Community season 5 episode 7 review: Bondage And Beta-Male Sexuality

Review Mark Harrison 28 Feb 2014 - 13:01

Community delivers an episode no other sitcom could do as brilliantly. Here's Mark's take on Bondage And Beta-Male Sexuality...

This review contains spoilers.

5.7 Bondage And Beta-Male Sexuality

“She's everything I love about America. Bold. Opinionated. Just past her peak. Starting to realise she has to settle for less.”

Back in the second season, Community hit a high point with Mixology Certification, in which Troy's 21st birthday celebrations turned surprisingly melancholy. Coming back from a Sochi-mandated hiatus, Bondage And Beta Male Sexuality feels like the first episode since that one to find the characters in that same sort of mood - close to closing time at some quiet venue, turning their thoughts to more existential matters.

After a halting attempt at a British high-five (on the lips) a few episodes ago, Professor Duncan decides to make a move on his protegé in rubbish psychiatry, Britta Perry. Determining that the way to her heart is through caring about starving children with cleft palates, he's dismayed when the whole study group winds up accompanying the two of them to a theatre benefit.

The result is a hair's breadth away from the masterful stacking of plots that went on in earlier seasons, only just bailing out on keeping the whole cast occupied by having Annie and Shirley bail to McDonalds at the beginning of the episode. Shirley's due some more focus soon - this being Community, they even lampshade her recent absence in the script. While they're away though, everyone else gets a chance to shine.

John Oliver has proven to be one of the show's best, most underused assets since the series began, and it's nice to finally get an episode in which he takes centre stage. With his apparent lack of availability since the end of season two, Duncan's character has never really been as fleshed out as the others in the group.

It's nice to see a side to him beyond the slightly desperate creep, even if it's only in seeing that he's quite earnest beneath his outwardly desperate and creepy demeanour. His not-entirely-awful advances on a dejected Britta actually lead to a nice moment between the two, which reinforces the recent suggestions that the character needs to stop kicking her own arse and be happy in herself.

But Oliver gets a ton of killer comedic moments here too, whether it's describing himself as the British Jason Biggs, lecturing on the virtues of arcane British comedy duo Rimples and Splickett, or executing a pitch perfect, almost wordless bout of awkwardness with Jim Rash's Dean in the end credits tag. In a great episode, this might be the most brilliantly judged moment, putting the two most nebbish characters into a room together and having them bumble at each other about abortive dinner plans.

Meanwhile, the bondage part of the title refers to another showdown between Professor Hickey and Abed, the former of whom thinks that everyone's favourite meta-aware student is simply too used to getting what he wants. Abed ends up destroying a whole bunch of Hickey's Jim the Duck artwork and the former cop detains him in his office to teach him a lesson.

What follows is a terrific extended confrontation that never leaves Hickey's office. It's the first time in a while that we've seen someone downright refuse to indulge Abed, and it's interesting to think that he's actually been around, somewhere in the background of every game that descended into chaos over the last four years, getting steadily more pissed off about it.

There's a more meaty part for Danny Pudi too, whose initial response to being handcuffed to Hickey's filing cabinet, dressed in homemade Kickpuncher regalia, is to go on the defensive and accuse Hickey of bullying him like everyone did when he was in high school. Then he tries flattering his artwork, and when that doesn't work, he lashes out and hurts the doodling professor's feelings instead.

Abed remains a far more complicated character than he appears, and it's interesting to see how difficult his behaviour can be without the study group around. Jonathan Banks is killing it as usual, bringing some of that Breaking Bad gravitas down on what he sees as Abed's entitlement. His passion for his amateurish comics is a lovely character detail too, making him far sweeter than he appears, and ultimately helping him to find common ground with his nemesis before the episode is through.

But most of the characters in this episode wind up finding what they're looking for through someone else unexpectedly opening up. Britta is racked by existential crisis about having sold out, or worse, accomplished nothing at all, until “creepy” Duncan gives her a ride home and reassures her. In turn, Duncan finally finds a friend in Jeff, after pretty much just being acquaintances for the last four years. And Abed and Buzz wind up working on a screenplay about cops together, helping both of them to open up in their creative pursuits, rather than isolating themselves.

There's so much going on in this twenty minute span, it's almost difficult to find time to talk about Chang's C-plot, apparently being wound up by ghosts at the theatre, which is easily the best use of the character since the second season. The final nod to The Shining is a brilliant cap to the episode, and in almost any other episode, this would have been one of the best things about it.

Ostensibly, Bondage And Beta Male Sexuality is an unusual choice of episode to kick off the second half of the season. But it wouldn't have done to have another paintball/floor-is-made-of-lava scale episode, when this so aptly continues this season's rehabilitation of the characters, balancing some of the laugh-out-loud funniest dialogue in ages, with some of the most lovely and intimate moments all the way through.

It might not be the kind of Community you want every single week, but it's definitely the kind of episode that no sitcom but Community could do as well as this, with stunning performances from the stalwart cast, some terrific writing, and that epic takedown of Dane Cook's short and terrible film career, by none other than the British Jason Biggs himself.

Read Mark's review of the previous episode, Analysis Of Cork-Based Networking, here.

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I really liked this episode. I've never thought of the Community cast as especially good actors (not to say I ever thought they were bad), but in this episode they were brilliant. I was especially pleased with Jonathan's performance. The writing was as good and as funny as ever.

Great review, the last paragraph summed up this episode perfectly. An episode other sitcoms cannot do without resorting to melodrama. The 'unfunny' Community episodes (Mixology Certification, Virtual Systems Analysis and this episode) are stand out episodes and I love them all.

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