'Community' - 'Anthropology 101': R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me
"Community" is back, boys and girls, and if you missed any of my cast and crew interviews over the summer, I talked with Donald Glover and Danny Pudi, Alison Brie, Dan Harmon, the Russo brothers and Yvette Nicole Brown. (And I have one more to go after next week's episode airs.) As for the premiere itself, a review coming up just as soon as I put on my Spider-Man jammies...
"I'm hoping we can move away from the soap-y relationship-y stuff and into bigger, fast-paced, self-contained escapades." -Abed
After a season finale I didn't like very much, "Community" opens season two in incredibly strong form, with an episode that turned the finale threads both good (Jeff/Annie kiss), bad (Britta/Jeff/Stabler triangle) and uncertain (Pierce/Troy as roommates) to its advantage. As Abed's meta quote above (and his later lament that he wanted more adventures like paintball) suggests, the romantic material of tended to be the iffiest part of season one, particularly where it involved Jeff and Britta. But the idea of Jeff and Britta having a very public, completely fake relationship built entirely on spite and one-upsmanship? Fantastic. I laughed a very long time at their awkward French kiss and their various other hostile PDAs, and Britta's embrace of her newfound popularity among the women of Greendale (when, as Jeff reminded us, not being liked by women was always one of her hang-ups) was a very nice area in which Gillian Jacobs got to play(*).
(*) Can any of our many breakdance afficianados name the specific dance move Britta kept trying? It wasn't quite pop-and-lock, and it wasn't quite fish-out-of-water, and those are two of the three moves I can readily identify. (The other is the one where you spin around on a piece of cardboard.)
And the fallout from both Britta/Jeff and Jeff/Annie helped create some good tension within the group, particularly in the wedding scene where one secret (Jeff and Britta's post-apocalyptic nookie) after another (Jeff and Annie's kiss) came out. As meta as Abed gets - and then as much as the other characters (here Shirley and Jeff) comment on his meta nature - what makes the character, and the show's various pop culture fetishes, work is that they're never there just as namechecks. Abed is the way he is for a reason, which Danny Pudi plays beautifully as he reminds the trouble-making Jeff, "TV makes sense. It has logic, structure, rules. And likable leading men... We have you."
There are comedies whose push for warm-and-fuzzy endings either ring false(**) or just seem unnecessary(***), but they're an essential part of "Community," and often the most effective part. Abed's speech was a terrific moment, and even better was Jeff's speech about respect, which was heartfelt and then hilariously undercut by Betty White trying to kill Jeff while Pierce threw urine on him. As Slappy Squirrel would say, now that's comedy.
(**) For the false kind, see CBS' "($#*!) My Dad Says," which premiered immediately after "Community," and which was parodied here in the subplot about Troy's @oldwhitemansays Twitter feed, which I've been taking great pleasure out of in the week since I first watched the premiere. Interesting, though, that "Community" would take on that show and not the one directly competing against it, but "($#*!)" is an easier target, whereas I get the sense Harmon and Bill Prady from "Big Bang Theory" get along.
(***) While I loved many of the dramatic moments on "Scrubs," there were plenty of episodes that climaxed with JD learning some kind of lesson simply because that was the formula Bill Lawrence had set forth in the pilot.
And speaking of Betty White, I was pleased to see that Chris McKenna's script gave her an actual character to play, and not just another Old Ladies Say The Darndest Things role like she's been doing for most of this, The Year of Betty White(****). She was crazy, but not in a way that required an octogenarian actress to be funny so much as it required an actress with impeccable delivery and timing. Dan Harmon has said that he'd love to have White come back at some point, and I would heartily welcome that character back, if only so we can see her singing more '80s hits with Troy and Abed like their wonderful rendition of Toto's "Africa."
(****) Is it now The Year-Plus of Betty White? The Decade of Betty White?
Meanwhile, the episode did a good job of addressing the new position of the study group's former professor, as Senor Chang adjusted to life as Student Chang while being just as sleazy and imperious as ever. Jeff acknowledges to the group that they'll eventually have room in their pocket for a little spare Chang, and in the meantime we get to see Ken Jeong play the character working from a position of weakness, which is fun. Plus, he's Smeagol!
Add in one hilarious Troy moment after another (the Spider-Man pajamas as a hat-tip to the Donald Glover/Twitter/Spidey campaign, Troy greeting Britta with "Hi, 'Toy Story 3'!" and Troy selling out Jeff to have sex with one of the Britta groupies), Jeff dismissing "Twilight" as one long metaphor about how "men are monsters who crave young flesh," Annie punching Jeff, Annie and Shirley's dueling screams, and so many other great throwaway bits, and you had a premiere that showcases all that's good, decent and damn funny about "Community."
I love this show.
What did everybody else think?