One of my favorite things about Community is that there isn’t really a stock episode-type or plot. There’s no monster-of-the-week like in Buffy or disease-of-the-week like in House, but more importantly neither does it have the sit-com equivalent of those plot repetitions. In short, no episode is easily mistaken for any other. There are constants, of course, with the school setting and the study group meetings being the big ones, but last week’s episode was completely unlike what we saw in “Aerodynamics of Gender,” as will next week’s. The basics of the show haven’t changed, either, it’s just that by building itself from the beginning as having an unrealistic setting and little repetition as to episode plots, the show built itself up more in the way of The Simpsons than something like The Office (which admittedly has gone on to shift its formula more frequently the longer it’s been on).
This allows for stories to be pretty disparate not only on an episode-to-episode basis but also within the same episode. “Aerodynamics” is split pretty evenly between two plots that only marginally come together, which despite being simpler writing is in fact more of a rarity for Community. Troy and Jeff have been bonding over basketball, which leaves Pierce wishing to join them in being one of the guys. He overcompensates in emulating their interest last week by getting himself a helicopter, which when they soon lose their interest in basketball he uses to find out that they’ve been using a secret school trampoline to bliss out on. He then proceeds to ruin this by breaking all the trampoline rules and injuring himself, which means the school has to get rid of it.
The other half of the episode also worked on a new grouping of characters but putting Abed together with the show’s women. When they find out he’s a savant at recognizing people’s imperfections and using these to form insults, they enlist him to oust the previous alpha women from their places and soon become jerks themselves. The whole thing is largely a parody of Mean Girls, with some Robocop mixed into Abed’s activities largely for some good freeze-frame jokes. By the end of the episode the social order is restored and that’s pretty much it.
These two stories only meet up three times during the entire episode, which gives the episode an interesting bifurcation of tones. Between them my preference is definitely for the trampoline plot simply because of how strange the whole thing is. The shinning, utopian trampoline and the bliss it offers are strangely unique. It doesn’t ever become incredibly funny, but it’s just such an odd plotline for a network television show that there’s something refreshing about even attempting such a weird set-up. And while this section necessarily slows down the episode’s pace, which is doubly necessary considering Abed’s rapid-fire insults we see elsewhere, it also leads to some of the biggest and most intelligent laughs.
Since Abed is the center of the other half there’s of course a pop cultural basis, but whereas usually the show is able to take these into an interesting new direction in this case Community largely just repeats Mean Girls. It’s not a bad repetition, but it’s also not exactly inspired and Shirley and Annie acting as obnoxiously as they do is also a bit out of character. Even Ken Jeong inserting himself into scenes in order to emphasize insults has been done before elsewhere (Futurama’s “Spanish Fry” episode for instance). The actual execution of things was still wonderful, but especially in contrast to the boldness of the other half of this episode this part felt stale.
Last week’s Community was a particularly high bar, so it’s no surprise that we didn’t get an episode at that same level again. Unfortunately the come down from this was an episode that was a little below the show’s usual performance. There were reliably intelligent jokes and the trampoline plot was wonderfully unexpected, even for a show like this, but the Mean Girls riff really dragged things down, especially odd considering the presence of Abed who even here manages to almost always make things funnier.
• “It’s Wednesday, sometimes I eat in Jeff’s car. Don’t tell him.”
• Starburns has been going off about being called Alex for a while now (in his twitter feed that’s pretty much the only thing he’s mentioned). Here’s hoping for years and years of nobody else giving a crap what he wants to be called.
• “I’m gonna slit your butts’ throat.”