"Aerodynamics of Gender" is one of those weird episodes of Community that requires the characters to just abruptly act a certain way for little to no reason, yet an episode that sort of sells the action anyway, just because the actors doing the heavy lifting are so darn great. Make no mistake about it: The Troy and Jeff find a secret trampoline plot is one of the goofiest things this show has ever done, yet also one of the show's best B-stories ever. Even better was the fact that this was the sort of storyline ONLY THIS SHOW could do. You likely wouldn't see it popping up on Modern Family or something (though the thought of Phil and Cam stumbling upon a Zen state inducing trampoline out behind Jay's house or something is amusing to my mind). This is a Community moment, through and through, and that means it's a lot of fun.
It's the A-story where more of the problems lie. Again, I'm mostly nitpicking this storyline, not really criticizing it wholeheartedly, but I did wish the show had found a little more time to fill in some of the gaps, a problem I've had with some other episodes this season (the space simulator episode comes to mind). While gradually chopping run-time out of episodes to make more room for ads has probably been a boon for dramas (as it creates stories with less fat on them that can move more propulsively—and if you don't believe me, check out the excellent but logy-feeling Hill Street Blues or St. Elsewhere on DVD sometime), cutting around three minutes out of the run-time of the average comedy episode has been more of a problem. Even on a show as rapid-fire as Community, those three minutes are often taken out of story development time, the better to get to the best jokes. Honestly, even a minute more of screen-time in tonight's episode might have fixed any problems I had in the A-story.
And what were those problems? Britta, Annie, and Shirley, tired of always hanging out with the guys, decide it's time to take a class on their own, so they decide to take a class about portrayals of women in the media. Abed, thinking that sounds kinda cool, tags along. When the girls try to sit up front (and away from Abed, who's in the back), they're immediately rebuffed by a pack of "mean girls," who tell them that they're in the wrong seats. Taking offense, the girls go back to sit by Abed, who immediately deconstructs just what's wrong with every one of the mean girls. Britta, Annie, and Shirley, thrilled by their discovery of Abed's ability, upend the social order, becoming the alpha girls in the school, until Abed runs amok, turning on those who created him and eventually has to turn to the original mean girls to make everything the way it should be. It's a cross of Mean Girls and Frankenstein, and on that level, it more or less works.
I was wary of this episode and this storyline because it was going to feature Hilary Duff, who's less popular as a cautionary tale than her rough contemporary Lindsay Lohan, but offers a very different kind of "this is what can happen to child stars" warning. Duff's been wandering the Hollywood wastelands for a few years, no longer able to get through roles utilizing spunk, as if that little cartoon version of herself from Lizzie McGuire was a daemon severed from her when that show ended and she's now just a lifeless husk. Yet she's not bad here, though that may be because she's in the episode so little and it doesn't ask much of her other than to preen. No, my real problem here was with Britta, one of my favorite characters on television.
Here's the thing: I sort of buy that Annie and Shirley would just readily go along with this scheme to get rid of the mean girls. The writing for Shirley has been much sharper this season, as if she's approaching some sort of catharsis, and Annie hides a fairly devious side. I also largely buy that Britta would get swept along by this. She has a tendency to get caught up in populist movements that feature her as a figurehead, and she's susceptible to plays to her vanity (she's more like Jeff than she'd like to admit). I just don't buy that she would get this whole ball rolling over something as stupid as someone kicking her out of her seats. Because we don't know the mean girl characters from Eve and because they're established purely as archetypes, it's hard to get caught up in the righteous fury of Britta's deposal of them. Everything after this point works, but getting the story rolling requires a few logical leaps that needed just a few lines more of dialogue or a minute more of screentime to make wholly believable. It's not bad, but it's flawed.
On the other hand, the Jeff and Troy storyline was nearly perfection. One of my favorite comments last season was a brief treatise on how the show is very similar to early period Simpsons in a lot of ways, particularly because it can do emotionally moving A-stories and combine them with weird, little B-stories, or because it can do elaborate movie parodies, yet ground them in some sort of emotional truth. This trampoline storyline was like something out of Simpsons, almost directly. (That show also had a famous trampoline B-story.) However, Community makes its own story out of this basic premise by weaving together the idea of trampolines being hideously unsafe with an elaborate parody of The Secret Garden (complete with lush imagery out of the final season of Lost) and the end of every story where people discover paradise but then ruin it by … leading other people to it. Everything about the story is funny, and the conclusion, which argues that any paradise that excludes certain people can't be paradise, is unexpectedly thoughtful. But what makes all of this work is Matt Walsh as seemingly tranquil groundskeeper Joshua, the keeper of the trampoline. Walsh plays all of this absolutely straight, making it even funnier, and the reveal that he's secretly a racist is also a hoot. The story also uses Pierce very well, using Chevy Chase's skill at playing the buffoon who just wants the other kids to play with him to great effect.
After the last two stellar episodes of the show, it was going to be hard for the series to keep the streak up. Yet "Aerodynamics" was a relentlessly funny episode, and both storylines almost worked. Add even 30 seconds to the first couple of scenes, and you might have another perfect episode. Still, the cast is so tightly knit, and the jokes are so reliably hilarious that it feels ungenerous to complain about small story problems, particularly in the face of a show that's hitting a real hot streak. Not every episode can be perfection, but when the ones that almost work are still as good as this one is, you know this is a great season in the making.
- It's amusing to have the characters attend a class about portrayals of women in the media, as when the show started, Annie and Shirley were fairly generic "virgin" and "mother" archetypes, respectively. This is not a bad thing; there's rarely room to delineate more than one or two characters in a comedy pilot, and the characters have been shaded in handsomely since that point. It just amused me, especially when the episode got rolling with some OTHER typical female archetypes.
- That is NOT Starburns' turtle, and he seems intent that you MUST call him Alex after the events of "Epidemiology."
- Andy Dick turns up as the little man who lives inside Pierce's miniature spy plane. Of COURSE he does. (It also continues my "Community is a secret remake of Newsradio" theory, which makes no sense at all but comforts me when I'm trying to sleep at night.)
- Another thing I liked: The usage of Chang as a guy who just lurks around the edges of scenes and provides the color commentary a vocal studio audience might on a more traditional sitcom. (Favorite shot of him was probably when he was standing outside the study room, licking what appeared to be a pistachio nut ice cream cone.) Also, he overturns a table? Awesome?
- I do wonder if the season is getting to be a little Abed-heavy. It makes sense, since he's the big, breakout character and all, but his ability to destroy bitches kind of took over the A-story. I wonder if it wouldn't have been stronger with just the girls, though then we would have lost those terrific, in-joke packed "Abed-vision" gags.
- I am missing the big scenes in the study room where the characters all bounce off of each other. It feels like there have been fewer of them this season, and I'm anxiously anticipating mid-season's bottle episodes, if only to get a couple that largely consist of this type of scene.
- And, hey, the show got two more episodes tacked on to its order this week. That can only be a good thing when considering if it will be renewed at the end of the year or not (alongside the fact that, well, NBC's ratings suck across the board), but it never hurts to continue to tell your friends to watch.
- "Punch your butt."
- "Why name your daughter Megan? Are you stocking up for a bitch shortage?"
- "It's Wednesday. Sometimes I eat in Jeff's car. Don't tell him."
- "If we say nobody, are you going to stab us with your bush scissors?"
- "It's called a Muffin Top, Abed." "Like a muffin. Clever."
- "Cherise is a bad rowboat. Sink her."
- "I'm gonna slit your butts' throats."
- "Tell me how to get this laid-back, or I'll kill your families!"
- "My white guilt is doing somersaults."
- "The kind of monster that makes outlandish statements about someone's weight."