10
Nov
2011
Community: Season 3, Episode 7
Studies in Modern Movement
Jordan
To this point, this season of Community has had an abundance of episodes in which most of the gang are together in one plotline. "The Geography of Global Conflict" had its Britta subplot, sure, but it was mostly focused on the rest of the group's Model U.N.-off, while "Remedial Chaos Theory" and "Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps" were both episodes in which the gang was all in one place, all together in one plotline. This week changed up the pace, pairing characters off and letting them have their own little stories. Some were more successful than others, but as a whole, "Studies in Modern Movement" functions pretty well as a selection of character studies that fill us in on where our heroes are at this moment in their lives.

This season seems to be focusing on the inevitable maturation each character has to go through to become the person they want to be, especially in regards to the younger members of the study group. Tonight, this is put in stark relief, as Annie, ever the control freak, moves in with Troy and Abed, professional man-children. Perfectly in her character, Annie at first tries to adapt to the situation by becoming "New Annie" (which is better than Caroline, who she tried to become last season in "Mixology Certification," one of my all-time favorite episodes), a laid back, fun type of girl who didn't mind Troy and Abed using all of her tape to fasten Troy to the bathroom door, breaking her outlet and losing her security deposit, or using all of her bubble wrap to create a mechanism for Abed to hit Troy in the head without him feeling it (which they should totally sell to the Army).

Of course, "New Annie" wasn't bound to last, and that's because "New Annie" was actually just an iteration of another character flaw of regular Annie: her tendency to be a doormat. "New Annie" wasn't laid back; she was just willing to let Troy and Abed do whatever to keep the peace. She managed to break out of that mold and lay out some demands (namely, that Troy and Abed could not use the second bedroom as a Dreamatorium while forcing her to sleep in a blanket fort in the living room), though he evolution of character is far from complete: instead of enforcing those incredibly reasonable demands, Annie was willing to move out. Fortunately, Troy and Abed went through a little bit of their own tentative maturation. They didn't get rid of the Dreamatorium (that's more important than us all), but they were willing to compromise on their own insularity and give Annie her own bedroom to keep her around. None of this is a full step forward, but that's the way change works. No one becomes a different person overnight; it happens incrementally, with little decisions, slight compromises, and tiny changes that amount to a shifting worldview.

Meanwhile, the show seems insistent on pushing Shirley's buttons of late, putting her in a fight with Britta over whether there can be a secular morality (short answer: of course there can) that introduces them to a hitchhiker who thinks he is the son of God, is pro-marijuana legalization, likes to drink human blood, and has a song about mixing the races called "Don't Do it." I'm perfectly fine with Community toying with the boundaries of Shirley's faith, and dealing with the very different moralities and world views that she and Britta have. In fact, I applaud the notion. Yet this storyline didn't do that interaction justice, instead mostly making Shirley into a caricature, the likes of which we haven't seen since early season one (I may be mistaken here, but I feel like it's been quite a while since Shirley called Britta "Brit-ta" or said "That's nice" with that big, fake smile on her face).

I'm a bit troubled by Shirley's characterization over the last several weeks. In "Remedial Chaos Theory," she was appropriately scolding of Britta's drug use (though, we all must remember, that was an alternate timeline, which makes the repercussions we've seen play out in the multiple marijuana references in the episodes since a bit strange to my eye), yet by "Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps" her disapproval had been ratcheted up to the point where she was leaving her friends behind to an eternity of torment as she got raptured away, and this week, she doesn't even really get the chance to make any strong points in defense of her belief system. I have faith in Community, and I hope this is building to something, but for the moment, I find it strange that one of the best developed characters of season two is being given such short, reductive shrift of late. As for Britta's side of the plotline, that all tracked pretty well with me. She was smug, her good intentions took a terrible turn, and she failed to learn an important lesson about the limits of her idealistic, condescending liberalism. All of that sounds about right in terms of her character to me.

Pierce had the slightest plotline tonight, but it was funny enough for what it was, and let Chevy Chase put on his old Clark Griswold shoes, messing up Annie's apartment more than he's destroyed anything since Christmas Vacation. Pierce electrocutes himself, burns the wall, blows out the light, paints the floor and gets so high on the toxic fumes, he imagines he runs a piano bar in Hawaii. There isn't much here, and none of it is particularly relevant, but its humorous, and that's all it was going for, so I'll call it a success.

The biggest disappointment in "Studies in Modern Movement" to me, at least, was more of a failure to live up to a premise than anything else. When the show introduced the idea that Jeff was going to have to spend the afternoon with Dean Pelton (who is just a "Craigular Joe" on Saturdays), I got very excited. The Dean is one of Community's most consistently absurd creations, but Jim Rash plays him excellently, and hasn't been given nearly enough to do since being elevated to cast member at the beginning of the season. This plot was headed in exactly the right direction when it had Jeff and The Dean singing "Kiss From a Rose" (which was AMAZING, definitely the best musical montage the show has done since the "Somewhere Out There" montage way back in season one), and having Jeff start to actually have fun with The Dean was a great touch.

But then things got ground to a halt when we discovered The Dean had read Jeff's email to his therapist and planned to run into Jeff at the mall. I would have like this plot line to let Jeff and The Dean bond, but if that wasn't to be, at least the show could have given Pelton a sympathetic speech to redeem his ghoulish, creepy, and illegal behavior. Let him talk about how painfully lonely he is or his desperate need to be closer to the coolest guy he knows, and I could see their being some emotional redemption here. As it stands, though, Community defaulted on a view of The Dean I don't like too much. I'm ok with Dean Pelton being a creepy, pansexual imp with a Dalmatian fetish and a proclivity for outrageous costumes. All of that is hilarious, and all of that is consistent with the character we know. What bothers me is the idea that the writers would let Pelton go this far over the line (and make no mistake, violating Jeff's doctor-patient confidentiality, and his privacy by reading his e-mails is a really shitty thing to do) without even offering him a bit of redemption to cap it off. This plotline should have ended in one of two ways: Jeff realizes The Dean is actually kind of fun underneath all of his layers of oddness, or we all get a peek under the surface to the wounded man hiding beneath (like we saw back in "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design," another great episode and a great moment for the Dean as a character). Instead, the show demonized a character is usually lovingly mocks, a trend tonight that I found a bit unsettling, to say the least.

"Studies in Modern Movement" was not a bad episode of Community by any stretch. It was funny throughout, and it had honest, consistent character beats for Troy, Abed, Annie, and even Britta. Yet two of the four plot lines were ultimately misses, and the show betrayed both Shirley and The Dean in order to get some cheap laughs that were ultimately not worth the poor characterization they required. I applaud the show's initiative to challenge Shirley and to make her question the way she tries to impose her faith on others, but it should let the character do the questioning and let her grow organically as a result; it shouldn't take a reductive view of the woman or her deeply felt beliefs simply because there are some laughs to be found in her dogmatic views. And I like the idea that The Dean is a character with wants and needs, not just someone who prances (really, does he move in any other way?) into the study room whenever the show needs some colorful exposition or has a wacky costume lying around, but it just seems cheap to make The Dean an ineffective villain, especially when he is so much more compelling as an obnoxious, but also kind of lovable loser (this is also, for the record, how I prefer my Chang). This isn't a Community for the record books, and honestly, my take aways are more negative than positive. Let's chalk it up to an off week for the show and hope it bounces back next week.

Grade: B-

Notes:

-Though next week's episode is entitled "Documentary Filmmaking: Redux," so maybe there is cause for concern. Of course, it could just as easily be incredible. I was worried about the show heading back to the paintball well and truly enjoyed "A Fistful of Paintballs" and "For a Few Paintballs More," so I have some faith that Community wouldn't go back to the same well unless it hoped to draw new water. Apologies for that incredibly strained metaphor.

-"That's unacceptable to me." "Then...I'm lying?"

-I liked the Annie's move t-shirts. I liked the twitter jokes less.

-"Is it loosey goosey or goosey loosey? Is it hyphenated? You know what, don't tell me. I don't need to know."

-"This is just like that Lake House movie. I can only assume. Even I have limits."

-"If the room's a-rockin', please come a-knockin', because there's probably something terribly wrong in there."

-"You can live in a fort of blankets all day, every night." Sometimes Donald Glover's delivery is more than enough to carry a joke to the next level.

-"Picked the wrong week to quit." I love the candy cigarettes.

-"I mean, I can rearrange the throw pillows. You have them arranged by size, not by color." "What did I say?"

-Ok, easily the best exchange of the night: "Where does the water go in the iron?" "And what is the iron for?" "And what gets out Kool Aid stains?" "Yeah, we already know the opposite color Kool Aid doesn't work." "Also, Troy stabbed me when we were fork jousting last week, and I don't think it's healing right..."

-Alright, one twitter joke landed. I laughed at Jeff screaming, "HE TWEETED IT!" Though people yelling to the heavens is kind of a never-not-funny to me.

-"And all thanks to Horsebot 3000. He belongs to the stars now." "Alright, 5 more minutes and we should probably put a stop to this, right? Jeff, are you..." "I liked Horsebot 3000!"
Tags: Community
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