Review: 'Community' - 'Economics of Marine Biology': Whale hunt

Dean Pelton wants a rich slacker to attend Greendale, while Jeff spends a day with Pierce

<p>On &quot;Community,&quot;&nbsp;Jeff (Joel McHale)&nbsp;and Pierce (Chevy Chase)&nbsp;enjoy a day at the barber.</p>

On "Community," Jeff (Joel McHale) and Pierce (Chevy Chase) enjoy a day at the barber.

Credit: NBC

A review of tonight's "Community" coming up just as soon as I go to Dubai with that sheik I meet at Trader Joe's...

I'm still waiting for a season 4 episode to make me laugh as loudly and consistently as the show can at its best, but "Economics of Marine Biology" was a perfectly decent example of the kind of campus hijinks episodes the series did a lot in season 1 before shifting towards more ambitious concepts in seasons 2 and 3. We got two interlocking stories (Dean/Annie/Britta and Jeff/Pierce), an unrelated Troy/Shirley subplot and an Abed running gag. Not all of it worked — Abed's fraternity seemed mainly an excuse to give Danny Pudi something to do this week — but it was pleasant and suggested the new creative team is starting to get a handle on how they can make the show work.

The Jeff/Pierce story, in particular, was welcome. This has been such a terrible season for Pierce that it's easy to understand the anger that motivated Chevy Chase's show-quitting tantrum, even if you can't defend many of the things Chevy did and said on his way out the door. It feels like too often on the show, everyone's dislike of working with Chevy informs the way Pierce is written, when the character has worked best when you get moments (like the end of "Beginner Pottery") where he's not just an oblivious, racist dick being kept in the group out of pity. The Jeff/Pierce relationship, and the way that Pierce wants to be a father figure to Jeff, has been one of the stronger emotional through lines of the series when the series remembers it exists, and it was about time it came up again in the wake of Jeff confronting his actual father.

Dean Pelton trying to land a whale, meanwhile, suggested an interesting new direction for the character, who usually seems grossly incompetent at best. Here, he was ruthless and goal-oriented, and sucked Annie, Britta and poor Magnitude ("Diggity-do?") into his mission. I think I would have liked a stranger, more "Community" resolution to the story than Archie simply appreciating the idea of being at a place where people don't kiss his ass all the time, but I liked it overall.

And the P.E.E. subplot was the second time this season (after Halloween) to put Troy and Shirley together without any other regulars around. It's a pairing the show never really went to in the first three seasons, which is surprising — not because Donald Glover and Yvette Nicole Brown are both black, but because Shirley's maternal qualities and Troy's childlike persona seem to fit together perfectly. It was a very Greendale-y kind of class, and the obligatory inspirational montage was a good use of Chang: bring him in, let Ken Jeong do some goofy physical comedy, and get him out quick before anyone starts questioning why this guy is still around.

Nothing fancy, and Troy's reaction to Britta in the tag was the only really big laugh I had all episode, but this is a version of the show that Port, Guarascio and company can very clearly make.

Some other thoughts:

* Unrelated to this episode, but Alison Brie's appearance on the cover of the new issue of Wired makes me think two things: 1)The cover was designed to make Dean Pelton's head explode, and 2)If the show ever does another "Mad Men" homage, Danny Pudi is perhaps no longer a lock to play Don Draper.

* This episode featured one of the longer study room scenes of the season so far, but with Pelton substituting for Pierce. Still waiting for an episode where we just spend a good chunk of time with the seven original regulars bantering around the table.

* The Thanksgiving episode finally revealed that Jeff is constantly composing texts to no one, and here we see him doing more of that right after the opening credits. Later, though, his actual texts back and forth to Annie become a plot point.

* I didn't catch all the "coach" names, but at least a few of Troy and Shirley's fellow students were named after "Community" writers past and present, like Karey Dornetto.

* The running gag with Troy endorsing Let's Potato Chips (and kicking Britta out of bed when she prefers a different brand) was an amusing spoof of the kind of product integration almost every show has to resort to these days to pay the bills, and also brought back the fake brand featured throughout the series. (Leonard reviewed it last season.)

What did everybody else think?

Alan-sepinwall-sm
Alan Sepinwall
Sr. Editor, What's Alan Watching
Alan Sepinwall has been reviewing television since the mid-'90s, first for Tony Soprano's hometown paper, The Star-Ledger, and now for HitFix. His new book, "The Revolution Was Televised," about the last 15 years of TV drama, is for sale at Amazon. He can be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com
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