Finals week! A stressful time for our cramming protagonists who could — let’s be honest! — probably use a break from our endless needling and picking of nits. Instead, why don’t we fast-forward and take up an issue usually saved for after classes have ended: faculty evaluation. And since “English As a Second Language” dealt directly with Community’s most prominent professor, the weaselly, gastrointestinally challenged Señor Chang, it’s only fair that we do the same, wouldn’t you agree? ¿Están de acuerdo? ¡Claro que sí!
When the creators of Community managed to snag Ken Jeong for an extended run just before the season started I’m sure they were thrilled. After all, life’s tough for a new show, especially one on NBC, a network known for its long-term outlook and business savvy* (*joke). Jeong was a made-man in the Apatow clique and coming off a hysterical (and nude) appearance in The Hangover. Plus, he was a medical doctor who was so funny he transitioned full time into comedy! Now, after a year of his super-broad grandstanding as Señor Chang, I think it needs to be said: As a comedian, Jeong makes an excellent doctor.
Look, we like the guy fine! His cameos in Knocked Up and especially last season on Party Down have proven that he can be gangbusters, provided he’s used correctly. Which is to say: in the role of an asshole, in bursts as short as he is. When he outstays his welcome, the humor that starts as awkward ... stays awkward. And not awkward in the the “don’t worry, honey, you’ll grow out of it” way, either. We’ve actually thought Community seemed to figure this out as the season progressed — using Jeong either for quick-cuts and one-liners (his snatching of a box of chicken in “Contemporary American Poultry”) or for balls-out bananas showcases like his Chow-Yun Fat with a paint-cannon masterpiece last week. It seemed clear (to us?) that Jeong was a reliable bench guy and guest star, not someone you build a team around, and it wouldn’t have surprised anyone if this week’s ep — in which it was established that Chang wasn’t a real teacher, just a frustrated key-tar player who scribbled some Spanish phrases off of Sesame Street and was, in fact, often teaching them Klingon — served as his swan song. But au contraire! (Sorry, that’s French.)
Before we continue with the complaints, let’s focus on the good. Which was: our cramming protagonists! The stress of the approaching final allowed us to spend some quality, zinger-based time with the gang: “Alert nerd!” The Avatar “situation”! The crickets after Spanish 103 is revealed to be at six in the morning! We found this familiar, jokey patter almost as calming as the antelope-murder soundtrack the dean was piping through the speakers — especially after a few weeks of inspired, over-the-top genre parody. Speaking of film parodies, we actually loved Troy’s reverse Good Will Hunting. Everything from the initial fake-out (when he approaches the “unsolvable” math problem on the blackboard, considers it, then steals the chalk) to his impassioned speech to (hey! it’s!) Jerry Minor about how he believes in learning so that one day he, too, can have a student loan, grind his own coffee, and “understand HBO.” All good!
But we were let down by the twist of Chang at the end: that instead of shuffling off to a lucrative career jumping out of things naked in increasingly disappointing Hangover sequels, he’ll instead be enrolling as a student at Greendale. Which means: more opportunities for him to interact with the cast. Which means: eh. Our core study group has really found their comic rhythm heading into season two and interlopers should be viewed as suspiciously as Jack Black’s character was when he, uh, interloped. We can only hope the writers realize that Chang, like a well-played keytar solo, is best used judiciously.
But the bigger picture: There’s only one episode left! You’ll excuse us if we cover our eyes and think of Paul Giamatti in order to mask the tears.
At the AV Club, Todd VanDerWerff thinks the show avoided a letdown after last week by taking a “hard left into the master plot.”
Alan Sepinwall noticed the episode’s quick nod to the genius of Fletch!
At EW, Sandra Gonzalez found the show back in “normal form.” Which she likes!