Community: Anthropology 101

“And we're back.”

It's the start of a brand new school year and Brittamania is sweeping through the halls of Greendale Community College. Her very public declaration of love for Jeff Winger has resulted in her becoming the one thing she has never been before: popular with other women. And Jeff can't handle it for a second. Thus begins a deadly game of love chicken that threatens to tear the study group apart.

The biggest fear for any show going into it's second season is that it will succumb to what is now known as the Heroes effect. Oh, poor departed Heroes. Forever doomed to only be remembered as an example of when good shows go bad. It is too early to tell from just one episode whether Community has fallen foul, especially since, as a rule, season openers are rarely ever that great. They can be good, but somehow always fall short of true greatness. And 'Anthropology 101' was no different.

I've never been that fond of this episode. It was good Community, not great Community. But it still had its moments. Chief amongst them was that exceptional opening sequence. It was a brilliantly simple way of reintroducing all the central characters and giving us a quick snapshot of who they are without relying on clunky exposition. It also provides us with a rare, and very welcome, glimpse into their lives away from campus. and you've just gotta love the portrait of his younger self Pierce has hanging over his bed.


But I am annoyed by how this episode offers a quick fix solution for all the romantic drama from the season one finale. With no one left to compete with, Britta has decided that she no longer loves Jeff, Professor Slater appears to have fallen through a crack in time and vanished off the face of the earth, and now that she's seen what a selfish, insensitive douchebag he can be, Annie finds Jeff gross. It feels like the overall purpose of this episode was to reset the group dynamic to the way it was pre-Tranny Dance and put the Jeff/Britta/Annie love triangle to bed for the time being.

I don't like how they handled the Jeff and Annie situation at all. I know that this is going to make me sound like a grumpy shipper who is just bitter that they didn't get their own way. Well, that's because I am and I make no apology for it. Jeff kissing Annie was a game changer. But the writers are clearly not ready to change the game so we get a reset, which I am quite upset about. You can't just tease us for a season, give us the kiss we've been dying for and then just decide “yeah, sorry guys, we're not ready to develop this yet, we're just going to sweep it under the rug for now and go on as if it never really happened.” I don't know about anyone else, but that just feels like a punch in the face, much like the deserved one Annie gives Jeff after she finds out he slept with Britta.

Since he was the one who tore the group apart, it was only fitting that Jeff be the one to try and bring it back together again. Time for another one of Winger's trademark impassioned speeches. And it is a good one. But it was overshadowed slightly by Jeff getting the crap kicked out of him by Betty White. Nothing reunites a broken group more quickly than seeing one of their own getting strangled by an TV legend. For a 90-year-old, Betty's sure got some moves on her. I wouldn't want to mess with her.

I feel I should address Chang, because I'm not going to do it from now on. His entire arc this season is basically the plot of that episode with Jack Black stretched out to 24 episodes. Yeah, it is that bad. So I've chosen to completely ignore it and him for the rest of the season. So sorry Chang fans (assuming there are any), but this will be the absolute last mention of Chang in any of the season two reviews.

Josie Says...

Mark said, "[Chang's] entire arc this season is basically the plot of that episode with Jack Black stretched out to 24 episodes." And, as always, Mark is right. I love the idea of living Chang-free while we finish these reviews, and I'll help shoulder that burden right after this paragraph, which requires some Chang:

I've talked before (especially in "The Art of Discourse) about how one of Community's occasional jokes is the so-unfunny-it-comes-back-around-again-to-be-funny. Jack Black, Chang, and to some degree Pierce all fall into this category, and this episode emphasizes that with a great scene that epitomizes how complicated the jokes on this show are. Pierce says humanity's greatest tool is his penis, and no one laughs. Troy tweets it, everyone gets the tweet, and then they laugh. Comedy requires distance, especially the unfunny-becomes-funny comedy of an old man making an inappropriate, tone-deaf comment. Knowing Pierce would be annoying. Watching Pierce from the safe distance of our couches (or in the world of the show, from a Twitter feed) has more comic potential, because we can mock his unfunniness, which is basically laughing at it.

Abed emphasizes this, in part, when he explains that he understands that the study group isn't a TV show. He says to Jeff, "We have you." And his tone is vaguely disappointed--he would rather be friends with Hawkeye, Batman, or another epic character than be stuck with the bundle of contradictory flaws that is Jeff Winger (or the average human). We're being asked to hold two contradictory thoughts in our head: empathy with these characters as though they were real people, and distance from them in order to be able to laugh at their quirky foibles. Abed, as the show's meta-mouthpiece, is the one who emphasizes the complicated emotional-cum-cognitive reactions we're meant to have.

That's fascinating from an academic point of view, but whenever Community gets that heavy-handed with the comic circularity, it loses sight of what we really want: a few more serious chuckles and something to root for. There are some great episodes in Season Two that provide both of those, but this, my friends, ain't one of 'em. Although watching Betty White rap was pretty cool.

Notes and Quotes

--Old White Man Says (@oldwhitemansays) is a sly dig at S**t My Father Says. Unlike Toy Story 3, it is not a timeless reference.

--Betty White guest starred and didn't score an Emmy nomination. That tells you everything about how the Emmys feel about Community. When Betty White can't get any Emmy for guest starring on your show, you know you're in trouble.

Abed: "I'm hoping we can move away from the soap-y relationship-y stuff and into bigger, fast-paced, self-contained escapades."

Abed: "TV makes sense. It has logic, structure, rules. And likable leading men... We have you."

Abed: "Shirley, do you want to spin-off with me?"
Shirley: "I don't understand, are you being meta?"

Troy: "I'm just sharing what you say."
Pierce: "Yeah? Well, what if I share all the stuff you say? He thinks all dogs are boys and all cats are girls."
Troy: "There's no way to disprove that. Have you ever seen a cat penis?"

Two and a half out of four weapons that kick the crap out of respect.
---
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.

3 comments:

celticmarc said...

Ahhhhhhh

The one with Betty White

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing.

ChrisB said...

I agree with Abed. Let's get rid of the soapy, relationship stuff. For some reason, it doesn't work for me and leaves me feeling a bit uncomfortable. Mark's right -- the re-set feels forced.