Objecting to the inherent sexism implied by a Sadie Hawkins dance, Britta throws her own rival dance (naturally, this being Greendale, in the same room at the same time) but runs into problems when she accidentally says ‘Sophie B Hawkins’ instead of ‘Susan B Anthony’ and is expected to produce said 1990s pop star at the event.
Now we know that Community will be back for season five (about which we remain pleased but baffled) with 100% more Dan Harmon (yay!) but 50% less Donald Glover (boo!), we wanted to finish off the last few episodes of season four, so I’m taking over reviewing duties from Mark for the back half of this season (Mark will continue to work his way through season two). Basically, the completest in me wouldn’t be happy otherwise.
It’s very difficult to determine how ‘good’ something is objectively and without reference to anything else. We judge things according to other things – and in the case of TV shows in their fourth season, we judge them by their own greatest hits. By that standard, ‘Herstory of Dance’ falls far below the heights hit by ‘Modern Warfare,’ ‘Mixology Certification,’ ‘Advanced Dungeons and Dragons’ or ‘Remedial Chaos Theory.’ In a stronger season, this would be a weaker episode.
But watched simply for itself, or in the context of the much weaker season that is Community season four, 'Herstory of Dance' is actually pretty good. It’s simple, it doesn’t rely on excessively elaborate spoof set-ups, it’s character-based and most of all it’s just… nice.
This is Community season four so we’re not going to get away with an episode entirely free of meta pop culture references. However, in this case Abed’s attachment to sitcom tropes is used reasonably well, and his actions come from the development of his character (even if being told that several dozen times does rather lessen the impact). He tries to get away from TV references but ends up in a classic sitcom plot anyway, in a plot that has the potential to be awful, but like the similar story in ‘Early 21st Century Romanticism,’ works out largely OK in the end. I rather like the deconstruction of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl that Annie brings as Abed's blind date, which highlights the inherent daftness of that idea quite nicely, though Shirley’s friend doesn’t make much of an impression and seems more like a tired cliché, rather than a spin on a tired cliché.
The twist to the meta-textual formula here is that, having found a girl he's interested in, Abed is forced to take part in a pop culture homage that he actually doesn’t like and that makes him acutely uncomfortable for the sake of another person, rather than throwing himself into something he loves regardless of how everyone else feels about it. That there is growth, my friends! (And I agree with him about public declarations of affection. Awful. You’d think they’d all have learned from Britta’s actions in the first season finale).
The strongest aspect of this episode, though, is the Britta storyline. Ironically, although Britta and Troy are technically a couple for most of this season, season four as a whole has been reminding me why I used to root for Jeff and Britta as a romantic pairing, before Joel McHale and Alison Brie’s chemistry made me a fervent Jeff/Annie supporter. McHale and Gillian Jacobs also have very nice chemistry (let’s face it, McHale probably has good chemistry with a doorknob) and being around Britta really does make Jeff a better person –- with a little help from Pierce. This episode does well to remember that Pierce wasn’t always a complete [insert rude word of choice here] and that he does actually care about these people. His speech to Jeff about why he should cut Britta some slack and why Britta deserves to be treated better by all of them is wonderful.
All in all, this episode is kind of cheesy, and the pop culture references are still trying a bit too hard, but it’s sweet enough that those things can be largely forgiven. I’m certainly glad the episode exists, if only to see the smile on Britta’s face at the end and to see her ‘take back’ the verb ‘to Britta’ – it’s about time something worked out for her! This may not be Community at its best, but it’s a long, long way from Community at its worst.
Bits ‘n’ pieces
- British people problems - I don’t know who Sophie B Hawkins is, Susan B Anthony rings a bell but only because it’s already the name of Britta’s cat, and I only know what a Sadie Hawkins Dance is thanks to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But never mind, I got the gist.
- The Dean’s Pleasantville-style black and white Donna Reed costume is sort of awesome and sort of horrifying all at once.
- The tag in the original broadcast is a sneak peek at the puppet episode, which is a rather odd choice that pretty much reeks of desperation.
Annie: She's like one of those quirky girls from the movies. I saw her in the cafeteria trying to pay for lunch with a song.
Abed: I’m not good with faces, is that a judgmental face or a happy face?
Jeff: Did you do this?
Britta: If it’s possible to make something happen by willing it, then yes I did.
Abed (into the mic): There was a girl here tonight. Her name was Rachel. I met her and it was very pleasant. And I made a mistake. And now I’d very much like to continue this conversation in private.
Jeff: I know it’s probably impossible to read my texts without them sounding sarcastic, but I assure you, this one is as earnest as they come. Congratulations on an awesome dance, you Britta’d the hell out of this thing.
Too nice to dislike. Three out of four cats named after feminist icons.
Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.