For a show set in a place of higher — or at least medium — learning, Community has gotten farther and farther away from its original comedic palette. As this season has unfolded, Greendale itself has been more of a backdrop to the jokes, not a driver of them. And for that reason alone, “Competitive Wine Tasting” was a welcome change of pace. Other than an un-air-conditioned fruit market in the middle of August, few things in life are as ludicrously ripe as the pretentious halls of academia and the last chance to sign up for electives (including Hopscotch and How to Write Jokes — taught by a professor who is SO old ... ) provided a great opportunity for Community to get back to its core curriculum.
And so we have Abed — with nary a Wallace Shawn reference in sight — struggling with great guest star Stephen Tobolowsky in a class that purports to determine, once and for all, who really was the boss in Tony Danza’s classic sitcom. (Let it be said that this is a course we think could actually be offered at certain recappers’ alma mater!) As stuffy, Judith Light—doubting professor Peter Sheffield, Tobolowsky saved this plot - really, the joke didn’t go much deeper than Abed, as the überfan, proving the übernerd wrong. Plus, Sheffield really did strike us as the kind of guy who would have a gun in his drawer in the third act, but choose to lose himself in a mimetic exegesis of Rerun’s shame eating instead. (The mimetic crank in us must point out again, though, that Dan Harmon is insanely dedicated to the idea that NBC’s fans — LOL! — in 2011 have the exact same cultural references that he does and, thus, are generally cognizant of the finer points of nearly 30-year-old sitcoms. Next week: Small Wonder — or SMALLEST Wonder: Toward a New Understanding of Red-Dressed Robotics in the Domestic Sphere.)
Also slightly underwhelming was the Pierce-Jeff rivalry that began over sniffing pinot noirs (which does not apparently mean “black penis” in French) and ended with Pierce about to pledge his aging troth to a surprisingly busty Chinese corporate spy. We’re all for Pierce getting some much-needed rehabbing: It was nice to see him back in his role of generally genial racist blowhard rather than the Machiavellian he-demon he’d become in recent weeks. (Though the mimetic crank did think that pasting a photo of young, handsome, Fletch-era Chevy on the Hawthorne Estates wine bottle was another in a long line of meta-digs directed at the cast’s most obvious malcontent.) So, really, no harm, no foul: Jeff gets to reassert his romantic spirit (he did, after all, once have a three-way in a hot air balloon), Pierce gets to have a real date with his racist blowhard counterpart (Thais, after all, are “like Chinese Mexicans”), and the show got to reuse the fancy restaurant set from last episode. Value all around!
But we’re saving the best and weirdest for last: the return of Kevin Corrigan as professor Sean Garrety. Let’s just say it: We love this guy. Not only was his previous episode our favorite of the show’s run, but making fun of actors is a target so easy we ... sorry, we dropped the joke-writing class when Annie did. Still! From the minute he pranced into “the space” and demanded a “trust circle” around him, we were hooked. It was nice seeing Troy attempt to “emotolize” his way out of being a popular high-school stud and into a room full of self-expressive dorks, and we chuckled at all the talk of his fictional Uncle Lucius and what went on in the laundry room. But all this was to woo Britta? Again, this seems like some fairly pronounced character backtracking: In recent weeks, as Pierce has become over-the-top evil, Britta has been portrayed as more and more unbearable. We are huge fans of the character — and totally believe that, after her paint-huffing, forging boyfriend Pablo, she’d be drawn to Troy’s inner fake-pain — but this seemed like a plop-plop too far. Last we checked, Troy was still mad at Britta for pointing out (correctly!) that his new BFF was a monstrous war criminal. Now he wants to play with her no-no? We’ll see. Besides, as solemn professor Garrety intones before enjoying a much-deserved glass of cognac in the bathtub, they’re not writers. They’re actors. “Story doesn’t matter here!”