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Community Review: "English as a Second Language" (1.24)

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<em>Community</em> Review: "English as a Second Language" (1.24)

Like all school-based shows, Community’s premise eventually has to come to an end. While shows about workplaces or friendships can theoretically go on forever, school automatically lasts a set amount of time and attempts at extending this can only end up strained. I call this the “Mr. Feeny Dilemma” after my favorite example of it from Boy Meets World, in which the teacher Mr. Feeny follows the show’s protagonists not just from middle school to high school, but then even to college. Forcing a show’s situation to continue longer than it organically would completely removes any sense of reality it may have once had, and has the effect of not just making anything afterwards seem ridiculous but in some ways retroactively ruining what came before.

With Community’s first season coming to a close, the question remains how these characters that we’ve been learning about will stay together when their reason for seeing each other is about to end. Not only is there the concern that frequently community colleges are used for two-year degrees, there’s also the unlikelihood that all seven of the show’s main characters would want to stick around in Spanish for more than they have to. Addressing this problem head-on is the primary concern of “English as a Second Language” and its realism is a direct contrast to last week’s paintball apocalypse, as fun as that was.

“English” begins right in the heart of the matter, with the study group discussing their plans for next year and Jeff making it immediately clear that he won’t be taking Spanish. Since the next semester’s Spanish class is at six in the morning, no one besides Annie wants to do it either, meaning the fragmentation of the group and a massive change in the show’s dynamics. Most unhappy with this problem is Annie, who’s able to learn that Prof. Chang doesn’t have a teaching license and so therefore their grades may be forfeit, causing them to repeat the class again and thus stay together as a group. Jeff outs her mischief to the rest of the group, and at his behest they shun her.

Before long they’ve made up with Annie and by the episode’s end we find out that everyone’s passed the Spanish class. Following this news the group decides that its relationship is important enough that they’ll take anthropology together next year. Not everything goes back to how it was, though, as Chang has decided to earn his degree as a student at the school, and I’d assume this means he’ll be back next year as an eighth member of the group. At least, I hope so, given how unimaginable the show would be without him at this point. Oh, and apparently Pierce slept with the new Spanish professor.

The episode’s B-plot concerns a Good Will Hunting situation with Troy, only rather than a gift with mathematics he’s a brilliant plumber. Or an average plumber? I’m not sure how different those two are. In any case, he can plumb. The thing is, he doesn’t want to become a plumber, he wants to continue with his education, while Abed thinks he should follow his gift. This bit was worth a few laughs but didn’t really go anywhere and its commentary about the way we value different positions never really hit home.

At the end of the episode we’re given the assurance that things will return to the status quo next season while somehow managing not to run into a Mr. Feeny-style problem. “English” wasn’t as good as last week’s episode (though, really, what is?), but there’s an impressive level of skill to the way the show’s writers dug themselves out of a pretty deep hole. It was a solid episode that’s more conventional than most we’ve seen lately. With that mess cleared up, though, it will hopefully leave us with a season finale that’s less about show logistics.

Stray Observations:
“You just ‘go girled’ yourself.”
“Of course you think that, Britta. It’s obvious from your name your parents smoked pot.”
-The world will never be ready for a keytar-based rock band, I’m sorry.
“Word of advice, if an Asian man says he’s a Spanish teacher, it’s not racist to ask for some proof.”
“Why is she teaching Spanish if she’s a doctor?” You know what, that’s a pretty good question.
“You are insecure because you didn’t get hot until after high school.”
“Someone make her a dude so I can punch her.”
“Picture her as Paul Giamatti.”
“I’m going to be sophisticated and have no job, or have a job that looks from a distance like I do nothing.” – I call this living the American Dream.
“Horoscopes are the devil trying to trick us.”
“We love Hannah.” – Thanks, Starburns.

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