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Community Review: "Environmental Science" (Episode 1.10)

TV Reviews Joel McHale
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Community Review: "Environmental Science" (Episode 1.10)

It seems like Community is becoming simultaneously less and more formulaic as the series goes on, which is an interesting phenomenon. If anything, it seems like episodes are ripping through sit-com clichés at a faster than believable pace, each episode more reliant than the last upon tired old stories that we’ve been watching on TV since we were born. The episode’s structures are impeccably fitted to a traditional three-act structure and it’s hard not to predict where the entire episode is headed after merely what appears in its cold open.

Another Abed/Troy end. They’re pretty awesome ... so is pepper water.

At the same time, though, things are getting weirder and the show is drifting further from reality and more into its own comedic world. And more power to Community for this, as its particular voice, while a bit ragged after the brilliant first episode, is getting more and more polished. For a lot of shows, even very good ones, this can take a while—watching the first season of The Simpsons or Newsradio can be at times oddly jarring when you’ve become more accustomed to the shows' later years rather than when they were still working out all the kinks.

“Environmental Science” begins with the premise that, as always, Professor Chang is being a jerk and assigning an absurd level of work to the main cast. There’s only one thing they can think of to solve this problem: Have Jeff trick him into getting rid of his increasingly ludicrous decrees and teach them Spanish at their levels. It’s not a great solution, but by sit-com standards it’s par for the course and soon enough Jeff has befriended Chang and the two are partying at night and whining all day about Chang’s ex-wife. Unfortunately for everyone else, Jeff’s newfound friendship with their despotic professor only helps out Jeff, which turns everyone against him because that’s how this type of story goes.

Meanwhile Abed and Troy are training a rat to respond to a song for some reason and, for an even less clear reason, Pierce is teaching Shirley how to speak in public. Neither story really comes from, or leads to, any new ground, but they offer enough laughs to work as a pair of suitable b-plots without detracting from the main story or causing us to really question their existence. Sit-coms frequently have multiple storylines, so the links between them, as tenuous as they are, go unquestioned.

That’s all well and good, with each story moving towards its inevitable conclusion until Community quickly pulls the rug from our collective feet. As Jeff reintroduces Professor Chang to his wife, a montage of Mangolia proportions breaks between the stories, and before we know it Chang is making out on the dance floor with Señora Chang, Abed and Troy partake in a delightful rendering of “Somewhere Out There” and Shirley gives us sandwich after sandwich like there’s no tomorrow. Harmon’s avant-garde head rears itself again and we’re left with something extraordinary, even if it’s completely insane.

When the episode ends after this note, it’s hard not to feel like you’ve been a part of something wonderful in the same way you can after a truly great movie. Community, as usual, didn’t really say anything, but it was funny as all hell and also like nothing else on TV. A lot of shows can leave you with enough funny stuff to be worthwhile, but a release like that is truly something special. Community is now on a serious roll—can’t wait for next week, nor can I guess what it will do to burst through genre expectations yet again.

Oh, and the whole “Green Week” thing? Sure, it was pretty tacked on and largely the least funny material of the show, but it wasn’t too bothersome. As far as studio mandates on a show go, things could’ve definitely turned out a lot worse. Let’s just hope they give the principal some stronger material in the future, as he’s definitely earned it.


Stray Observations:

Envirodale sure is a stupid name.

"If Señor Chang gets any crazier he’s going to win one of those Grammy awards"

"I’m not afraid—I choose not to look at rats because they’re unpopular—same thing goes with centipedes and lakes."

"This better not awaken anything in me."

"Teaching us the word esposa means liar."

"Pickled bull testicle?"

"Damn, here comes Abed. He needs my help, I’m getting out of here."

Feivel’s a pretty great name for a rat.

"You got a weird forehead" + best insult ever

"Take it from a former prom king—real friends help me with things."

"If he gets any nuttier they’re gonna put him on the view." “Yeah, that works.”

Senora Chang—nice.

Shirley gives out sandwich after sandwich. She's like a human Subway during that montage. Zing!

"I had a great sandwich"—line of the night

"I’m sorry I called you a handsome hobo"

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