Community Recap: ‘Applied Anthropology and Culinary Arts’

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Typically, sitcom episodes that feature a baby being born are Events: there’s Joey accidental proposal to Rachel right after she has Emma on Friends; Bruce Willis, on the run from police, helping Paul get to the hospital to see Jamie and Mabel (“Mothers Always Bring Extra Love,” which has to be the worst TV baby name of all-time) on Mad About You; CeCe was born in the second half on an hour-long episode of The Office; and over 70% of the country (!) watching Little Ricky come into the world on I Love Lucy.

On Community, though, Shirley’s baby, and the identity of the father, hasn’t received much attention, especially when compared to Steve Carell’s graceful exit on The Office. But that’s actually one of the reasons why I’m glad “Applied Anthropology and Culinary Arts” aired on the same night as the departure of Michael Scott: it was never that interesting of a storyline anyways.

I like Yvette Nicole Brown, who actually one appeared on The Office as a Staples employee in “The Return,” is a wonderfully funny person, but it’s clear the writers aren’t sure what to do with Shirley, outside of having her say some God-related comment every now and then. The show’s even made fun of her lack of relationships with the other characters, who are so often paired up: there’s Jeff and Britta, Troy and Abed, Troy and Pierce, Jeff and Annie, Jeff and Abed, Troy and Britta, Pierce and Annie, etc., but what about Shirley? Well, she gets Chang, who I’m a little worried about.

In “Applied Anthropology,” he was great and, surprisingly, the most normal member of the group. While Pierce gives Abed and Troy an indecent proposal for the rights to their clap-clap handshake and Britta (who was outstanding last night — “Step aside, people, Britta for the win!”) fights her own lack of convictions to help out Shirley, while Jeff stays in the corner doing his best to look cool even though he’s as awed by childbirth as everyone else, as the Dean basically has a “race kerfuffle”-caused nervous breakdown because a writer from Dean Magazine is there to profile Greendale, it’s Chang who’s telling the about-to-give-birth-on-the-floor-of-her-anthropology-classroom Shirley that everything’s going to be fine, regaling her with stories about his family (at this point, he’s still hopeful the baby’s his). What did we learn about Changs? They like the sauce, both alcohol and duck; they’re born with tails and in odd locations, like sewers; and they’re impossible to Google. And what did we learn about one particular Chang? He’s not the father — Andre is — but he is a gracious loser, sort of (“Congratulations, sir. After a fierce campaign, I happily concede this baby to you. Pretty classy of me”), and Shirley names her son Ben after him.

My worry about Chang comes from: what’s next? This season, his character has either been not invited to hang out with the gang or preoccupied with his maybe baby with Shirley. At least one of those stories is now finished, and I doubt the will they-won’t they tension on whether he gets drafted by the Greendale Seven can continue for much longer.

But that’s something to worry about next season, after Paintball, Pt. 2 airs next week. As for “Anthropology,” the second episode dedicated to the “class” this season, I thought it was a funny, well-rounded, and well-executed episode, with some very good lines (“That’s like a million bucks in dog dollars”) but no huge laughs; in other words, a quality non-theme episode. It was nice to see a large collection of the supporting cast, like Fat Neil, Vicki, Professor Duncan, Starburns, whose excitement of Dean Magazine is matched only by his love of world food festivals, and, as mentioned above, I particularly loved Britta, who goes from puking in a trash can at seeing a dilated cervix to snipping Ben’s umbilical cord — have we ever seen a snipped cord in a sitcom before? — in the span of 15 minutes (grossest sentence I’ve ever written). Sadly, in a case of extremely poor timing, the end credit segment, where Troy and Abed attempt to pull the fire alarm only to find out it doesn’t work anymore, if it ever did in the first place, was pretty similar to a joke in last week’s Parks and Recreation, where Leslie pulls the fire…well, you know (along those lines: does everyone who watches Community also watch Parks? I just assume so, but please do answer in the comments section).

One thing that I’m not worried about is the baby taking over the show — like Andrew did on Family Ties and, in a non-sitcom example, Connor on Angel. Again, Shirley is the most minor of the main characters, who only gets a few lines anyways, so if her role were to be diminished even further, while she’s off taking care of Baby Ben with Andre, we probably wouldn’t even notice — although I can’t wait for the inevitable Adventures in Babysitting parody episode.

Josh Kurp can’t decide if he’s Team Britta or Team Annie.