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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Community: "Politics of Human Sexuality"

Illustration for article titled Community: "Politics of Human Sexuality"
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It's only been two weeks, but it feels like Community's been away a lot longer. And it's not like I particularly missed the show last Thursday. I mean, I love it, but I love eating much more (who doesn't?). Still, the fact that it feels like this show has been away for forever must mean it's growing on me even more than I wanted to admit in the past, and even though tonight's episode wasn't quite up to the level of the two the show closed out November sweeps with, it was still a lot of fun, and it featured the sort of Important Character Development I say I like on shows like this. Marrying together three plots fairly well (something the show has gotten rapidly good at ), "Politics of Human Sexuality" had some pretty great gags, even if some of the stuff felt a little forced.

I think I'd enjoy all of the bits where Jeff is gradually becoming a much better person if it felt like it was a harder, more painstaking process. When he changes the name "Hot Blonde in Spanish Class" to "Britta" in his phone, it's a moment that has some weight to it, sure, but it also feels almost too easy. I worry that the show will have a problem if Jeff becomes too nice of a guy. I realize that he's a charming asshole and that the show is only the sort of thing people would want to watch if it leans heavily on the "charming" half of that equation, but at the same time, if the asshole part of that equation goes away entirely, if Jeff is a happy guy in a stable relationship or something, then the show's internal engines could come up short.

Community is, in a lot of ways, a show about falling short of your own dreams and realizing that that's OK, that you can pick yourself up again and get back to making yourself the person you want to be. It's also about the ways that people can change when they embark on something like self-improvement, even if they kick and scream while they embark on that journey. Unfortunately, this sort of journey often ends up being a problem on a television series. Look at how House is constantly having to artificially hit the reset button on its main character or how The Office can only develop Michael Scott so far before it stops being funny.

That said, there's a grand tradition of the reset button in sitcoms. Ted Baxter could adopt a kid or learn an important lesson, and he'd be right back to being a blowhard in the very next episode. Even Archie Bunker, perhaps the best case of a sitcom subtly changing a character over years and years of a show's run, was someone who could make great strides and then take many steps back just a week later. Whether or not this is more realistic than the idea that people change and take strides toward becoming other,  better individuals that most serialized TV dramas and most films pitch is open to debate, but a sitcom - where much of the humor is directly dependent on a certain degree of predictability - has unique troubles with having characters who shift and change.

So when Jeff changed the name, I was first impressed that the show was taking another step along this path and then sort of disheartened. I LIKE Jeff as a charming asshole, and I really hope the show doesn't change him too much, even though its long-term goals seem almost completely centered on him becoming a better person. If he's going to become a better person, then I almost want it to be like pulling teeth, like him realizing that he's kind of an asshole is the absolute last thing he'd ever do. But, then, the moment was really a nice one, so maybe I'm complaining about something that's not really worth worrying that much about. I do think if they completely rewire Jeff, they've pretty much cornered the show in a way that will be hard to get out of without some fancy writing, but I trust this writing staff.

That said, I rather enjoyed the storylines tonight, and I thought all of them used the characters well enough. I was least enamored of the adventures of the girls, as they tried to show Annie what a real penis looked like so she could accurately display how to slip a condom on one while giving her presentation at the STD festival. I liked the way Alison Brie played Annie's supreme innocence, and I liked the way Shirley and Britta gave differing answers when Annie asked if the penis on the dummy was a large one, but the whole of the storyline felt a little undercooked. (Indeed, it often feels like the show has a sort of generic trouble writing for its female characters, though all have been written well at one point or another.)

The Troy and Abed storyline was better, if only because the show has so slowly built up the rapport between these two, to the point where they could pretty much just hang out in the background of every scene and still be one of the best things about any given episode. Watching the two enter their competition to prove which was the better athlete on campus kind of came out of nowhere (as it was intended to, I suppose), but it was funny, since the actors are both great physical comedians. I also like Abed having to wait for an inspirational song to come on before he could challenge Troy at arm wrestling.

But it was the main plot, where Jeff and Pierce went on a double date and Sharon Lawrence turned up to play a wise, older call girl, that took up most of the time in the episode and was the most interesting. While I had some issues with how it wrapped up, I enjoyed the majority of it, and I liked the way the show used the STD event to keep all of the storylines grounded and roughly in the same spheres. While I have some concerns about the show's long-term future, they're not strong enough that I'm anything other than mildly cranky. "Politics of Human Sexuality" is another fine and funny episode of a show that's rapidly turned into one of my favorites.

Stray observations:

  • Lots of great new sideline characters introduced tonight. In particular, I hope Liz Cackowski (who's a writer on the show) turns up again as the school's counselor.
  • "Secretary is a little demaning to women. I help the dean do office-y things."
  • "It's impossible to guard you. Your eyes are gentle and mysterious."
  • "Taking a call girl to an STD fair. There's a joke here."
  • "Being a virgin in this day and age is something to be proud of. You're like a unicorn."
  • "Can you ever really own a horse?"
  • "Wow. Me. In a dune buggy. With syphilis. This is going on the fridge."
  • "Giant thumb in a turtleneck. Whoopty-do."
  • "Yeah. It's pretty much yikers for me too."
  • "Go, Abed, go! Before people sex one another."