Community: Grifting 101

“Should we all learn how to be grifters together?”

Annie defines this episode for us: “Oh, this is one of those things where Jeff gets jealous of something dumb.” In this case, Jeff is jealous of Roger De Salvo, professor of grifting. The result? A clash between an “artless thug” and “God’s paintbrush” that pits our study group against De Salvo.

The episodes in which Jeff acts profoundly dumb—“Law of Robotics and Party Rights” and “The Art of Discourse” are the two that come to mind, likely because I’ve reviewed them both—never work for me. Jeff’s appeal is his combination of douchery, the ability to learn from his mistakes, and a relatively high level of intelligence. When he does something dumb, douchery becomes boorishness, intelligence disappears, and he doesn’t learn a solid emotional lesson.

However, “Grifting 101” does do a good job of sending up grifter movies like The Sting, the most obvious homage/riff at work here. Those movies grift the viewer by presenting confusion that turns into a well-crafted plan. But, as Abed points out, that sort of thing really only ever happens in the movies. In real life, nobody can actually pull something that complicated together.

Or can they? The study group does a decent job of grifting De Salvo out of money that belongs to Greendale anyway. The briefcase stunts, including Leonard as a geriatric bellboy and a briefcase parade, were pretty funny, but I suspect the jokes would have landed better if I’d ever seen The Sting. Since it all adds up to Jeff wanting to prove he can grift a grifter, the plot feels circular to the point of irrelevance.

I think Community acknowledges that with the penultimate scene, in which the Save Greendale Committee chants “hot dogs!” for a very long time. In this final season, Community seems to get a kick out of proving the ultimate futility of narratives: perhaps they, like life itself, are just one big nonsensical grift from which no one benefits.

This episode in particular evoked a quote from Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle for me: “I might have been vaguely inclined to dismiss the [episode] as meaningless, and to go from there to the meaningless of it all.” Vonnegut’s narrator in that work eventually does find meaning in pessimistic humanism. I don’t have the same faith that Community, or Dan Harmon, will.

Cool Cool Cool:

• Annie: “Oh, this is one of those things where Jeff gets jealous of something dumb.”

• Abed: “You can’t expel us with four week-isodes left in the seas—semester.”

• Greendale has a hardcopy catalogue? Oh, who am I kidding—of course it does!

• Frankie’s discussion with the campus cop about her “mentally challenged” sister is the show’s acknowledgement that Paget Brewster guest-starred on the show in a previous season.

• Everyone on this show has beautiful poreless skin. Props to the makeup department. Or the actors, for choosing their parents wisely.

Three out of four extra-believable socks.

Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

2 comments:

Nick said...

Just wanted the add the the Grift Professor was played by the wonderful Matt Berry from the IT Crowd.

Gus Brunetti said...

And I'd like to point out that Matt Berry was also the lead in Toast of London, which is great and the reason Harmon cast him.