Community Recap: ‘Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy’

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We’ve learned a lot about future episodes of Community since “Intro to Political Science” aired three weeks ago, including next week’s Pulp Fiction tribute and the much-hyped one-hour finale guest starring Sawyer from Lost (not to mention the fake clip-show), but very little about last night’s installment, “Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy,” with good reason, too. It was an extremely normal episode of a show that’s anything but.

I know Community has used musical cues before, but never quite like they did in last night. There was dramatic music played in the background of the heavier scenes and fun music played behind the lighter ones, both reminisce of more traditional sitcoms. I kept waiting for one of the characters to make fun of it, but the moment never came (although the Wilhelm Scream was a nice tough); instead, we got two curious plots and the continuation of a question I’m not sure anyone’s really asking.

I’ll admit that my expectations were a little high considering there hadn’t been a new episode in nearly a month, but an entire plot about a new Balkan friend who killed people back in his home country? Eh. (In the world of Community, this counts as “normal.”) Specifically, Troy and Abed, both in fine form, start hanging out with new friend Luka (played by Enver Gjokaj, one of many very fine actors on Dollhouse, a very fine show), and Britta immediately falls for him — just like she did with Tall Kyle, Jeff “Nipple Play” Winger, and many other former-friends of theirs (I loved the two “hanging out” with imaginary Jeff, an interesting clue that maybe the group isn’t as tight as previously thought). Britta has a habit of telling the boys things they don’t want to hear about their new friends, and for once, she listens and doesn’t say anything about Luka’s history of killing people and setting things on fire. She knows she has to say something, though, and her way of telling them is by not telling them and framing a robbery of Abed’s Kickpuncher DVD on Luka (wonderful freezeframe of Britta stealing the disc).

Gillian Jacobs was given a story where she was able to do more than just have the group make jokes at her expense (“UGH”) and throw away her values at the drop of the hat, and she absolutely nailed it. I couldn’t help but feel awkward for Britta when she was shooting the fake gun, adding the “pew pew” sound effect, but I couldn’t stop laughing, either. I also admire how the show has never made Jacobs into a stripping sex icon (like her character in Choke); for a conventionally beautiful actress, and Lord knows she is, the writers and, more importantly, Jacobs herself put Britta into many dorky, less-than-attractive scenes (like “Hit me with your genie’s bottle, rub it all over me” and fake borrowing Abed’s “Trekkies Do It in the Final Frontier” hat), similar to Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon. She’s also really good at ruining movies, as she does Catfish to Troy and Abed. “It’s cool,” Troy sighs. “I thought it was about catfish.”

Elsewhere, Shirley still isn’t sure who the daddy of her baby is, but she’s hoping its Andre’s, for obvious reasons, which leads Chang to pretend to be more normal than he is. Granted, “normal” for Chang means dressing up as Mr. Rogers, fake-smoking a pipe, and not running around in circles in a corner. Chang’s a character who should be used in small doses, and he felt a little stretched thin this episode, especially when he kidnapped the kids he thought were Shirley’s and pinned the blame on Jeff (it’s odd how, for someone that big and dastardly, this sequence only took up about three minutes of screen time; it seems like it should have been given more space). I loved his never-ending collection of saws, and I’m a sucker for his Chang puns (“I don’t Chang a lot of chicks”), but by the time he was navigating through prison crawlspaces and calling guards “babies,” his likability was really stretched thing. Even he admitted he was insane and too much to take: “I am nuts, Jeff! Get with the program!”

A question for you all: do you really care who the baby’s father is? I like Yvette Brown Nicole a lot, especially how she’s able to go from heartfelt to sassy on a whim, but Shirley has consistently been the show’s most underused main character, and it feels like all this baby drama is just a way for her to get a story. The potentially half-black, half-Asian child, who soon will be heard running across treetops (just wanted to fit that line in somewhere), could belong to Andre, could belong to Chang, could belong to Annie, for all I care, but like when South Park made a big deal out of the identity of Mysterion last season, it seemed like the show was asking a question no one really cared to know the answer to. Ditto with the Father of Shirley’s Baby.

“Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy” felt like a bit of a throwaway episode, one that needed to be done to string up some loose ends before the show’s bound-to-impressive stretch run. The fact that Community having a normal, still funny episode feels like a bit of a let down just shows how good the series is.

Josh Kurp’s favorite book, movie, and food is Fried Green Tomatoes.