Community: Grifting 101 Review

High-concept is low expectation when it comes to season six. Here's our Community review...

Yahoommunity has done its darnedest to stay grounded and be sorta-kinda about people at a college, but it’d probably be weird if season six didn’t indulge itself and scratch that homage itch at least a little bit. Last week was something of a tribute to creator Dan Harmon’s own beginnings and this episode, “Grifting 101,” is a more blunt parody of the classic Paul Newman, Robert Redford film The Sting. It’s just too bad these sorts of episodes have proven to be some of the dumbest and most unsatisfying of the season.

It’s a pretty low-key homage, as homages go. It all takes place in sets we’ve already seen and the fanciest thing the budget seems to have gone toward is a few-dozen identical suitcases and one really terrible special effect (that bit where Professor DeSalvo slips on some water). The only truly Sting-y things here are a ragtime score and the repeated use of iris out scene transitions. Well, that and the gang actually sits down to watch The Sting as research to try and grift the new professor of Grifting 101 (played by Matt Berry) as revenge for the grifting he did unto them (with the exception of Jeff, who he just pissed off).

The group decides that real-life successful grifting seems basically unfeasible (“so much construction!”). Abed loves The Sting and emulating movies, but even he hast to admit this isn’t going to work. In fact, he notes, it barely even makes sense when you analyze the film.

Unfortunately, that’s about as deep as “Grifting 101” gets with its premise. It does little more than say, “Hey, aren’t all those movies about twists and double-crosses very contrived?” and hopes you’ll find that funny enough. Well, for one, sure they’re contrived but who cares as long as they’re well-constructed and entertaining (like The Sting is)? Furthermore, this is far too similar to territory already trod upon by Community in its past in season two’s “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design,” which did it better by doubling (and tripling and quadrupling) down on the absurdity. But even then it wasn’t some of the show’s best, so why revisit such a similar concept?

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But the worst thing about “Grifting 101” is that it didn’t make me feel anything. When you realize you just watched an entire episode in near-silence, you wish it had been better, sure, but you’d probably have settled for it being worse so that you could at least be angry, just to have some kind of emotion to cling to.

As noted, the comedy is pretty one-note. There are a few good lines: “You hit me with a woman’s hand!” and Britta’s repeated, optimistic cry in the tag of “I’ll pay you back!” The best deconstruction of the grifting theme is the noisy, drawn-out suitcase swap when Matt Berry isn’t looking. And speaking of Matt Berry, he is, as a general rule, great, but he’s only about as funny as the episode’s material allows him to be, which is to say, not terribly. There’s also stuff that’s just awkward like Jeff’s over-telegraphed, weird orgasm noise when Annie tells him he was right. It’s also annoying that the episode contains the smug, clichéd phrase (and Childish Gambino album title!) “Because the Internet.” Also, heavens to Betsy, Leonard flips the bird! This ain’t your NBC’s Community!

There’s nothing else on the emotional spectrum here beyond goofy, really. The episode briefly touches on Jeff’s continuing existential crisis about being trapped at Greendale (thus finding solace in small, petty victories) but any gravity this subject might have is quickly brushed off to make room for more goofiness. I guess I can admire that Britta is once again the lynchpin that leads to the plot resolution. If season six is doing one thing right, it’s a decent job of rebuilding Britta as a competent, respectable character. But the overall episode is still such a silly throwaway thing, with its (perhaps deliberate, but still not excusable) lame plot twists and its “who cares” ending with the group jumping up and down shouting about hot dogs (something which felt similar in tone to the awful season five finale).

The high-concept stuff isn’t working out so hot for season six, which is worrying because next week is apparently yet another (*sigh*) paintball episode. Elroy bashes on The Sting a bunch in this episode, but, hey, unlike “Grifting 101,” at least that movie doesn’t grift the viewer out of a good time.

Okay, that was corny and a little melodramatic, but the bottom line is this episode wasn’t very good.

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2 out of 5