Throughout all the strange places and odd plots we’ve seen the Community study group get into during the past season and a half, they’ve somehow managed to almost completely avoid alcohol. While this makes a bit of sense, given that several characters on the show weren’t of age, it also means that it’s missed a pretty fundamental part of the whole college experience, community or otherwise. But network television tends to be pretty strange and frequently kinda awful in its representations of drinking, so this hasn’t necessarily been a bad thing—better no drinking at all and have disbelief suspended than give us heavy-handed moralizing.
On the occasion of Troy’s twenty-first birthday (there’s a little bit of ret-conning involved here but Community’s a flexible enough show that it’s not particularly bothersome), the gang decides to head to a bar for celebration. In essence, that’s the plot of the episode, which is arguably directionless in its own right. Much like a real night of friends heading out, you head to the bar, have drinks, and, more often than not, head home with a vague sense of disappointment. Most episodes of Community, in fact, revolve around extremely recognizable plot types, given Dan Harmon’s love for genre send-ups, whereas here we just kind of walk through a night with no recognizable purpose.
Looking a bit closer, though, there’s a mini-plot for every character, even if they may not be as well-integrated with each other as usual. There’s Jeff and Britta arguing about what the best bar in town is while sublimating a certain amount of sexual tension, there’s Abed being hit on by a guy in order to talk with him about Farscape, there’s Pierce stuck in the bar’s entrance, and there’s Shirley scavenging around the place in search of the impressively voluminous photos of her drinking posted around the bar. These are all brief and at least somewhat interesting in and of themselves, though only Shirley’s has any real consequences, as we learn that she used to visit that bar a lot, and perhaps still does. There’s not enough of this plot thread to really say what will occur, but between this and her possible child it feels like there’s a big episode for Shirley coming up soon.
The more noteworthy parts of “Mixology Certification” are the reactions from Troy and Annie upon first entering a bar. Community frames this occurrence as a sort of right of passage for each of them and with this comes a way in which of their perceptions of the world are shaken down to the core. Annie chooses to impersonate the woman whose fake ID she’s using and, in doing so, completely flips her identity, which, in turn, causes her to question the life choices she’s committed to. Her character has been gradually branching out since we first met it, but this is a much bigger leap than anything we’ve seen previously.
Troy’s crisis is perhaps less monumenta,l but probably more believable. Watching his older friends interact at the bar, it slowly dawns on him how the people he’d long been thinking as mature guides know nothing more about the world than he does. Troy’s disappointment is tangible and one of the more real emotions the show’s ever shown. It’s couched a little bit in the sort of anti-alcohol proselytizing I was hoping the episode would avoid, but even, so it was fairly moving.
“Mixology Certification” had a different tone from the rest of the series. Its color palette was generally darker, jokes were less frequent, and pop-culture references were dialed down quite a bit for everyone other than Abed. In general, though, I think these changes worked. My complaint is simply be that this felt like a 40-minute episode shoved into a 20-minute time slot. The evening seemed to develop with incredible speed, and while there were so many plots going on, it was possible to pace things a little bit with editing, every storyline felt like it rushed past its middle simply because of necessity. It was a good episode, but it definitely wasn’t a typical one, and it’ll be interesting to see whether it was a one off occurrence or if the show truly wants to shift into a new place. While I enjoyed what I saw here, it’s not the same show we’ve been conditioned to expect.
-“Happy expulsion, Troy”
-Had we learned Troy was a Jehovah’s witness before now?
-”I broke my legs, not my gender.”
-Claude Renoir is in fact quite the cinematographer, though of all the Renoirs to reference that’s an odd one.
-”I want to bathe in manhood.”
-”I can’t wait to understand these arguments.”
-Really love the “If you look like this, call a cab” photo. We only get to see a couple of the Shirley drinking pictures, but the ones we do are wonderful.
-”I had some bad years … with a chaser.”
-Ok, how often exactly is Shirley at that bar? Because there are more pictures of her there than there are Kevin Bacon film roles.
-”I pretended to be a different person tonight.” “Abed does that like three times a week.”