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Community Recap: A Chang Is Gonna Come

Happy New Year, Greendale! It’s great to be back— both in class and in the sense of the newly shaped muscles lurking beneath Jeff’s button-down. Thankfully, very little has changed with our beloved study group during the long, cold winter. (Other than the fact that they aren’t Claymation anymore.) Even crusty sore-hearts like us were charmed by Community’s real sense of community in these opening moments: Troy’s lust for laser discs, Annie finding riverfingers with a cute boy, Black Michael Chiklis. All the little zingers and character beats were as welcome as an old Cosby sweater (more on that in a moment). And then there was a Chang in weather, a cool wind blowing through all the warm bonhomie and Transformers jokes: the return of Ken Jeong.

Okay, let’s get this out of the way at the top — because we really liked this episode! A lot! And, sure, we tittered when Chang appeared, catlike, perched atop a bookshelf. (Or maybe that was what Fat Neil did when when Britta bartered with him for — mezzanine! — Chili Peppers tickets.) But Shirley’s pal Jesus forgive us, we don’t find the former Spanish professor funny. Like, at all. We find his antics as awkward and embarrassing as finding a Chinese baby parsley in your teeth. We don’t want him in the study group (we’d rather have Kendra spelled with a Q U!) and we don’t want him slow-clapping his way into greater prominence on the show. We’re sure the producers were chuffed when one of the stars of the hit film Vampires Suck, er, we mean The Hangover agreed to be in their pilot. And, hey, Ken Jeong himself seems like a fantastic guy! (Did you know he used to be a doctor? We wonder if he also made kettle corn in his garage?) But being a fantastic guy who can palpate a liver doesn’t make him a comedic actor worth spending a half-hour with every Thursday, okay?

Okay! Rant over. (You didn’t think we’d come back to these recaps all sweetness and light, did you? What’s that? You did? Soft-serve for everyone!) Besides, we’re not really that Changry. (Sorry!) Because when Ken Jeong wasn’t filling up the screen with his Cuban-cabdriver chic, “Asian Population Studies” was an extremely strong episode. We loved Troy’s brain revealing the secret Chang (ugh!)/Shirley liaison — and Pierce claiming that his vow of secrecy doesn’t cover “new media.” We enjoyed the sight of Malcolm Jamal-Warner as Andre, Shirley’s ex-husband/new boyfriend, popping Tropical Skittles in his best Coogi sweater — even if we found his willingness to raise someone else’s golf prodigy a little pat. And the return of the paw-shaking Dr. Rich? Fantastic!

The little jealousy skirmish set off by Annie’s flirtation with Rich — he teaches orphans with cleft palates how to play the acoustic guitar and drives Jeff absolutely crazy — was the real gym bag full of nickels this week. Writer Emily Cutler wisely — and cleverly — kept Jeff’s feelings complicated: He does like her, she is too young, and Rich, the kettle-corn-popping phantom, is too good to be true. It was one of Community’s best-ever balancing acts that we both cared and LOL’d at the finale. The show got to have its emotion cake (Andre accepts Shirley despite Chang’s cell-phone n00ds! Episode-ending montage music worthy of The O.C. was playing!) and laugh at it too (Jeff’s epic run-through-the-rain wasn’t to Annie’s house, it was to Rich’s — he wants to learn how to be perfect too and, besides, muffin-tops!). As Jeff breathlessly confesses: “I’ve only known you for two years.” There’s plenty of time for things to get soppy and complicated with our (maybe) romantic leads later on. (We suggest putting it off until at least next fall, when the ground is littered with dead leaves and rotting pumpkins, a.k.a. “nature’s Viagra.”)

Suffice to say, it was good to be back with Brown Jamie Lee Curtis and the rest of the gang this week. And not even extra screen time for our least favorite character could Chang that. (Sorry!)

Photo: Lewis Jacobs/NBC