Community Recap: ‘Intro to Political Theory’

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Over at the A.V. Club, the great Todd VanDerWerff published an article yesterday explaining the similarities between Community and Glee, even though the mingling of fan bases between the shows is pretty minimal. While I do agree with the comparison (largely in part because I love both shows, but for very different reasons), I also think Community has a closer relative, one that I’ve mentioned here before: The Simpsons.

Much of what’s going on in “Intro to Political Science,” especially the Jeff and Annie running for class president stuff, reminded me of a storyline from the season two classic, “Lisa’s Substitute,” where Bart runs against Martin Prince to also become the class president. Both Martin and Annie are do-gooders who occasionally want to be bad but don’t know how to, while Bart and Jeff run against them just to be assholes, more or less (and would instantly grow wary of having the responsibilities that come with the win). Many of the jokes are similar, from the chants (Annie’s “No matter what you’re told, we have to clean the mold” vs. Bart’s “More asbestos!”) to the rhetoric (“These people don’t want me to say what I’ll do; they want me to do what I’ll say” vs. “He says there aren’t any easy answers. I say he’s not looking hard enough”) to the outcome (Martin’s two votes would have beaten any of the Greendale candidates, though). Both episodes — and the shows in general — also use a wide variety of pop culture references remarkably well, without being too coy (see: Family Guy) or too annoyingly obscure (again, see: Family Guy); I thought South Park winning the election was hilarious, especially when Dean Pelton sighs, “The same thing happened 10 years ago,” just as “Lisa’s Substitute” immediately brings to the mind the scene where Mrs. Krabappel attempts to seduce Mr. Bergstrom, a la The Graduate.

Greendale also works as a more centralized Springfield, where a revolving cast of wacky characters can appear out of nowhere only to become just as memorable as the stars. Magnitude, for instance, who we didn’t even know existed until two episodes ago, is a pop-and-locking Disco Stu, while Kickpuncher is the mechanical version of McBain and Starburns isn’t too far removed from Otto Man. Both Community and The Simpsons are small worlds that feel wonderfully large — we buy that there’s a zombie outbreak one week followed by a magic trampoline (“Tramopoline! Trabopoline!”) the next, just as we’ll accept that Springfield has a desert, a gorge, an ocean, etc. As big as both shows can get, they’re held together by a much tinier idea: the strength of a community.

Even if you don’t buy into the live action Simpsons theory (and I’ll spare you the essay about how tragic each of the shows are), there was still plenty to enjoy in last night’s episode, largely set out of the confines of the study room (the notches bit was priceless, though). Abed’s mingling and potential romance with Special Agent Robin Vohlers (played by Eliza Coupe), who was there to make sure the campus was safe for a visit by the folksy, yet progressive vice president, Joe Biden (who appeared in the same way Seinfeld used George Steinbrenner), was cute, and I hope we see more of her, although it’s pretty unlikely; Coupe, one of the few bright spots from the ninth season of Scrubs, stars in the upcoming ABC sitcom, Happy Endings. Also cute, as it always is, was Abed and Troy “Butt Soup” Barnes reporting on a GCTV special called “Decision Gate: Gateway to Election Road.” It was nice to see them put in front of an actual camera for once, instead of the fictional Troy & Abed In the Morning, which makes up for the fact that they didn’t appear together in the end credits segment.

(The scroll on the bottom of the screen was also pretty amusing, referring to past plots and maybe even ones to come. Here’s what I caught: “Human Being Mascot: Offensive to Animals?; Basketball Team Loses Ball; Chicken Finger Shortage Continues; Professor Slater Still Missing; “No Paintball This Spring” Claims Dean; School Dance Rate Down 200%; Reports Continue of Mysterious “Air Vent Monster”; and Dean Suggests End of Year Picnic, Implies “Western Theme.”)

Pierce, after dominating so many of the recent episodes, had a smaller role, mostly there to criticize Vicki (and eat her brains), with her stupid yellow shirt and black hat. Britta and Shirley had about three lines combined, which left plenty of room for Dean Pelton to shine, who looked mighty amusing in that undersized Uncle Sam (Aunt Samantha?) outfit; he sounded so sad when Jeff ran off the stage, crying, after Annie showed the “Faith” video, yet so enthused when he set Magnitude up.

Speaking of: as stirring as the debate between Leonard Rodriguez and Magnitude (who’s only 16, according to his Yeats-quoting bio — he’s some kind of genius!) was, consisting only of raspberry noises and “POP POP!,” which managed to be funny even after being said about a dozen times, I think most people will talk about the Jeff and Annie whatever’s-going-on-there. While I do agree that the show is slowly pushing them together, I don’t think they were in this episode; there was nothing all that sexual about any of their interactions, even the hug in the broom closet (although Pierce getting stabbed in the face with a pencil, like the poor henchman in The Dark Knight, wasn’t particularly funny, I’m glad he waxed philosophical after seeing Jeff and Annie together, rather than make some lame sex joke). If anything, Jeff was just being sweet by calling her “m’lady,” and he time and time again refers to her by her “young” age. Excuse the obviousness of this question, but: what do you guys think? Also, for your amusement, here are the bios:

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