Review: 'Community' - 'Analysis of Cork-Based Networking': Bear down or fat dog?
A review of tonight's "Community" coming up just as soon as I detonate a mollusk...
I don't know if the creative team specifically wanted the first Donald Glover-less episode to be loaded with guest stars so we'd be less likely to dwell on Troy's absence — I was so pleased to have Professor Duncan on the committee, for instance, that I didn't even notice at first that Chang took Troy's chair at the table — or if the scheduling simply worked out that way, given that several of the guests have day jobs on other shows. (Though Andy Bobrow at least joked that it was the former.) But what on paper should have been a treat was instead the weakest episode of the season so far.
And the lack of Troy wasn't the problem. Glover didn't have a lot to do in several of the episodes he was in this year, after all. It was that "Community" took a bunch of actors — Nathan Fillion, Paget Brewster, Brie Larson, Kumail Nanjiani, Robert Patrick and Katie LeClerc — many of whom have established comedy chops, and didn't give them especially funny things to do, in an episode that was ultimately too busy introducing them all while keeping the regulars busy to really work comedically.
The marriage of "Community" and Fillion — a funny, game-for-anything, extremely geek-friendly performer — seemed like it should have been perfect, and at least he got two jokes to play (the snootiness of the custodians vs. the janitors, as well as their love of porn) as opposed to Brewster not really getting any. The idea of Annie and Buzz getting drawn into this labyrinth — and one of the few jokes that made me laugh out loud involved Buzz and Dean Pelton's very different ideas of who might be found in a labyrinth — necessitated that we meet lots of different characters with their own petty agendas, but the show had to keep moving from character to character before any of them, or potential jokes related to them, got to develop into anything amusing.(*)
(*) In an odd coincidence, tonight's "Parks and Recreation" had a similar structure, with Leslie having to arrange a series of interlocking favors for local power brokers. But it was only a minor element of that "Parks" episode, and so the sketchiness of each scene and character didn't matter as much.
That said, the emotional beats of the story worked quite well. Annie and Jeff often make an interesting duo because of the contrast of his cynicism and Annie's idealism. Buzz is a cynic, but in a different way, so that their conflict didn't feel like a rehash. The newspaper clippings on his bulletin board suggest his police career fell apart because he cared too much about a case, and he has clearly resolved to never care too much about anything anymore. So for him to become buoyed by Annie's optimism, even after she gets caught up in cynical compromises, and mount the bulletin board on his own — in a scene beautifully scored with Roxy Music's "More Than This" — felt surprisingly touching, given how recently Buzz was added to the show. (Though it helps, as always, to imagine him as Mike Ehrmantraut relocated to Colorado to escape Heisenberg's web of destruction.)
The emotions were also the most effective part of the Abed/Britta subplot. As someone who's had more than a few run-ins with people trying to spoil "Game of Thrones" for me through their knowledge of the books — and as someone negotiating the idea of spoilers in a world where everyone is increasingly watching TV on their own schedule — I was amused by the basic idea of Abed and Britta's feud, and also by Abed's early struggles with sign language. But it was a fairly disposable C-story until the moment in the cafeteria where Abed finds out that the Katie LeClerc character sold him out to Britta. There's an earlier joke where Britta notes that Abed from time to time will have intense compatibility with a woman who will then never be heard from again, like Eliza Coupe as the Secret Service agent. LeClerc has to get back to "Switched at Birth," but it's not surprising that in the immediate aftermath of Troy's departure, Abed would be looking for a new relationship to dive into, and when Britta ruins this fling, he's lucky enough to run into another of his past intense interests in Brie Larson as Rachel the coat check girl. Other than Jeff graduating Greendale, this is the first significant detail from season 4 to be referenced — there's yet another joke about that being "the gas leak year," but Abed even says he has to stop using that as an excuse — and though I didn't love the episode that introduced her, I did like Larson and Danny Pudi together, and I'm glad the new/old creative team saw fit to have her come back.
As for the dance decorating committee subplot, it felt pretty insubstantial, most notable for trying to again address the matter of why Chang's presence is still tolerated, given his many transgressions against Greendale in general and this group in particular. Still, I enjoyed seeing the rest of the committee slowly turn into Changs themselves as they tried to explain the "Fat Dog for Midterms" concept to Annie, and I will never not find Garrett screaming funny.
Overall, though, "Analysis of Cork-Based Networking" was a missed opportunity. So much talent on hand. So little done with them. Oh well.
What did everybody else think?