To quote dean Pelton, it ’tis the season, people! And at a stridently secular place like Greendale Community College, that can only mean one thing: a tasteful potpourri of jokes designed to please every race, color, creed, and brow (high or low). In fact, it’s hard to imagine anyone being angry at this week’s episode of Community — except maybe Billy Joel.
The A story pits Jeff against Greendale’s moustachioed, sleeveless school bully, who miraculously appears this week, hoarding cookies, taunting Abed, and disrupting Spanish exams, despite, y’know, not ever actually having been seen before. Said bully has veins that pop out of his neck when he growls actually-pretty-funny things like “that did not even make allergic sense!” If you’re like us, it was around this point where the tickling sensation in the back of your cerebral cortex finally went into overdrive and it hit you: Hey — that’s Anthony Michael Hall! Which can only mean one thing: GRISWOLD REUNION!
Except, uh, the writers really dropped the ball on this. Chevy Chase and the Piscopo-esque Hall (muscles, we’re talking, not laughs per minute) share almost no screen time. What’s up with that?!? There are no memories of Wally World, no one calls Pierce “honky lips” — heck, there aren’t even any inside-jokes about “optional rally fun packs.” We are so upset about this we are ready to demand our old car back. Immediately!
Still, not all is lost. Despite the writers’ room being temporarily highjacked by Sawyer from Lost (“No Sleeves,” “Forehead” — enough with the nicknames already!) this “fight the bully” scenario actually leads to some prime material, from Britta pointing out how gay all of this macho posturing is to Pierce’s delightfully casual racism, and best of all, Troy’s fight lessons. Now, we’ve been hard on Troy — and comic wunderkind Donald Glover — around these parts. We’ve often found him (like the show in general) to be somehow both over-energetic and underwhelming (like: stop trying to impress us, Donald — you got the part) but credit is due for his work this week. From his slow headshake indicating he has no idea who Billy Joel is (funny!) to his looooong-drawn-out inability to find a word that starts with “fiiigh” but isn’t actually “fight” (very funny!) to his Miyagi-esque instruction of the “Forest Whitaker eye” (actual LOLs!) Troy consistently killed it.
The B-plot was in trouble from the start, since it focused on Shirley (pictured here). Still, the writers seem to be catching onto the character’s limitations, finally locating the soul-scraping insanity lurking just behind those sweetly bugging eyes. Shirley, you see, is very Christian and wants everyone to not only wear her homemade WWBJD bracelets (What Would Baby Jesus Do — we don’t know? Not sleep through the night and cry a lot?) but also attend her Christmas party. This leads to the amusing reveal that every member of the group worships a different God: Annie is Jewish, Britta is atheist, Abed is Muslim, Troy is Jehovah’s Witness, Pierce is either Buddhist or in a cult (Troy: “What else do you believe in? Blood transfusions?” Troy!) and Jeff is agnostic, “the lazy man’s atheism.”
Anyway, Shirley is very controlling and doesn’t want anyone fighting or, really, participating in any way with her replacement-family Christmas party. So while Jeff is attempting his best Forest Whitaker face on Anthony Michael Hall (whose life, by the way, “is a gym”) the rest of the group is stuck singing gospel songs about a Jesus that they don’t even know. (For the record, our favorite Forest Whitaker face can be seen here. This is also our favorite Forest Whitaker hair-decision!)
But the nondenominational holiday spirit comes to everyone when the Study Group teaches Shirley to appreciate diversity (or at least the value of a good novelty candy cane to the head) and they all throw down with Rusty Griswold’s amusingly shirtless, capoeira-trained “fly dancers” in a ludicrously over-the-top slow-motion fight scene.
Lessons learned? Not really. But the gang that passes Spanish together also bleeds together, apparently, and we’d be lying if we claimed our secular hearts weren’t warmed by the semi-sappy finale. We’re off to the family tent to try and find a chicken for Jeff to chase, so why don’t you all chime in with your thoughts below. Community returns with new episodes — and a new semester — in January. Until then: Merry Happy to one and all!
Alan Sepinwall also wanted more interaction between the former Griswolds.
At EW.com, John Young found Anthony Michael Hall’s Mike the Bully to be “alarmingly unfunny.”
Todd VanDerWerff at the AV Club also liked it when Annie put the Baby Jesus inside the boughs of Shirley’s Christmas tree.