It’s been 42 days since the last time Community aired, going out on a holiday break triumph of “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.” That’s, of course, not as bad as the 245 day wait between episodes of Parks and Recreation, but still. Well, last night, NBC’s forgotten gem (more on that later) returned, with a very good but not great episode.
The best thing about last night’s episode, “Asian Population Studies,” was the return of Chang. He’s been around for all season, but Ken Jeong was so overexposed after the success of The Hangover that he sometimes seems too forced of a character in season one. This year, the writers have made him a background character in the most literal sense possible: he’s always literally hanging around in the background. Whether encouraging fights between Abed and the Mean Girls (oh, snap!) or begging to be a part of the study group, Chang is back in season two, and in “Population Studies,” he’s never been better.
Jeff becomes jealous of Annie’s infatuation with Rich, who she met while the two of them were finding severed fingers on the side of the road. He seems like the perfect guy, and in Annie’s words, “He has a landline and uses the word album.” But because he’s so perfect, Jeff doesn’t want him around, mainly because of his feelings toward Annie, and he especially doesn’t want him as the eighth member of the group. So, Jeff gets desperate and invites Chang to hang out with them, leading to a battle between Rich vs. Chang, in a plot somewhat reminiscent of the South Park gang looking for a new Kenny.
Jeff’s speech about the similarities between Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, and Chang was a thing of beauty, and I hope someone more willing than I transcribes it. He describes him as basically the worst person imaginable, and it’s a nice callback to remembering that Jeff’s actual a great lawyer. Jeff convinces Britta and Abed to vote for Chang, while Annie gets Pierce and Troy raise their hands for Rich, mostly because he brought them all some kettle corn. The vote comes down to Shirley, who announced earlier in the episode that she’s pregnant, and she gives it to Chang (heh), after he pleads on his knees for her to. Pierce then accuses Shirley of only voting for him because they slept together — much to the confusion of Shirley and Andre, her ex-husband, current-boyfriend, played by Malcolm Jamal Warner of The Cosby Show fame, who’s now around and pledges to be a better man.
As usual, the show was hilarious, equal parts wit and lowbrow humor (Britta lifting her shirt for Fat Neil to get “MEZZANINE” Chili Peppers tickets), with a just right amount of pop culture gags (most notably, Malcolm Jamal Warner commenting on receiving his sweater from his dad). But still, something felt off. I thought the show could have done more with the study group adding an eighth member. Greendale is such a fascinating location (and now we know even more about it, thanks to the sort of introduction to Black Michael Chiklis) that I would have loved to see a montage (yeah, I said it) of other students hoping to hang out with Jeff & Co. The episode also had a problem unique to Community: we know the show loves mocking pop culture, and so the reveal of who a soaking wet Jeff is talking to in the doorway doesn’t work as well as it should. Of course it’s not going to be Annie, and Jeff asking Rich to help him be a better man was a bit of a disappointing ending (well, excluding the always brilliant Troy and Abed in the Morning end credits footage).
As for my earlier comment about Community being NBC’s forgotten gem: in the past few weeks, our favorite fourth place network has been bombarding us with ads about their Thursday night comedy block. We saw a lot of 30 Rock, The Office, and Parks and Recreation, or at least a lot of Rob Lowe. But very little love for Community (I’m excusing Outsourced and Perfect Couples because who cares?).
Obviously, that’s a shame, and what makes this show so great is what makes it so hard to recap — and probably why NBC didn’t hype it more. I just wrote 600 words but didn’t fit in Abed being a Brown Jamie Lee Curtis, Troy’s speech about pumpkins getting him in the mood, and John Oliver saying, “You can expect both this class and my penis to be more focused and rewarding.” It’s a tough show to sell because of how intricate it is, but that just makes it all the better for the die hards.
Josh Kurp is an alumni of Greendale Community College.