In a revealing interview with Vulture this week, Community head
master honcho Dan Harmon announced that his show has no ambition to be Laverne & Shirley. Our undying love of Squiggy aside, we kind of think he’s wrong. Because like that classic sitcom (and M*A*S*H, and the many, many other old TV shows Harmon and his writing staff like to reference week after week), Community lives and dies on our familiarity with, and fondness for, its wacky characters. And so one of the problems (for us, at least) in early episodes was that we just didn’t find the Spanish Study Group as relentlessly amusing and charming as its creators clearly did. But something dawned on us early last night — maybe it was when Winger was removing a gold star from his crotch, or when Britta was awkwardly turning “fivesies” into a snake — and we suddenly realized that after a semester-plus, we’ve finally become accustomed to this group: their quirks, their in-jokes, their affection for mixed-race babies. It may have taken five months, but we’re finally starting to feel like Greendale Human Beings!
Of course, it helps that this week was another extremely strong episode with a nicely played balance of references to The Red Shoe Diaries and actual human emotion. As much as some Vulture commenters (hi, commenters!) may think we have it in for this show, the truth is we don’t. We criticize because we care. All good sitcoms take time to find their voices, and it can take awhile for writers to synch the versions of their characters that existed on audition sides and Final Draft documents with the pluses and minuses of the actors hired to play them on a weekly basis. (For further proof, all one has to do is keep NBC on at 8:30 for Parks and Recreation, a show that went from a well-meaning mess to the best comedy on TV in the span of one highly productive summer hiatus.)
In his interview, Harmon talked about this process, about how Troy and Abed’s chemistry wasn’t something you plan for (though it helps that Troy finds chemistry sexy). “Romantic Expressionism” showcased some other characters transitioning for the better: Winger is no longer just a smug asshole. Now he’s a well-intentioned smug asshole, which makes all the difference. And the up-till-now woefully underutilized Britta works much better as someone who is less badass and more bad-at-things (like scheming and the aforementioned high-fives).
But enough chin-stroking! We sound like Pierce, for God’s sake, making monkeyshines at a picture show! For our money, the A-plot was the most successful this week as Jeff and Britta (who we like better as meddling friends than as a perpetual Dave-and-Maddie sexual-tension machine) schemed to keep Annie away from the shirtless, small-nippled Vaughn. Anything that makes fun of hippies is also A-OK with us (Jeff: “I can hear her armpit hair growing from here!”), and we also liked seeing more Starburns (who apparently skeeves off of Vaughn’s leftovers) and the chance to see Alison Brie play a different shade of Annie. (Also impressive: Annie’s sexy coming-out episode was nicely coordinated with Brie’s own sexy coming-out photo shoot for Complex. SYNERGY!)
The other half of the episode dealt with Pierce’s inability to make Mystery Science Theater 3000–style jokes while watching bad movies in Abed’s dorm room with a white-tuxedo wearing Señor Chang. You know us: While we like Chevy Chase telling bad jokes (“‘Freeze, police’? Don’t do that — they’ll get cold!”), we looove Chevy Chase pratfalling into a bowl of popcorn. Also great? The Greendale sketch-comedy troupe who apparently dress all in black like techies, and make too many jokes about hair product.
But really, this episode was all about enjoying the characters. Vaughn may think they’re “evil” (and considering how snobby and meddling they are, he might be right), but we think the members of the Greendale Spanish Language Study Group are something greater than that: They’re funny. The amount of laughs generated from the wordless moment of everyone looking at one another as a “potential sexual prospect” was proof of how far Community has come. See it for yourself below.
Alan Sepinwall grudgingly admits that Jeff and Britta were “great” together in this ep.
At the AV Club, fellow NewsRadio fan Todd VanDerWerff also praises this episode’s chemistry.
Jason Hughes at TV Squad is “starting to get a little weirded out” by Troy and Abed’s relationship.