Community Recap: ‘Competitive Ecology’

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“Your love is weird and toxic.”

I’m a big fan of sitcom episodes where a new, normal character begins hanging out with the main cast of the show, and he or she quickly realizes, “These people are awful.” Think of the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode from last season, where Jason Sudekis, as Schmitty, joins the gang again (and gets thrown out of a car), or when Frank Grimes meets Homer Simpson. It’s a step further than a show paying attention to a character it hasn’t before, or winking at the fact that Joey, Chandler, Ross, Monica, Phoebe, and Rachel never hang out with anyone who’s not Joey, Chandler, Ross, Monica, Phoebe, and Rachel.

It’s much funnier, too, because really, the Greendale Seven is made up of some self-centered people.

Britta, Troy, Annie, Abed, Jeff, Pierce, and Shirley (not ranked by Abed’s algorithms, but rather by my heart) all have very little in common, and when they team up for a terrarium project — well, there’s a reason “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” is a cliché. Shirley wants Britta to look at pictures of Baby Ben; Britta could care less. Annie is a tireless perfectionist; Jeff is too cool to care, and would rather look at his phone (who is he texting all the time?). Abed and Troy, on the other hand, are of the same mind about most things, but they spend so much time with another (read: all the time) that they inevitably run out of things to discuss. And that leaves the literal odd man, Pierce, teamed with Todd.

Poor Todd. He’s a turtle-caring Iraq veteran with a wife and daughter at home, but he’s stuck in Greendale through all hours of the night, because the Seven keep switching diorama partners and no one wants him. No offense. Community has shown in the past that it doesn’t take much for the study group to begin yelling at each other — sometimes it’s because of a missing pen, other times because of a Todd — and “Competitive Ecology” (a bottle-ish episode) is no exception. It’s not that they’re afraid of being left out; rather, they’re afraid of being called out on their shit (as Omar did — they’re the Mean Clique!) and of not being loved. Everyone, with the exception of Shirley, doesn’t have much of a life outside Greendale, and they’ve all have a pretty rough go of it lately. Jeff lost his career, Troy his popularity. Annie has no money. Pierce has no family that loves him, etc. They all need each other, and the way they show it is by fighting, taunting, and flirting, but mostly fighting. It’s a strange love, but one that I support because picture three years from now, after everyone’s graduated and they’re back in the real world, do you really expect any of the Seven to remain friends? Troy and Abed, perhaps, but can you imagine Jeff calling up Shirley to grab a beer, Pierce asking Britta if she wants to go to a baseball game? With a few exceptions, the friends you make in college are…the friends you make in college, and when you get a job, you make new friends. I’m glad that Dan Harmon and the other Community writers make the Seven constantly bicker because they’re friends by situation — and I like it even more when they make fun of others, because that’s a tried and true bonding method, one that NewsRadio perfected many years ago.

The episode’s other plot concerned Chang, who creates his own Raymond Chandler-like mystery involving matchbooks, Larry Bird, a stapler, and a wailing saxophone. I kept waiting for this story to dovetail with the A-plot, but it never happened. I understand that until Chang became head of security, he was going to be slightly adrift, but with the exception of a few choice lines (his maniacal laughter when he’s given a promotion was fantastic, and a sign of where things will lead — he’s to season three what Pierce was to two), there wasn’t that much I enjoyed. Plus, the “thinking and staring” joke was made many years ago, on Scrubs all of places. I wouldn’t mind an entire Chang episode, where nothing makes sense and right is wrong and hamburgers take a bite out of YOU, but paired with the heaviness of The Todd Problem, it just didn’t work.

But! In this week’s installment of Britta Is Great: “If loving worms is stupid, I don’t wanna be smart,” “Oh look, penis, penis, penis, penis and oh, penis,” and of course:

Josh Kurp noticed that a lot of commentators on different websites said this was the worst episode of the show yet. Your thoughts?