A review of last night's "Community" coming up just as soon as I go to Related Videos...

As I talk about a lot in these reviews, "Community" is always trying to balance its sillier impulses with its desire to tell honest character-based stories. Last week's space movie spoof leaned a little too far in the comedy direction (though it was quite funny), where I think "Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples" went the other way. As a spotlight on the ensembles' two most underused characters and the way each one feels alone, it worked quite well. But the comedy was more uneven.

Things started off well on the laugh front with Duncan wasting time in class showing YouTube videos (including what looked like the first of Dan Harmon's "Laser Fart" shorts for Channel 101), Pierce's shadow puppets failing to amuse and Shirley getting booed for her suggestion that he type "God." That scene also nicely set up the episode's dramatic conflicts: though Pierce wants to feel young and vital, he's just a caveman, and the study group's world of viral videos confuses and frightens him; while Shirley has collected a group of friends who neither share nor care about her particular faith.

From there, I thought the Pierce story was by far the funnier one. I loved the idea of Leonard and the other Hipsters turning their perceived weaknesses to their advantage, getting away with all kinds of bad behavior by blaming it on dementia. Troy deciding that Pierce was suddenly awesome was great (Troy is really easily swayed, isn't he?), and though this episode may have had the smallest amount of Joel McHale screentime in the life of the series, he made the most of the final scene where he accepted his dad role and bailed out petulant teenager Pierce. All in all, it was a nice mix of humor and pathos, and one of the better Chevy Chase showcases in a while.

Abed's Charlie Kaufman-esque film about Jesus, on the other hand, was a joke that I don't think worked at all, and then kept going and going and going. Yes, films about the struggles of filmmakers can be tiresome (ditto TV shows about making TV shows, novels about novelists, limericks about the difficulty of rhyming "orange," etc.), but despite all the uses of the word "meta," the story actually felt much less meta than many other Abed stories (see his behavior in the season two premiere), and it just wasn't all that funny. (The biggest laugh I got out of the subplot was Abed's line about the Ben Lyons review of "I Am Legend.")

Yet I thought this was one of Yvette Nicole Brown's strongest performances on the show to date, and I did feel for Shirley throughout, even as I didn't think the humor was working at all. And that's why the show's belief in character-driven writing is so important. If it's just a collection of absurdist gags and references, then on those occasions when the jokes don't work (which happens to every comedy from time to time, even the greats), it's just a mess. But when the absurdity is paired with fully-realized characters whose arcs continue over a long period (as opposed to the randomness of last week's Annie transfer subplot), there's still something to hold onto, even when you're not laughing.

What did everybody else think?