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Community Recap: Lower Your Expectations

Let’s start with the good news: Community was renewed for a third season! So all Greendale Human Beings harboring fears that the show would go out in a paint-spattered (and Sawyer-filled) blaze of glory this May can rest easy. Baby’s gonna make it after all! In other good news, uh, let’s see ... it’s Girl Scout cookie season? The promise of Thin Mints are all we got, team, because while we’re as happy as the next pastie-wearing jogger that the long weeks of reruns are over, we gotta call 'em like we see 'em and, in this week’s case, we wish we hadn’t seen it at all: “Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy” was easily the worst episode in Community’s history.

It can’t just be us, right? Everything felt off here from the start: inert pacing, pro forma race jokes (Pierce hates Jews! Dean dresses funny!). Even Jeff’s hair seemed weird! (“Barber, I’ll have the Emo Julius Caesar please!”) Most troubling of all: The focus was on Shirley and Chang, the show’s weakest characters. (Rest easy, Pierce: You’re still most problematic.) Shirley, you see, is having a little study-group-only baby shower (and receiving thoughtful gifts like a jug of clean water from the zombie-apocalypse-fearing Troy and Abed and an appetizing plate of Ghanian food from Annie), and while her reformed husband Theo Huxtable Andre is by her side, her other side is afflicted with the weasel-y presence of Chang, a.k.a. Jeff’s new roommate. And when he’s not re-gifting pizza boxes and back issues of Maxim, the former professor is professing his desire to be a co-father to his maybe baby. And so he starts pretending to smoke a pipe, throws some aluminum siding on a pool table, and kidnaps someone else’s children. LOL! Except not really.

Look: We’ve really laid into Ken Jeong in these recaps in the past and we’re not going to repeat ourselves here. The man is clearly up for anything — and, to his credit, he seems to possess unlimited access to hacksaws. The problem here was more fundamental. We’re cool with outlandish, cartoony characters — we’re eating batteries right now because Tracy Jordan told us to! But cartoony characters should bring more to the table than spinning in circles — and it pains us to say that we mean that both literally and figuratively in this case. Jeff wants this creepy uncle weirdo out of his apartment? We agree! Shirley wants him to sign away his potential parental rights? Sounds smart to us! The two of them conspire to have Chang locked away for decades on a false charge of child trafficking? Do it! Wait, what? Okay: That escalated quickly. Thank goodness Andre was there with a speech about accepting both the good and the bad in people (nicely echoing the Greendale motto: “Lower Your Expectations”). And, just like that, Chang is sprung from pokey. But part of us wishes he’d gone up the river for good. Actor animus aside, can anyone make a case for what the character adds to an already humming ensemble? It’s not laughs, it’s not the chance of redemption, and it certainly isn’t coffee-table repair.

Still with us? Pretty neg, right? It gets worse! Because the Britta-Troy-Abed debacle somehow tried to sell us some wacky relationship humor on the back of war crimes jokes. Look, people. We’re not AFLAC. We strongly believe that anything in the world can be funny if handled the right way. But this nonsense about Luka, the video-game-playing, Ed Hardy—wearing, jazz-musician-neighbor-having, racist mass murderer fell flatter than the Earth in pre-Columbian times. Was it because actor Enver Gjokaj (Dollhouse) would have been in junior high school when actual war was ravaging the Balkans? No. Was it because we — like your mom, no doubt — have a hard time LOLing at the thought of incinerated farmers’ markets? Uh, yeah a little! But mostly it was offensive because it wasn’t funny. And while we’re suckers for Britta’s awkward dancing (and super-sexxy version of “Hit Me With Your Genie’s Bottle”!), nothing was redeeming this dog.

In the course of a 22-episode season, an off week (or six) is inevitable. And we can’t say no good came out of this: It’s a testament to how sharp Community’s humor usually is that Catskills rejects like the bit about about how It’s Complicated is a movie about dinosaurs (hey-o!) stood out like Tall Kyle. (In fact, it made us pine for the subtle complexities of the zombie episode. We-a culpa!) There’s a difference between the fan-driven frustration we’ve felt with Community at times in the past and the cold reality of this stinker, just like, as Troy sagely pointed out, there’s a difference between a guy who “likes nipple play and a guy [who] likes making hats out of babies.” And now that we’ve established that difference, let us never speak of it again.

So ... how about that third season!

Photo: Jordin Althaus/NBC