A review of tonight's "Community" coming up just as soon as I need an accent...
Something didn't feel right to me about "Mixology Certification" for a very long time. The jokes in teaser seemed flat verging on mean (there's mocking Pierce and then there's... that) and the parallel car rides and long sequence on a new set both struck me as off, even though the show has done both car scenes (Pierce listening to his mother's message) and new location scenes (the party at Jeff's law firm) before, and quite well.
It was more than the locations, though. It was the attitude. This was a sad episode of "Community." No one seemed very comfortable, people were bickering, Shirley was revisiting her dark past (and getting laughed at over it). Even Annie's Corpus Christi alter ego, while a fun piece of business for Alison Brie to play, had a whiff of desperation to it even before she explained to us (by way of the bartender) all her fears about her future. So even though there were some funny jokes sprinkled in there (Troy complaining "It's my birthday!" to get Britta to stop her PC attempt to say something nice about Beirut, or Abed admitting he just wanted to keep discussing "Farscape" with the gay guy), it all felt a bit bleak.
And that, of course, was the point. This was, as Abed noted on the drive home from the bar, a really dark chapter in the group's story. It was there to illustrate that while both college and young adulthood can be a liberating time in your life, there can also be sad and scary moments where you don't know what you're going to do, or don't like what you've become, or can't stand reminders of what you used to be.
And more importantly, it was there to illustrate that there's a flipside to childhood as well as adulthood - that Troy, the most naive and immature member of the group by far (and yes, that includes Pierce) also hasn't become corrupted by self-doubt (like Annie) or cynicism (like Jeff and Britta) or a dark past (like Shirley). Troy has his flaws and blind spots, but he's sweet and compassionate and (particularly in the scene at the door to Annie's apartment, where he lists all the many things that he thinks defines her as a cool person) awesome.
"Community" gets pegged as an ironic show, or a show too obsessed with meta humor and/or pop culture references, or a show with barely a toe in reality. But I think it's a testament to the world and the characters that Dan Harmon and company have created that the show can be versatile enough to give us, in a five-episode span, a full-on zombie attack on Greendale, a locked-room mystery that becomes an intense character study, a parody of conspiracy thrillers and now this quiet, contemplative, sweet shaggy dog story of an episode. Contrary to Annie's fears about having one track and only that track for her life, college is a time of limitless possibilities, and some weeks "Community" feels just as limitless. They can't do this kind of episode every week, nor would I want them to, but by the end of Troy's birthday road trip, it felt just right.
What did everybody else think?
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