Last week, I thought we had a breakthrough on the new and-not-so improved Community. The previous episode, “Advanced Documentary Filmmaking,” was a pretty good stab at recapturing that old Community magic. Nobody can ever quite mimic Dan Harmon’s singular voice (clearly), but at least the characters felt like their old selves and the adventure felt uniquely Greendale. How sad it is then that we take two steps forward and…well, another two steps back in “Economics of Marine Biology.” The culprit? Yet again trying to recreate, via generic sitcom set-up, those genius theme episodes.
This week, the storyline is separated into the classic A, B and C sitcom formula. There is a D strand as well: Abed’s “plot.” But it is really more of a straight up F. When the Dean announces that a new “whale” (lazy rich kid who can be in school forever) is coming to scope Greendale out, he gets the whole campus ready to win him over. However, our fair Dean also refuses to allow the school to create a fake fraternity. So, in the face of authoritative denial, Abed storms away outraged shouting “Delta Cubes, Delta Cubes, Delta Cubes.” Get it? It’s kind of like that scene in Animal House. Kind of. If you squint your eyes and then maybe cover your ears.
If you are going to do a theme episode, go all the way. Commit to it. Do not regulate it to the D-story. If you want to do NBC’s preferred episodes, early Season 1 Community, then do that too. Do not half-ass both. This happened before when there was an awful Shawshank Redemption “parody” a few weeks back. Luckily, it was helped in one of the fourth season’s best plots of Jeff, with Britta’s pathetic attempt at the word help, meeting his deadbeat dad played perfectly by James Brolin. This week, the five-second fail at a college movie theme is not so aided.
To land his whale, the Dean goes all Ahab on the school and pretends it is a partying joint with Shaun White as an instructor. He enlists Annie and Britta as his two favorite Greendale co-eds to help sell this image. Also to keep his previous whale Pierce happy, as he’s about ready for the oil factory, the Dean forces Annie to puppy dog eyes Jeff. Thus the B (and single highlight) story this week is Jeff and Pierce bonding in one of Pierce’s old haunts.
Jeff and Pierce actually hit it off in a kind of barber shop that is really a masquerade for disheveled white men yearning for the 1960s to hide. As Pierce tries to seduce Jeff into being his surrogate son for the 50th time, silent servants give them a classy shave and expensive cigars. After their faces are nice and clean, it is time for fine wine. One imagines this is the kind of place where the brandy is always pouring and the racism is ever spewing. Of course, Jeff loves it. So much so that he comes back the next day, even when Pierce discovers that Jeff was only patronizing him. There are the nice, dramatic and funny moments of the episode.
Meanwhile, Shirley and Troy get to re-live a less amusing version of their storyline in “Beginner Pottery.” In that classic episode, Shirley, Troy, Britta and Pierce take a boating class in the school parking lot. Sickeningly-sweet Shirley is made boat captain and becomes a tyrant with her given power. When the ancient screw-up Pierce falls overboard onto the asphalt, Shirley leaves him to “drown”, but comes back for him when it happens a second time. Now, she is the gym teacher’s pet in their PE class where they are trained to be PE teachers. Troy, big man athlete from Season 1, is cocky at the start but proves to be a terrible instructor. Shirley, on the other hand, is a natural after raising two boys. She will pick Troy last during team-ups, but ultimately helps him teach Chevin (Chang-Kevin) how to drink from the water fountain. The episode ends with everything right in the world and the whale agreeing to come to Greendale, even after he learns from the Dean he cannot steal “Pop, Pop” for himself.
Oh and Abed’s Delta Cubes are still sticking to the Dean! Hur. Ray.
This was just an awkward show. I figured after last week, they finally found their footing. Instead, it seems they really were aided by it being the third faux-documentary shot by Abed. Doing a theme episode that has been done twice before left the training wheels on. It also kept Abed behind the camera, which is probably for the best now when the writers do not know how to write his brilliant psychosis. If you are only going to half-heartedly do a theme, why bother? A Greendale Fraternity episode is a funny enough idea for a whole show. Likewise, Jeff being seduced by Pierce’s old white man indulgences, while not original, is a fun idea. By dividing those things around a plot that goes nowhere other than giving the Dean a few good zingers and a rehash of a typical sitcom formula (role reversal for the “nice” character and the “arrogant” character) makes for very bland television.
This was not “Pop, Pop”. It was more like “Thud, Thud”.