruin things. At the end of the day, though, this doesn't feel like the Britta episode we've been needing, not really. She was more prominent in this episode than she's been in a while, which indicates that the show knows its been pushing her to the background, but what it did with her this week leaves me worried that Community is not yet sure where Britta is going as a character. When a show is as sure in its character development as this one has been to date, and seems to understand everyone as well as it usually does, its odd and a bit disconcerting that the show just leaves Britta there. To be fair, it discovered the current incarnation of Britta later than any other character, as she started the series as the love interest for Jeff and therefore had to seem superior until the shw discovered she was much more interesting as a flawed character who considered herself superior when in actuality she wasn't. Yet still, this season has failed to equal in Britta the progress it has made in every other character, and I find that disappointing.

The episode's other plotline also covers promising territory in a disappointing way. I think that season two of the show has made occasional (and occasionally promising) efforts to turn Chang into a real character, and this is something I fully support. I think there's real pathos and a potential for meaningful progress hidden in Chang's cartoonish exterior, but the show often seems afraid to shed his unrealisatic and over the top side to get at the honest character beneath it. Every other person on this show can become a cliche or even a cartoon figure from time to time, but this is ok because I totally believe everything behind that cartoonish exterior. If Community makes the effort to turn Chang into a realistic and believable human being, I won't mind his jaunts into the ridiculous quite so much. And at the beginning of this episode, that's exactly what I expected. I thought the idea of Chang realizing he needs to get his life together in order to be a better father might lead to a moment of true pathos by episode's end, but instead we were left with Chang holding a pipe and crawling through air ducts to escape arrest for a very real crime. I respect the show's willingness to go to dark places, and I think the "Chang kidnaps Shirley's kids and then find out they aren't hers" story might have gone somewhere. I even retained faith that Chang's having Jeff arrested might lead to a moment of real emotion. Instead, we were left tonight with Chang as a cartoon character that the rest of the gang hates if they aren't entirely ambivalent about him. This may (and should) change in weeks to come, but this episode didn't do anything to move him towards the kind of character he would need to become to have a place on this show that isn't just intermittently annoying. For Chang to become relevant to the show's ongoing narrative, he needs to become a believable person who is flawed, but on a road to redemption. So far, all I see are his flaws.

In theory, this could have been a great episode of Community. Both Britta and Chang need to be developed further, and both of their journey's toward a second chance need to be filled out more. This episode could have made progress on that front, but instead, it went for the easy jokes instead of the often difficult character development. I hope this was an off episode on the road to development for both of these characters; I fear it may have been evidence that the writers aren't truly clear where these tow are going in the episodes and seasons to come. This was a promising episode of the show that by its end became little more than a disappointment. I expect more from Community and I hope soon to get it.

Grade: B

Notes:

-Earlier today it was announced that Community (and Parks and Rec, another great and possibly even better NBC comedy) was renewed for another season, which to my mind is a huge vicotry. Celebrate accordingly.

-This episode was a B- until I wrote out all of the quotes I noted tonight. At that point I realized I laughed too much to give the episode that low a grade, though I still think it failed in some very important ways.

-Enver Gjokaj is one of the best television actors I've ever seen and needs to be given more work. This episode didn't do much for him, but it was nice to see him get some work.

-"You know baby showers can be race neutral right?" A greart early gag in which everyone seemed to think a baby sahower was all about the race of the baby.

-"We wanted to give him a sawed off shotgun, but those are really expensive..."

-"In my country we give 9mm to little girl for sweet 16. Try the grenade launcher."

-I LOVED Birtta's Britney Spears rendition: "Hit me with your genius bottle, rub it all over me..."

-"You mean Jeff 'nipple play' Winger?"

-"I'm tired of confiscating saws. Give me that." I also love the idea that Chang has a ton of saws hidden around the apartment to use for random purposes. Another great gag in this mediocre episode.

-"Parental Rights...? You're adopting me?"

-"I know you're not going to make a pregnant woman run...I know you're not going to make a pregnant woman walk this diastance between us."

-"Who am I to stand in the way of a person getting their life together? What am I, daytime television?"

-"You think that pool table put aluminum siding on itself?"

-"In what war is he a criminal? The battle for our affections?"
Tags: Community
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