The elastic reality of Community feels more akin to animated sit-coms, and not just because it had a recent episode that was entirely animated. But while the show’s reputation is largely built on a solid sit-com foundation, it’s also dedicated to moving its cast forward as characters and not just spinning its wheels for episode after episode. That’s one of the most unique parts of the show, and while The Office may have personnel changes or relationship drama, ultimately its characters are the same week in and week out.
Community hasn’t truly broken free of sit-com’s cyclical nature yet, but it’s certainly trying (for more on this, Dan Harmon wrote story structure tutorials that detail his thoughts on TV structure here). While the show’s Christmas episode was really just a fun one-off, “Asian Population Studies” snaps us right back to dealing with many of the characters’ mounting problems. At this point the series has become fairly bifurcated between episodes dealing with these bigger problems and self-contained ones, and while there are some obvious exceptions (Shirley and Chang having sex came from an otherwise one-off Halloween episode) the second season as a whole has had a lot more of this. Not that it’s something I have a real problem with, but it’s there.
Far and away the most important part of the episode is resolving, at least to some extent, the story of Chang and Shirley’s sex at the Halloween party/zombie riot. While there’s only been five episodes between then and now, there’s been eight weeks of waiting for the other shoe to drop both in reality and in the show. Shirley tells us that she’s gotten back together with her husband, played by Malcolm Jamal Warner wearing a full-on Cosby sweater, due to her pregnancy. But then Pierce, to get back at her in a petty way, tells her that she had sex with Chang and they have a fight. Fortunately we learn Warner’s a pretty awesome guy (at least in this respect) who doesn’t care whether or not it’s biologically his baby, and all is happiness on that front. Not the show’s most interesting plotline, but it’s a good resolution that doesn’t feel forced or like a Very Special Episode—no mean feat when pregnancy is involved with a TV show.
Then there are the two other old plotlines the episode deals with, both of which manage to somehow not end up resolved. Annie has a crush on the doctor Rich she did volunteer work with—who we’ve seen a few times in the past being pretty much perfect at everything—and this annoys Jeff. When she tries to bring him into the group, they hold a mixer to decide who their new group member should be and, when it’s clear that everyone else is in love with Rich, too, Jeff brings out Chang. He’s technically voted in, but immediately afterwards Pierce tells Shirley about her Halloween night because he wants kettle corn (who doesn’t?).
Chang’s now “technically” in the group, but what that means is anyone’s guess. Ken Jeong’s schedule in movies has decided much of his involvement in the show so far, and unless they’ve worked out a new contract it seems unlikely for him to become a true regular—Community has a hard enough time scheduling its large cast as it is. Another matter is that while Chang is popular and well-written, he’s also a huge personality who completely disrupts whatever situation he’s in. There’s a reason why he was cast as a teacher in the first series, and it’s because it makes sense for that character to be at the center of the room. I’m always happy to see Chang in the show, but Community’s balance of characters has always seemed pretty careful and he throws things off quite a bit.
Chang is always enjoyable, perhaps especially when he’s at his most obnoxious, but Rich always bores me completely. Perfect characters just aren’t interesting, it’s why Superman will always be less cool than Batman. There’s also something about him that feels like cheating. Having an angelic character feels like a too easy way for Jeff to deal with his issues, especially since it seemed from the beginning like his answers were meant to be found inside the study group. Even Jeff’s run up to him was a bit grating, given the build-up for a cheap reveal joke that was always fairly obvious.
“Asian Population Studies” was funny, but not as dynamic as the show’s more gimmicky one-offs. Its most successful part was in fact the one I thought Community would have a hard time dealing with, Shirley’s pregnancy, but that went off admirably while the rest of the episode was messier than usual. But even if I have my doubts about the direction things are headed, at least Community is still moving forward as a show, such that next week’s episode promises to look nothing like this week’s. To me, at least, that’s worth a lot.
•I’m also a huge fan of laserdiscs. No seriously, there’s a lot of films that have been released on them and nothing else.
•”Someone’s finding river fingers with a cute boy.”
•Chang using his name as bad puns was a pretty wonderful runner. “That was before he started using his name as a pun. It makes me so Changry.”
•His slow clap, with its payoff, was even better
•Abed is described as “Brown Jamie Lee Curits”
•”I wish my brain had its own brain.”
•”I don’t remember anything that we can remember.”
•”Now that I’m sober you can expect both this class and my penis to be more focused.”
•Rich is the non-union, Mexican equivalent of Jeff.
•”If someone gets to have sex with Chang and not remember that happened, that’s a gift from God.”
•”My name is Kendra and I spell it with a Q, U.” – I refuse to spell Kendra the way she does.
•”Kettle corn: that’s a fun-time snack!”
•”I spell kettle corn with a Q, U.” – Likewise.
•Chang’s name is Ben? We probably already knew this but it seems I’d forgotten it.
•The guy who gets tickets for Brita, i.e. Fat Neil, is the non-union, Mexican equivalent of Jonah Hill.
•Shirley’s husband is really sweet, but I thought he left her to sleep with a stripper., right? Whatever happened to that?