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Community: "Communication Studies"

Illustration for article titled Community: "Communication Studies"
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Look, you're about to learn something I'm not terribly proud of: I am really, really easy. Really easy. I pretty much just feel whatever the TV tells me to, and then I go to the Internet, and I feel whatever everybody on the Internet tells me to. It's how I decide what I like and hate. It's how I make all major political decisions. It's how I live my life. So perhaps you should be a little skeptical when I say that Community has - in just two episodes, no less - made me something of a believer in the Jeff and Britta thing. And while tonight's episode wasn't terrible or anything, it was enough of a step down from last week's episode to make the Jeff and Britta stuff legitimately its most compelling element.

As Donna pointed out yesterday, the Valentine's Day episode - like the Christmas episode - is a necessary evil for most sitcoms. This is because of a number of things but mostly because of two big ones. 1.) February is a sweeps month. 2.) TV show producers can't resist showing their characters being unlucky in love. This has the tendency of making even the most cynical of shows bubble over with something approaching a belief in true love. Community plays at being cynical, but it's a big ol' wuss at heart, so that means that there are a bunch of pitfalls for it to avoid.

To be fair, it mostly does. Jeff is concerned about spending his first Valentine's Day with Michelle as her official boyfriend, wondering if she'll turn into some sort of cliched woman with unreasonably high expectations. She assures him that, no, all she wants is for him to be happy, and Valentine's Day will be just another day when she needs to chaperone a dance. Would he like to go with her? Of course he would because a.) he's smitten and b.) the Valentine's dance would make a good conclusion for the episode. So far, so good.

Then we get into the bulk of the A-plot, which involves Britta having drunk-dialed Jeff while out drinking with a friend, leaving him a rather embarrassing message and putting out there, as Abed says, "so much subtext." She can't help but know that he knows she's got kind of a thing for him now, and it's humiliating to her. (Like Tony seeing Angela naked in the opening credits of Who's the Boss, apparently.) In order to put everything back the way it was, Jeff will have to drunk dial Britta and in a convincing enough fashion to let her off the hook for what she did, creating a scenario where she, too, has seen him naked. Metaphorically, at least.

Naturally, of course, Jeff enlists Abed as his coach, and this leads to the two of them drinking and a lengthy, somewhat comical, mostly Breakfast Club-inspired montage of Abed and Jeff drinking and dancing and doing wacky stuff - with the pizza guy at one point. At the end of all of this, Jeff has called both Michelle and Britta, and he's not entirely sure just what he said to either of them, which, of course, leads into the Valentine's dance. Will Michelle have found out about the whole drunk dialing thing? Will Jeff have said something to Britta to give her unreasonable expectations for how the evening will turn out? Will Britta turn up in a form-fitting dress? Yes, actually no and yes. (And the latter was, I must admit, much appreciated.)

There's a thing Community does that it can get away with once or twice an episode but can't really get away with as much as it tried to in "Communication Studies." It's the thing where you think there's going to be a standard sitcom plot twist that occurs, and then the show goes out of its way to show you that the standard plot twist didn't actually happen. Community tries it four or five times in tonight's episode, and by the end, it feels a little too much like piling on. It's cool when Chang doesn't fall for Annie and Shirley's letter like a real person (and not a sitcom character) would act. But it starts to strain credulity when the show sets you up to think that Jeff invited Britta to the dance when he actually did no such thing. I get that that's the kind of thing that Britta and Jeff would do in their friendship, but at the end of an episode full of gags like that, it felt like one gag too many in that direction.


That said, I'm really digging the way the show has salvaged the Jeff and Britta pairing that everyone (even me!) seemed to mostly be against as recently as a few weeks ago. By turning the two more believably into friends, the series pushes Gillian Jacobs and Joel McHale into a place where the two are playing off of each other in a way that rather plays off of their unique chemistry. You can totally buy Jacobs and McHale as two friends who might sleep together every once in a while, whereas it was harder to buy them as soulmates or whatever the show wanted to make them out to be in the early going. Indeed, now that the two are friends, I can get their romantic longing better too. It's the kind of relationship that grows out of friendship and boredom, and it makes a lot more sense. When Jeff looked back at Britta while leaving with Michelle, I knew I was being manipulated, but I didn't care.

As for the other plot - involving Shirley and Annie trying to avenge Pierce and Troy's humiliation at the hands of Chang - it often felt like some of it was left on the cutting room floor. It drifted in and out of the main plot, but for the most part, it seemed as if it didn't have a really concrete reason to exist. The sight of Pierce and Troy in pantsuits was funny, as was Troy yelling "Slut!" as Pierce rode off on Chang's scooter. But the majority of it felt like the writers came up with the idea of seeing Pierce and Troy in pantsuits and reverse-engineered the storyline from that point on. It was a bit of a miss, though not egregiously so.


But, yeah, what finally makes this one work for me is that last scene between Michelle, Jeff and Britta. Obviously, this show is going to push Jeff and Britta together at some point (though Dan Harmon seems more willing to just go with what's working than many producers), but I appreciate a show that's willing to do this less because it's obligatory and more because it wants to toy with our expectations. Community can't get away with that as often as four or five times in an episode, but on the master plot level, it can get away with it just fine.

Stray observations:

  • Best sight gag ever: The Greendale human being walking around, delivering Valentines.
  • "Remember. Cupid's face is magic marker on nylon, so love is not only blind but also dizzy and a little belligerent."
  • "What's the blonde's name? Bitter? Butter? Beetlejuice?"
  • "She says Valentine's Day ritualizes the connection between affection and candy so girls can learn the ropes of prostitution."
  • "No, but you can help yourself to a shorter forehead, a non-Keebler nose and shutting up."
  • "You've shifted the balance, like in a sitcom when one character sees another one naked."
  • "This is obviously your handwriting, Mr. Tremor. And yours is signed 'Love, Troy.'"
  • "All right. I'll show Britta my penis."
  • "Kid's gonna be a star. He's a young the Asian guy from Lost."
  • "She has more fights about stuff that doesn't matter than a YouTube comment section."
  • "I can't feel things with you studying me like a beige praying mantis."
  • "Chubby Hubby? Could you pick a scarier flavor?"
  • "What?! You work at Princeton?"
  • "I'm sorry. Abed just made a turtle face." "In his defense, Abed's turtle face is really funny."