Here’s to you, America! Just two short decades ago your 8 p.m. television hour was devoted to heartwarming comedies about loving families with many children and even more colorful sweaters. Boring! Come on, people: We fell asleep just typing that! Aren’t we lucky now to have 8 p.m. comedies like Community which devote themselves to the finer things in life like, say, conversations about the correct way to put condoms on anatomically correct mannequins? Some may call it filth. We call it progress!
Snark aside, we’re not saying this week’s Community was bad because it was inappropriate. C’mon — we’re New York magazine! We put condoms on mannequins before brunch! (While wearing cravats and cooking arugula! Naked!) It was bad because the jokes were mostly forced and — worst of all — there was an ill-fitting subtext of Cosby-esque moralizing, lesson-learning, and friendship-building lurking behind all the STD jokes. If the show’s up-and-down first season has struggled at times to maintain a successful balance between sarcasm and sweetness, then “Politics of Human Sexuality” wavered like a drunken hobo on a high-wire. Not everything has to be a high-quirk alert zinger (Joel McHale’s dialogue was particularly one-note and egregious this ep: “Congratu-horrible”? Really?) and not every half hour has to end with that soft, rhythmic score signifying that Jeff is a better guy now or that Troy has learned the true value of being nice to nerds.
The plot, such as it was, followed three tracks. The first was Greendale’s annual STD fair which, in the hands of clueless Dean Pelton and chipper (but also clueless) Annie, devolved into a boozy hook-up fest of weird parlor games (“Wheel of Remorse”) and bad information. Kudos to this plotline, though, for the “reverse Porky’s” scenario which found Annie seeing a human “p-word” for the first time with the lights on and without Madonna’s “Erotica” playing in the background. The second story line tracked Troy’s frustration with Abed for being better than him at everything: basketball, arm-wrestling, wildly unfunny Family Guy-esque pop-culture non-sequiturs. (Over the Top? Sigh.) Plot C followed Pierce and Jeff’s aggro double-date competition which was good for at least a few chuckles (the address book on Jeff’s cellphone, his killer pick-up line: “Can you ever really own a horse?”). Oh, and was that Sharon Lawrence looking kinda lost as Pierce’s “classy” hooker companion? Look, we’re fine with seeing these ragtag characters growing and progressing and blah blah blah, but are we really supposed to believe that a martini-fueled pep talk from the former Mrs. Sipowicz is enough to convince Winger to walk away from a car-seat quickie with a buxom blonde? Even if she says cringe-inducing twaddle like “yikers”?
So, a dud this week. But we still believe. Good comedies — like $200 prostitutes who can correctly pronounce “Cabernet Sauvignon” — are rare birds, and Community still has all the potential in the world. It’s a little like Adderall Annie right now: trying really hard to impress us with CRAZY JOKES! while simultaneously trying to woo us with EMOTIONAL GROWTH. We’re a little like Troy was this week when confronted with the prospect of taking a call girl to an STD fair: We know there are jokes in here somewhere. It just might take some time to get them right.
At the A.V. Club, Todd VanDerWerff discusses the peaks and valleys of forcing sitcom characters to learn life lessons.
At EW.com, last night’s not “top-tier” episode still managed to cheer up grumpy John Young.
Jason Hughes at TV Squad found Troy and Abed’s competition to be “brilliant.” Uh, agree to disagree?