Community: “Anthropology 101”
Posted by therebelprince on September 24, 2010
There’s a peculiar thing that happens every now and then on television. A show starts off small, perhaps even unnoticed. Against the odds, the network has enough faith to keep it on all year – maybe it’s cheap, maybe it shows promise, maybe they just don’t have anything to fill the timeslot. But as the year goes on, the word spreads, and soon quotes are spreading through the Twitterverse, and coffee mugs emblazoned with logos for fake fake breakfast shows are shipping to far-off corners of the world. The most beautiful thing though is not the web-wide rewatch during the hiatus, nor the joy of quoting the show next time you reach for a chicken finger (or object on vegetarian grounds), but those first moments of the season two premiere , when millions of people suddenly find themselves sporting huge, dopey grins.
So it was with Community and its season premiere, “Anthropology 101”. Moving through the bedrooms of our seven characters – three-walled and adjoining, as of course you expect on television – we see them all rising for the first day of the academic year. Jeff works out in his underwear (just sayin’), Annie exquisitely brushes her hair in her exquisite bedroom, Shirley proves herself the mother hen with her chicks in the bed, etc. Almost nothing is said, but we’re ecstatic nonetheless. (Not least because of Donald Glover’s Spiderman costume.).
I’m going to avoid raving too much, because this episode was awesome and – if you’re reading a Community review – you’re likely kind of a fan already. Suffice it to say that this episode belonged to Gillian Jacobs and Joel McHale, and as ever, did they bring it. Both of them had a lot to prove last year: the writers really had to work to find the comedy in Britta, and they were ballsy enough to refuse to let Jeff be the comedy straight man we’re so used to. From their early confrontations to the most disturbing make-out in television history, these two were delightful, and – not that I was expecting anything less – the show completely subverted any assumptions we could’ve made about the Jeff-Annie-Britta(-Troy/Vaughn/Prof. What’shername) polyhedron. But more on that later.
Community is going to have an easy ride for a while. Plenty of ideas will have been percolating in Dan Harmon’s head that he can go crazy with now that the network understands the show’s support, and the audience are going to be willing to see them out. I do think, however, that it’ll be an interesting little case study for television geeks. This week blasted open the show’s meta-nature even further (not least when Shirley brought it up directly). The confrontation scene was astounding, even if it’s not really the first time Abed has been openly confronted about his inability to distinguish fact from fiction. The question, though, is that for a show which is so meta-fictional, how far can you go until genre-busting becomes tired or, worse, parody? Shows from Moonlighting to Supernatural faced the ultimate challenge when they began to break their formula too wide open: it reminds viewers there is a formula. Cultists delight in off-kilter journeys like The X-Files‘ masterful “Bad Blood”, but it’s hard to show these episodes to new fans, let alone bring them back to watch next week when Scully and Mulder pursue killer lawn monsters in all seriousness. The pressure to perform combined with the growing awareness that you’ve opened up a massive can of worms for the entire genre leads to creative slumps like The X-Files faced. Obviously, Community is still climbing, and very possibly will give us the funniest season of comedy this year. But it’s already known as the show that does that meta thing. Can it pull a Seinfeld and endlessly riff on its one-sentence mantra? Or will the fall be spectacular? I surely hope not.
I apologise for thinking too far ahead and I promise I’ll shortly return to immediate concerns, but I also can’t wait to see what Harmon does in terms of the obvious question: how long are these people going to stay at community college? Ironically, the show’s meta nature is probably its greatest enemy here. So many sitcom characters remain single for ten years in spite of their attractiveness and obvious desire to procreate; others spend ludicrous amounts of times in a dead-end job because the formula requires it. Sooner or later, someone amongst the characters is going to start asking why no one is moving on with their lives. Then again, Community can have the characters skip town and open a salon as Abed suggested; I’d watch it.
Anyway, back to this week: the rest of the cast didn’t get as much to do, but everyone brought their best form. My favourite moment – aside from that kiss – would have to be the simultaneous weeping and squeeing of Annie and Shirley respectively as the Britta/Jeff engagement began. Gorgeous.
It’s good to see Ken Jeong back as Señor Chang (or Student Chang now?), but I wasn’t wowed by his moments with the group. Jeong himself was fantastic, but the best things about Chang last year were his power over the students, and the fact that – by his very nature as someone not in the group – the writers could apply the ‘less is more’ philosophy. This change strips both of those away.
But why am I complaining? Community is that rare gem: incredibly funny, while almost never playing to the cheap seats. If the massive confrontation scene in this episode proved anything, it was that the series is not going to rest on its laurels. Everyone knows that Jeff slept with Britta. On the table. Everyone knows about Annie’s kiss, and the exact chronology of all these events. Community is ready to leave behind the trappings of “season one” (well, it was season one, but can I resist quoting Jeff Winger?) and give us something new. And good luck to it.
* Ah, Betty White. TV historians in decades to come are going to marvel at 2010 and the utter ubiquity of her. As with Hot in Cleveland, White’s lines actually seemed to be the laziest writing in the episode, largely because the woman could literally read a takeout menu and make it sound like a Noel Coward play.
* Sometimes I forget that Annie is only supposed to be 19 or so, and I have to keep reminding myself that she’s allowed to be so adorable. How much do I love Alison Brie? The vindication I feel that I knew about her before Community began, almost makes up for the humiliation that I ignored the plaudits for this show until the first season had ended. Oops.
* Shirley and Old White Guy Says were somewhat left on the sidelines here. I think Pierce is probably the biggest issue for the writers, since he seems to exist primarily to say words like “penis” and crash into drum sets. He’s funny, sure, but there were episodes last year where he felt less-than-vital, and hopefully having him live with Troy will fix that. As for Shirley, Yvette Nicole Brown has definitely shown that she works well with all the rest of the characters, so I hope they can mine some more comedy out of the woman who is probably the least “meta” of these very meta-people.
* I’ve avoided reading interviews or news on this show, so I don’t know who is going to take over teaching Anthropology. Is it Chang? I guess that would eliminate my biggest concern. Otherwise, I’m sure Abed (and the writers) would welcome an endless parade of guest stars from ’80s sitcoms and soap operas. Well, a guy can dream.
UPDATE: Remember how we all fought for this show? Lone Star needs your help. Cancel your plans Monday night, and watch it! Tell your friends! It’s really very good.