21
Apr
2011
Community: Season 2, Episode 21
Paradigms of Human Memory
Jordan
The clip show is a pretty terrible TV tradition, stemming from all of the things I hate about the way television used to be before it started getting better. The basic premise of a clip show is that people are ok with reruns and willing to laugh at the same joke a bunch of times (both of these things are also true of me. I have watched Arrested Development through at least three times now), so why not just write a few minutes of new content, string a bunch of montages of old jokes together and call it a new episode? There is no way around it: clip shows are lazy. They're an indication that the writers have an episode order to fill but are completely out of ideas, so here are some of our old good ideas slightly repackaged for your viewing enjoyment. Clip shows are generally done because they save a lot of money and time (being that there are few new scenes in them to shoot), and I can't say I've ever seen a clip show that really worked (at least not outside of The Simpsons which is always willing to admit the reasons it's doing a clip show, and has also been running for so insanely long that I excuse its occasional reliance on clip shows to fill out another season).

Tonight, both shows I review did some variation on the clip show format, and both of them were very successful. But this is my Community review, so those of you looking for my thoughts on 30 Rock should probably just scroll up. Community gets a lot of mileage (some would say too much) out of mocking and subverting various genres and tropes, and so it is kind of perfect that their "clip show" probably took them a long time and a lot of money to shoot. The gimmick of the episode is exceedingly simple without ceding a single iota of the show's trademark cleverness: this is a clip show full of all of the wacky adventures the gang has gone on that we've never seen. Most television shows exist on the idea that we miss all of the boring stuff, only coming around every time something worth watching is happening. Apparently on Community the characters are always having crazy adventures, fights, and bonding sessions and we just get to see the ones they have time to fit into a season.

The premise of the episode is simple: Troy sees Annie's Boobs (the monkey, sadly for all of you Allison Brie lovers) stealing a paintbrush the group is using to finish their 20th diorama. Chang goes into the vents after the monkey and comes out with the pile of stuff we saw it collecting back in "Cooperative Calligraphy" (which, for added cleverness points, was mocking another television trope that saves time and money: the bottle episode). The stuff forces the group to reminisce about their year, which leads to them fighting about how often they do terrible things to each other, and leads to us seeing a lot of flashbacks, most of which are frankly pretty amazing.

The thing I love most about Community when it is at its best is the realistic way it handles the character interactions and slowly complicating relationships among its principle cast. This show has a memory, even when you think it doesn't, and the things that these people do to each other are often pretty terrible. That has been a major arc this season, especially in Pierce's story, and that is the center of the episode tonight. Jeff doesn't quite nail it in his ending speech like I hoped he would, but the reason this group sticks together is because on some level every character knows they are terrible and do terrible things to their friends, but each of them is trying (and fitfully succeeding) to become a better person. Yes Pierce forced everyone to confront their greatest fears while in the throws of his pill addiction. Sure, Jeff and Britta are completely self-centered and narcissistic. Shirley has a tendency to judge, Annie is a passive aggressive perfectionist, Abed lacks tact and social grace and Troy is having trouble understanding what growing up means. All of this means that these characters will sometimes do really terrible things, but what redeems them all, in my eyes, as in their own, is that they have come together to try and take advantage of a second chance to be better people.

I have talked a lot about how much I enjoy what the show has done with Britta's character, even though I often kind of hate that character. When the show began, they used her as the perfect woman Jeff would have to improve to attain, yet when that wasn't working they slowly revealed that Britta is self-righteous, hypocritical, self-centered and attracted to flawed men like Jeff, which means of course she'd come off as perfect at first. And while I am not pulling for Jeff and Britta to end up together (I'm a Jeff-Annie man, but we'll get there), I do think it makes perfect sense that these two have been hooking up all season. They both hate themselves and they have a wonderful love-hate understanding with one another. They get each other and they see what they hate in themselves mirrored in the other, yet they are both so narcissistic that this attracts the mto one another. The show has gone from presenting them as the ideal couple to being kind of repulsed at the idea of them together. But while their pairing is a bit repulsive and unhealthy, it also makes perfect sense for where they are as characters.

Jeff and Annie are more complicated of course, and the show doesn't have the time, energy, or inclination to try to sort all of that out here, instead serving us a montage of longing looks between the two of them, which Jeff immediately dismisses as easy to do with anyone (leading to a repeat montage between Pierce and Abed, and an ending montage between Chang and Annie's Boobs, all of which are hilarious).

Community can be a blazingly, thrillingly original half hour of television on any given week, which is why it remains one of my favorite comedies on television. It is such a smart show that tonight it spends much of the runtime taking digs at itself. We get jokes about all the genre episodes the show does (including a Western themed episode, and episode set in a haunted house, a robot attack episode, and an episode where the gang is institutionalized), jokes about Jeff's episode ending speeches, jokes about how often the group threatens to break up to insert forced tension into an episode, and even jokes about how much the show has forgotten to do class related storylines this season (the only thing the group has ever done for Anthropology is make dioramas, which is why their 20th diorama is a diorama of them doing their 19th diorama). We get some nice character moments here that remind us where everyone stands at the moment. If I have a flaw with Community's second season as we hit this final stretch, it's that we've been stuck in neutral for a lot of the back half of this season. The early part of season two did the heavy lifting on some of the less used characters from the first season, especially Troy and Shirley. But now that we understand where everyone is at the moment, I feel like the show has been giving us a lot of "this is where everyone stands at the moment" episodes in the back half of this season. Usually the gimmick-heavy episodes like this one are surrounded on all sides by strong character episodes that move things forward and cement relationships for these gimmicks. The last several weeks it has seemed like the character episodes have suffered for lack of a gimmick, which is slightly disconcerting. I have faith that the show will pull it together for the end of the second season, but when episodes are as funny as this one, it's hard to complain, even at some of the flaws.

Grade: A-

Notes:

-Sorry for missing last week. I was travelling and couldn't see the shows as they aired. My quick thoughts on last week's episode: it was ok, which means it was slightly disappointing. I always love Steven Tobolowsky, so his Who's the Boss? plot with Abed was cute, but it felt rushed. The Troy and Britta thing was nice, if also a bit rushed, and I have to again give kudos to my friend who called them as a potential pairing early in this season. The Pierce-Jeff plotline seemed like a lot of filler, and it was the ostensible A-plot. I didn't review the episode, so I can't really grade it accurately, but I probably would have given it something in the B- area.

-"That guy was hardcore racist, like 1800's Disney style."

-"We are friends with a grown man that clearly still believes in leprechauns."

-"The reason we had to fill in for the Glee club is because they...died..."

-"Troy, drop a beat." "Just give them some examples."

-"This habitat was for humanity!"

-"Jeff and Britta, you are free to go because you didn't step forward and are therefore clearly innocent."

-"Feast your ear tongues on these memory pops."

-"You can yell at me all you want! I've seen enough movies to know that popping the back of a raft makes it go faster!"

-"Dean-eow! It's Feline AIDS awareness day!"

-"It's a locomotive that runs on us!"

-"The heart of the water is the truth."

-"Sometimes, I felt jealous of his interesting outfits..."
Tags: Community
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