2.13 Celebrity Pharmacology
Although set in a college and involving teenagers, both chronologically and emotionally, Community doesn’t make as much use of its setting as you might think, preferring instead to explore the character comedy arising from the group’s archetypes, along with Troy and Abed’s bromance.
This week, however, Community goes all after school special on us, giving us their very unique take on a morality tale in two acts. The evils of drugs, dependency of any kind and underage sexting all get the Russo treatment. Yup, it’s time for Community to do Degrassi Junior High, in Celebrity Pharmacology.
Annie, under the guise of giving something back, ropes the rest of the group into performing an anti-drugs play, to be performed in front of an audience of at-risk teens, one of whom is Brita’s nephew. Clearly, that runs in their family.
With Pierce cast as the evil Weed, but with no lines, he desperately tries to get Annie to supersize his part. When the usual begging doesn’t work, he follows her home and ostensibly bribes her, under the pretext of helping a kindred spirit, and here begineth the lesson.
In the wake of accepting an enormous cheque that means she won’t have to empty her ovaries, Annie allows her new benefactor to ride roughshod over her production, and disaster, of course, ensues. Never in the history of after school specials has weed looked so unappealing, and yet, the at-risk kids love Pierce, demanding more drugs with menaces. Apparently, sparklers are the best way to win over surly teenagers.
Of course, Celebrity Pharmacology isn’t really about the evils of drugs. As mentioned earlier, it’s about the evils of dependence, but it’s also about demons. While Annie struggles with the spectre of her breakdown and addiction, she’s also fighting for her independence. Having been cut off by her parents and the period fairy, she’s barely able to pay the rent, and seemingly unable to get past the consequences of her addiction. Pierce’s offer is clearly too good to turn down, but unusually for Pierce, his motives aren’t creepy, bigoted or inappropriate in any way.
In this episode, we finally get to see a little of what drives Pierce, and while it’s not original, it is incredibly telling. Having caught a glimpse of Pierce Senior, thanks to some old home movie-style advertising, the reason for Pierce Jr’s annoying personality becomes clear. What’s not explained, however, is why he never got over it. He’s a pensioner, and his father’s advertising-related rejection still bothers him. Don’t all rich people acquire a therapist accessory as soon as they can afford it for precisely these reasons?
Annie’s selling out of her principles actually repulses the group this week. Where usually Jeff would be congratulating Annie on her business acumen, in Degrassi Greendale High, even the ex-lawyer is disgusted, although that could partly be due to the fact that she’s making him wear cat ears.
In fact, he’s more than disgusted, he’s actually concerned about the 50 potential meth heads Pierce has inspired, and they turn to the one and only ex-Senor Chang to scare the bejesus out of the kids. He, of course, turns in a stellar performance, and after taking the beating of his life from a bunch of sugar-crazed 14-year-olds, it’s happy endings all round. Degrassi would be very proud.
This being Community. though, the B-story more than tempers the pseudo-morality of the main arc, and then some. Through a Chang-inspired macguffin that leaves Britta’s phone in Jeff’s grubby hands, he ‘accidentally’ propositions her 14-year-old nephew, which is creepy enough. What’s creepier, however, is the fact that the nephew wholeheartedly accepts that proposition. It takes the strategic theft of Britta’s bra (the mechanics of which are never fully explained) to keep the kid quiet. Remember kids, drugs are bad, but fantasising about your hot aunt is totally cool.
Celebrity Pharmacology is one of those Community episodes that doesn’t reveal it’s brilliance straight away. It totally creeps up on you, and before you know it, you’re watching a pitch perfect recreation of hundreds of after school specials, but with sincerity and more than a little heart, and the underlying subversion stops it from becoming sentimental.
It’s a beautifully crafted slice of TV heaven, and one more reason why this show is head and shoulders above almost every other comedy currently on your tellybox. They even find time to move the Chang/Shirley storyline on during the am-dram shenanigans, and their final scene is almost touching. Almost.
As always, Ken Jeong is utterly fabulous, and the split personality intimations are hilarious and scarily believable. Is it crazy to hope that Shirley will get over her Theo-love and accept the madness of ex-Senor Chang? Stranger things have happened, right?
As Community episodes go, this is, without doubt, about to become a classic. Beautifully written, scored to perfection and performed with relish by the cast, this show is still yet to put a foot wrong. We can but hope that the perfection continues well into the future.
Read our review of episode 12, Asian Population Studies, here.
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