With this episode, Yahoommunity takes one step forward and then another step forward, but in the wrong direction. I know I go on and on about how I appreciate it when the show feels more grounded and some fans have no idea what I’m going on about and want me to shut up. But I probably won’t ever for two reasons, which I’ll reiterate here again:
1. Dan Harmon has announced specific intent to scale back the show’s madness for going on two seasons now, so I’m always looking for the payoff of that intent.
2. Whether it’s a simple story about getting Troy to join the football team or a high-concept episode concerning multiple timelines, a premise on Community only truly succeeds when the characters are at its heart.
“Queer Studies and Advanced Waxing,” even more so than “Basic Crisis Room Decorum” before it, clearly has its heart in the right place. In fact, this is the first time in a long while that I’ve felt something approaching a new stage of character development as the episode explores Dean Pelton’s sexuality more directly than it ever has in the past. Mind you, we don’t, in the end, learn anything too earth-shattering except that the Dean believes labeling himself gay is a gross oversimplification.
And it’s completely fine that this is all we learn. I don’t think there’s any real comedy to be mined from spelling out the nitty-gritty of the Dean’s sexual preference(s). Furthermore, eliminating this weird mystique would be a disservice to the character. (Also, even though it’s the internet, I imagine there’s only so much they could get away with anyway.)
Just that the Dean is openly addressing and responding to the suggestion that he’s gay reveals a new layer to his character as it is. I imagine some people won’t really care for it because it’s handled so bluntly; this unveiling of a layer could be seen as simultaneously removing a layer of the Dean’s whimsical nature. Yes, in the olden days of Community no one would have outright asked Dean Pelton if he were gay, but when a show’s been around for 101 episodes (literally), where else are you going to go with your characters? To hell with subtlety and vagueness! Why not have a whole episode about how gay (or not) the Dean actually is?
Where “Queer Studies and Advanced Waxing” falters is in its B plot about Chang and Annie trying out for a play adaptation of The Karate Kid. It’s nice to see Chang get a more legit storyline than he’s had in goodness knows how long, but there’s nothing about it that’s fun to witness. Almost the entire plot is the acting teacher (Jason Mantzoukas) verbally abusing Chang. There’s a small twist to it with Annie, but the enjoyment of the story is largely predicated on how much you enjoy watching this guy scream at Chang. His insults are certainly creative; they’re so constructed they’re kind of like abuse poetry. But there’s nothing particularly comedic about them, so these scenes just drag.
This is the core problem with the episode. The internet being the wacky free-for-all that it is, “Queer Studies” clocks in at a big ol’ 31-minute running time. Please don’t think I believe comedy can only function properly when it’s confined to 22 minutes; there are numerous British shows that fly in the face of such a silly notion. However, when a show has operated under the same constraints for some time, it requires a certain pacing and builds a rhythm we all grow accustomed to. The breathing room provided by these extra minutes lets the writers cram in more of the stuff they want, but that rhythm is compromised.
The episode just feels kind of… flabby. The “Gay Dean” parody of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” is funny, but only the first time. However, we get two separate montages scored to it. I know it’s important to the end of Chang’s plot that we see him grow into a great actor, but it’s also clear the writers just badly wanted to do a near-total stage recreation of The Karate Kid as well; we definitely didn’t need to see that much of the play. Abed and Elroy’s C plot (which you may have noticed I didn’t even bother to mention till just now) is actually about sitting around and killing time.
The pacing is just slowed way down and that affects the comedy. There are some great moments, sure. I liked the Dean and Jeff secretly trying to work out whether Frankie might be gay, the repeated gag of Elroy shouting down Britta is great, and I laughed at the Dean telling his prop gay lover to back off some (“It’s like you’re breathing for me”). But still, the jokes just don’t come as fast and furiously as they once had to with a shorter running time. Furthermore, when a comedy starts overstaying its welcome, one simply begins to feel drained and less inclined to laugh.
“Queer Studies and Advanced Waxing” is the most solidly plotted, grounded episode of Season 6 yet. The only problem is, well, it gets boring.