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Community Recap: Pool Party

Greendale Community College, like other major educational institutions, general workplace productivity, and skiers with NRA membership cards, went on hiatus for the Winter Olympics. And while ice dancing is inherently hilarious, the long break left us missing some tightly scripted comedy on Thursday nights — at least those of us who remain strangely immune to the charms of curling. And so Community didn’t necessarily need to come back with one of its strongest half-hours of the season, but rip off your tightie-whities, billiards fans, because it absolutely did so anyway.

If we’re being honest — which we always strive to be! — all was forgiven in the opening moments of “Physical Education” when the show had the (billiard) balls to tackle a scourge that has been plaguing America (and driving us absolutely batty) for years: the preponderance of people who pronounce “bagel” wrong — and aren’t even aware that they are doing it. And so: Britta’s hilarious insistence that since she lived in New York she was saying “bag-gel” correctly. As in, rhymes with “haggle.” As in, you are no longer welcome in Russ & Daughters, you tin-eared impostor! Anyway, we have met people like this and bravo to episode writer Jessie Miller for not only sticking the landing on this bit (Olympics joke!), but also rotating at least four times (ditto!).

The A-plot this week focused on Abed, whom we’ve had some issues with before — as you commenters are well aware, we fall decidedly on the side of “not that into” all the super-meta reference-y humor this show likes to traffic in, and believe that Abed is too often used as a dumping ground for jokes that are less clever and more like the result of frenzied late-night Wikipedia searches for William Zabka. Yet his featured story line this week totally charmed us by making him the object of the all of the other character’s wacky and idiosyncratic idiocies, rather than the pop-culture-saturated sideline commentator he too often is reduced to.

(It also helped that Miller — or a battallion of clever folks in the writer’s room — found ways to one-up the meta, as Abed’s Can’t Buy Me Love reference became a well-played cultural joke: Troy explains the Patrick Dempsey classic as the “white-people” version of Love Don’t Cost a Thing, and then even better, Jeff comes in to equate After-School Specials with Fat Albert, whereupon Pierce makes a crack about an old person not getting these references. Way to string together the skill jokes, Community! 9.4 under the new judging system!)

And yes, yes, yes: Abed’s pitch-perfect Don Draper imitation owned. The whiskey-smooth pickup lines (“you’re familiar with two sins, how about a third?"). The casually draped (Drape-d?) arm. The well-placed thumb on the chin, all the better to center a lady-killing kiss. He even got Jon Hamm’s speech rhythms exactly right! And we love it when the show takes advantage of its broadly drawn ensemble to give each of them a clearly defined (and hilarious) reaction: Britta: “Weird.” Troy: “Awesome.” Pierce: “Put your tongue in her ear.” Even Alison Brie was blushing, and not only because she knew she was cuckolding her moody husband, Peter Dyckman Campbell.

So were we crazy about Jeff’s battle with the barrel-chested billiards coach over his too restrictive (or too freeing?) shorts-only policy? Nah, though we do love a good Urban Outfitters joke! And if we weren’t made misty-eyed by Abed’s end-of-the-John-Hughes-movie soliloquy about self-confidence (eighties-movie reference!), no biggie. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes “playing pool in shorts” means exactly that. And sometimes we’re just happy when Community nails an episode and makes us laugh.

Now if you’ll excuse us, we have a lunch date with our friend, Gravy Jones.

More Recaps:
Alan Sepinwall thinks the show “can’t be this strange every week” but still loved it.
At the AV Club, Todd VanDerWerff makes some well-argued points about the show’s philosophical bent.

Photo: Trae Patton/NBC