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Community Review: "Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality" (Episode 5.7)

February 28, 2014  |  12:05pm
<em>Community</em> Review: "Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality" (Episode 5.7)

With Community no longer in a constant state of flux, it’s a pleasant surprise to find how well the show’s already adjusted to its wildly different cast. In “Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality,” the show offered us a much more typical episode that (with one small exception) focused on characters rather than gimmicks, and what’s more two of the characters it focused on were essentially new to this season (Professor Duncan has been around since the beginning, but until now sporadically to say the least). With Dan Harmon back in charge of the show, though, there’s a consistency to the show’s humor and viewpoint to the point where it almost doesn’t matter who the characters are because what they’re saying and doing is funny.

However, this is in a way the problem that led to the flattening and increasing cartoonishness of characters in Community’s previous seasons, particularly the fourth. I loved Chang’s brief subplot in this episode, but his character’s role in this was fairly minimal. It was just a really clever, strange ghost story that riffed a bit on The Shining but was mostly its own weird thing that made me laugh. Chang’s role in it heightened the humor a bit, and Ken Jeong’s performance here was spot-on, but there’s little particular here to him. I love the show’s commitment to running with strange ideas, but it takes only a few missteps for elements like this to fail completely.

One way the show’s fifth season has moved away from its more negative traits, though, is by giving it some real pathos resulting from its rather lengthy continuity. Britta was at one point a one-note joke activist, so having her meet and no longer be able to speak as an equal with her former friends who were also just that one-note joke was excellent. Britta doesn’t have many fans, but showing her break down like this treated her obsessions like character traits, not ticks. In the same way, having Jeff still desire Britta and wavering as to whether or not to try and reconnect with her gave their past relationship some gravity it’s always really lacked. Suddenly the parts of the show that didn’t really matter, including Jeff’s longtime friendship with Duncan, were shown in a different light.

Rehabilitating Abed has been the most difficult task the season has had—in my opinion, moreso than adjusting to the cast changes—but this was pulled off here by finally having someone call Abed on his shit. Professor Hickey doesn’t hate Abed, either; it’s just that he sees the part of Abed that’s selfish, the part that uses everyone he knows with little concern for anyone else’s feelings. Most importantly of all, though, by the end of the episode Abed and Hickey are equals. Yes, there was somewhat standard bonding going on here, but making Abed step outside himself and see the way he affects those around him is a bigger thing than that. Without Troy around, Hickey’s the first step in helping him grow up, which I hope we see more of in the rest of the season. Like everyone else in the show, Abed’s better as a whole person rather than just a collection of quirks, and showing he can go either sycophantic or bitter with them to get what he wants was an excellent development. Abed, for once, seemed to be making choices about his own behavior, rather than the writers just using him as an empty collection of pop culture references to pull jokes from.

As usual, though, what made all of these emotional moments hit so well was just how good the jokes were. Even the handful of preachy moments, such as the end of Britta and Duncan’s conversation in the car, were undercut so smoothly by humor that it removed some of the didacticism that frequently marrs Community. There’s a certain perfection to the show’s writing and editing in episodes like this that’s almost like classic episodes of The Simpsons, and as a result the entire 22 minutes feels effortless because it flows so well. This was that type of perfectly functioning comedy machine, and one of the best “normal” episodes of Community the show has ever made.

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