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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Community: "Basic Genealogy"

Illustration for article titled Community: "Basic Genealogy"
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I wasn't really feeling this week's episode of Community. The show is at such a place where the cast can pretty much override some of the weaker stuff this episode does, so it's not a total loss or anything. But I guess I'd say that this is the first week where the sentimental moments and the hugging and the "You can be a good person, Jeff Winger!" pep talks felt like they sort of overwhelmed some of the other elements of the show that I typically enjoy. It also didn't help that Katharine McPhee was the big guest star. I don't bear any ill will toward McPhee (and she's a very nice looking young lady, I'll admit), but she seemed to be gelling well with the show's sense of fun in one scene (like the one where she played Pictionary) and flat and affectless in the next.

The role of Pierce's grifting ex-step-daughter was pretty much tailor-made for some sort of big-name guest star, and McPhee wasn't so bad that she dragged the episode down or anything. But it often seemed like she wasn't getting into the fun of the part. It's been a while since we've had an episode with a majority Pierce storyline, and I've long been waiting for some insights into his past. This one had both of those things, but McPhee's inability to really sell the darker side of her character ended up being a hindrance. Sweet and winning? McPhee can mostly do that. But dangerous and on the edge? It just didn't work, and it ended up making the A-plot something of a misfire, even if Chevy Chase and Joel McHale continue to have fun screen chemistry to watch.

So, with that out of the way, let's talk about Britta, who had a good episode tonight.

Britta's the one thing about the show that even fans of the series are sometimes lukewarm in their support of. To be fair, the show kind of forced a whole "JEFF AND BRITTA ARE MEANT 2B 2GETHER 4EVER" thing on the characters there in the early going, and that may have soured some viewers on the character, since all of us just wanted to see McHale do his thing and not have to put up with some mouthy broad (AMIRITE, FELLAS?). It also didn't help that Britta is basically a kind of character that I haven't seen on TV in a while, if ever. And when you're creating a new basic type of character, you have to experiment a little bit before you can figure out just what's going to work and what isn't.

Now, Britta is still the most inconsistently written character on the show. Gillian Jacobs is able to make most of the inconsistencies work, but there are weeks when the character seems like she's going to be sorta touchy-feely and then there are weeks when she seems like a real hard-edged kind of girl who's not going to take any of your guff. But I like that the show is trying to sell both of these personas as parts of the same person. Real people don't boil down to types as easily as television wants them to, and Britta's got two halves. One of those halves is a cocksure, liberal kinda girl who's sure that she can understand the world if she just tries hard enough and is compassionate enough. It's a pitch-perfect parody of the condescending sort of liberalism that's turned off so many. But the other half of that girl is a rather bitter girl who's seen too much of her life slip by her and has turned a lot of anger inwards. She's a prickly character, very smart and very compassionate but also not able to cut most people any slack. In her own way, she's the most developed character on the show. She may not be the most easily lovable, but I feel like she's shaping up to be something really new and special.

So tonight's plot - which skewed more heavily toward Britta's ooey-gooey side - was a pretty great undercutting of just how little someone like Britta actually understands the world. She thinks she does, and she's got enough heart to genuinely want to try, but she's never had to live in the kind of world that, say, Troy's grandma had. Now, Troy's grandma wasn't much of a character (besides the fact that I find the word "switch" inexplicably funny), but the way that Britta dug her own grave and got so far in over her head as she attempted to make this woman feel welcome at Greendale ended up being very, very funny, leading to the best scene of the episode, where she actually received a whupping at the hands of Troy's grandma, leading to both her and Troy weeping and Jeff and Amber barging in and realizing they had the wrong room. This whole plot was probably a little too easy - it felt like the writers just wanted to see if they could get Britta in a really humiliating position - but something about it still made me laugh. I like Britta's heedless enthusiasm, when the show chooses to play that note.


Over in Shirley and Abed's story, Shirley was worried about raising her boys correctly after meeting Abed's father, and it turned out that Abed's dad was the real bad parent, with Shirley's boys turning out to be something like angels in disguise. There were some all right laughs in this plotline, but it was another one that relied a little too heavily on the actors saving some of the lesser material. As soon as I saw a character in a burqa, I knew that another character was going to end up in there at some point, and I probably should have guessed which characters would as well.

I don't want to get down on the show for doing some touchy-feely type stuff. Those are the sorts of things that set it apart from other shows, and it usually does them better than a show like, say, Modern Family (which is another show I really love but one that consigns all of its touchy-feely stuff to often mealy-mouthed closing monologues). I do wonder if trying to cram all of the characters and their families into the episode made it far too overstuffed, if the show, in attempting to avoid the classic sitcom traps of having a character's family member visit and take over the episode, ended up just having a whole bunch of family members take over instead. So, yeah, this wasn't my favorite. But I do hope we see Rabbi Chang again.


Stray observations:

  • Hey, whatever happened to John Oliver?
  • "You know the Bootienator? Like 'I'll be back,' but with bootie?"
  • "And that's Elijah, like the prophet, and Jordan, like the 14-time NBA all-star."
  • "Hey, Phantom Menace, how's the trade embargo with the Naboo?"
  • "You want me to wingman you with your ex-step-daughter?"
  • "Disappointing you is like choking the Little Mermaid with a bike chain."
  • "I wouldn't mind a few jumps in the bouncy house."
  • "I have to go back to my car and get my emergency shirt. And I don't even like that shirt!"
  • "Smiling sideways vagina!"
  • "This isn't gonna stop until Pictionary bans the word windmill."
  • "Yeah, but not twice. I wanted to do it twice."
  • "Have a family. Share life. That and learning computers are two things you can't knock out at the end."