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Community Recap: Dial-a-Joke

If there’s one thing that we learned from this week’s dustup involving the rabid fans of Chuck and the insanely rabid fans of Chuck (no other kind exists, believe us: We’ve seen the ratings), it’s this: TV shows need to be careful with their implied relationships. If two attractive, star-crossed characters are making googly eyes and/or meta-ironic zingers at each other in the pilot, the audience is going to demand their pound of flesh sooner rather than later. And by “pound of flesh” we mean: offscreen hookup. (Isn’t that what everyone means by it? We haven’t read The Merchant of Venice since college.) This lesson was on our mind as we watched last night’s frustrating episode of Community, which toyed with the central Jeff-Britta relationship in a way sure to vex those who want them together immediately (i.e., the “shippers”) and those who want to keep them far apart (the “infantry”).

Sure, yes, other stuff happened. It was Valentine’s Day! The Greendale Human Being was given arrows (universally judged to be a bad idea)! Chang was annoying! Pierce and Troy dressed up in elegant ladies’ pantsuits! Troy thinks Annie and Shirley might have gone to Princeton! But none of it was all that compelling. Other than the stray “Looks like the law firm of Seacrest and Slumdog is taking the day off,” this game of lickety-split pop-cultural references in lieu of actual cleverness is a losing proposition. Did we enjoy Jeff and Abed’s 50-second Breakfast Club­­–aping drunk montage, set to an actual song from The Breakfast Club (Karla Devito’s “We Are Not Alone” — we bet Ms. Devito was happy for the surprise residual check!) featuring dancing with the pizza delivery guy and the consumption of hot dogs doused in vodka? Yes. Yes, we did. (So much so that you can watch it below.) But Abed’s soliloquy from The Merchant of Venice of movie catchphrases followed by calling his child actor a “future Asian guy from Lost” = ugh. A lot of this stuff felt like a bad episode of Family Guy (sorry for the redundancy) which makes sense since, according to his IMDb page, writer Chris McKenna comes from the Seth MacFarlane factory.

No, the interesting thing here to us was the Jeff-Britta situation. And, look: We didn’t ask for it. We agree with Alan Sepinwall, who thinks Joel McHale had better chemistry with Alison Brie (note: who wouldn’t!) and that the producers might be kicking themselves (no doubt in a meta way that references Demolition Man or something) about making the age gap between those characters potentially insurmountable. So we keep flirting with Jeff and Britta as they keep flirting with each other, but always in a sort of half-ass kind of way, as if the show is more interested in commenting on our expectations for this couple rather than making a story decision and running with it. Which is exactly the sort of solution that pleases absolutely no one outside of a writer’s room.

And the thing is: We do kinda like Jeff and Britta together! Hungover Britta was generally excellent and the scene between the two of them in the cafeteria line was very well played — proof that this show can shine when it puts these weirdos into actually familiar high-school scenarios rather than just having them sit back and snark about them. Also: Britta looks weird in colors other than black!

But despite a lot of feinting and weaving and drunk-dialing with our two leading blonds, we ended up stuck with the status quo: Jeff is dating the bland statistics professor and Pierce is riding on the back of Chang’s moped in search of frozen yogurt. Stasis in a sitcom is fine. Funny stasis would be better. And actual progression? Well, that might be best of all.

Now if you’ll excuse us, we have to call Britain to order some toffees.

More Recaps:
Alan Sepinwall thought this week was “another big step forward for the transformation of Britta.”
At EW.com, John Young agrees with us that this one was a “clunker.”
At the AV Club, Todd VanDerWerff has become a believer in the “Jeff and Britta thing.”

Photo: Trae Patton/NBC