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Community Recap: Pocket Full of Hawthornes

I admired last night’s Community more than I flat-out liked it (which is kind of the way I feel about every episode of the show … but I certainly like it a lot!). I mean, “Advanced Gay” prominently featured a guy dressed like Colonel Sanders who wore a ridiculous-looking wig made out of ivory. There was an entire subplot about the Skulls-like secrets of Greendale’s Air Conditioning Annex in which John Goodman opened the door to the room where the term “room temperature” comes from — yes, the room temperature room — by breathing on the high-security door. And that’s after they left a room where an astronaut was making paninis for Black Hitler. This is a prime-time comedy show, people! Not Wonder Showzen, or that team’s new show The Heart, She Hollers, coming to Adult Swim this Sunday night (not a paid endorsement)! These kinds of things typically don’t fly, but Community sees that as a challenge. And given that “Advanced Gay” also featured a scene from Captain Spacetime replacing Abed and Troy with the lead characters, it appears the challenge was accepted.

The thing that always nags me about Community is that the show hasn’t earned the right to have it both ways. What I mean is … when the characters are empty shells for full-on re-creations of seven different versions of horror stories, awesome. When they’re really sticking to their guns and delving into their relationships like in the Model UN episode, great. But “Advanced Gay” was somewhere in between — a comically sound episode that tackled some touchy-feely stuff to clumsy effect. Exhibit A: DADDY ISSUES, and the repeated insistence on throwing that phrase around without really getting into what it means for the characters or subtly demonstrating how it’s affecting them. To be fair, it was mostly Britta doing the phrase-throwing, being the amateur psychologist she is, shoving that term in Jeff’s face every time he tried to help Pierce out with his daddy dilemma without really following up on it. Well, other than pointing to his “edible complex,” but that’s a whole other thing.

This whole mess starts when Pierce learns that his wipes have become a staple of the gay/wealthy/brothers community, thanks to a viral music video telling all good little drag queens to pack a “pocket full of Hawthornes” before heading out for the night. (Second on the list after, “best device for concealing my penis.”)

At first he’s a bit horrified because, hey, he’s Pierce! The homophobic one! But then he realizes that the gay community is providing him with much respect and admiration, and his product can empower these youngsters to proudly live their alternative lifestyle. Oh, and he’s making boatloads of cash to boot. But to Pierce’s father, gay cash isn’t cash he wants in his pocket (perhaps dangerously close to his shriveled ivory junk). Yes, Cornelius Hawthorne — by the way, Cornelius is Chevy Chase’s real first name — is just a simple Southern man with simple needs: a solid ivory wig, and no gays, minorities, Jew-esses, or the unnaturally tan. He’s a real “Abed of racism.” Thus, he squashes Pierce’s plan to introduce Hawthorne Rainbow Wipes and throw a big release party for them.

Jeff is livid — because of his DADDY ISSUES — and uncancels the party. Hawthorne fans and the “What’s Tron?” Dean are ecstatic, and paint a picture of Pierce in his honor. (This is the second time, after Parks and Rec, where an NBC comedy has done an episode about a character inadvertently becoming a gay icon. Et tu, Whitney?) Pierce arrives and jumps right into the bash; after all, he’s finally realized that the word “gay,” in fact, doesn’t mean “dumb.” But then his father shows up, his own DADDY ISSUES rear their ugly heads, and the party’s shut down. Later, at the hospital after Pierce’s fake heart attack — the oldest trick in the Hawthorne playbook, apparently — Jeff confronts Cornelius and stands up for Pierce and both of their DADDY ISSUES, and Cornelius drops dead. DADDY ISSUES. Look, Britta brings it up a lot, and I’d have been satisfied if the episode simply wanted to make Jeff do something nice on Pierce’s behalf for a change. But the attempt to tie to something larger didn’t work as fluidly as I bet they’d have liked.

Thankfully, the Troy story line this week was pure, unfiltered fun. Earlier in the show’s history, it was demonstrated that Troy knows a lot about how to fix things, and last night’s episode begins with him showing off that prowess yet again. Jerry Minor, Greendale’s plumber, is impressed with Troy’s skills, and asks him to fix a toilet later that day, which he does flawlessly. Problem is, it impresses Dan Bakkedahl the AC repairman, and word quickly reaches John Goodman. That night, Troy is kidnapped, blindfolded, and brought to a secret chamber where his repair skills are put to the ultimate test. Dean Laybourne dangles the prospect of entrance into the AC repair annex, and all the astronaut paninis that go along with it, but demands the recruits prove their worth. Troy’s once again blindfolded, along with two other subjects, and asked to assemble an AC unit from purely its parts. Troy finishes long before everyone else. He’s got the stuff Laybourne’s been looking for.

Troy is released from his secret meeting and presented with a choice: join the AC school, or become a plumber. He has 24 hours to decide, and he’s torn. So he turns to Abed for advice (and thus begins a scene where Danny Pudi does his best Troy impression while Donald Glover dusts off his Abed), who presents a third option: stay at Greendale doing what he’s doing — watching TV with his best friend. We all knew what Troy was going to choose, but I loved the way the writers unabashedly threw weird stuff into this story line simply for the sake of amusement. Like, at the party, someone comments that the AC unit is about to stop working because it wasn’t “built for this gay a party”; then, once Troy turns down Laybourne’s offer, one of the lackeys comments that the AC unit had gone out and that someone, mysteriously fixed it. “That’s impossible,” Laybourne gripes. Not even he could fix it. But Troy did, and whether he’s in the heightened world of the AC annex (with its Myst-like musical score) or the world of Captain Spacetime, Troy’s still a badass.

He’s no magician, though. There’s still time.

Photo: Lewis Jacobs/NBC