Community: “Basic Genealogy” (1.18)

TV Reviews
Community: “Basic Genealogy” (1.18)

One of the things that always sets sit-coms in particular off in their own, unrealistic little worlds is their lack of outside friendships or families. If a show is based around a family, you’d better be prepared for almost every episode centering on the characters of that family interacting rather than the reality of our lives, which is time spent at school, work and with friends. Reality is a lot bigger than the couple of easy sets used in a sit-com, and the way shows wall off one portion of the world is a large part of what keeps them so artificial. An episode like Community’s “Basic Genealogy” allows a nice little dip into what’s going on with the show’s characters outside of the few hours they spend a week at the college, and if it’s a little bit too crammed with characters and events to be one of the show’s absolute best episodes, it still does something that’s largely new to the show.

The basic thrust of the episode is that Greendale is having its family day so everyone is bringing around their family, with the exception of Jeff, whose family doesn’t know he’s not still a lawyer, and Annie, who I assume the show’s creators just didn’t have enough time for. Most relevant among these family members is Pierce’s ex-step-daughter, played by actress/model/singer I have absolutely no interest in whatsoever Katharine McPhee. Turns out she’s just there for the money, though, which Jeff unearths while simultaneously sleeping with her, somewhat because he’s on the rebound from being dumped by Prof. Slater. Despite his sort of treachery, Jeff makes up to Pierce by coming clean about his ex-step-daughter’s shenanigans. It’s not a great plotline, and McPhee, while perhaps not bad, isn’t really up to hanging around with the Community cast, making her rather uninteresting.

Elsewhere Britta, who also randomly doesn’t have any of her family around, hangs about with Troy and his grandmother, who is an angry old woman who likes beating people with sticks. When Britta unintentionally acts patronizing, she annoys the woman who unsurprisingly asks Britta to cut a switch so that she can get beaten with it. But due to equal parts white guilt and commitment to a bad idea, Britta comes back with a full-on stick, not a switch in any real sense, and takes her beating. Then before the end of the episode Troy’s grandmother also asks him to cut a switch so he can take a beating as well. Umm … the whole plotline is a lot funnier than it sounds here.

Outside of these, there’s also a minor plot where Shirley and her family meet Abed and his. It’s a nice bit of confrontation and involves poking some fun at burkas, as well as eventually getting Abed and Troy stuck in a vending machine. Also in minor, or perhaps non-existent plots, we get a peek at Senor Chang’s brother, Rabbi Chang, and I couldn’t be happier about this. Hell, the rest of the episode could disappear and I’d be content with Chang’s disapproving brother and his Hebraic ways. It’s hard not to wonder what their parents must have been like.

Weirdly, “Basic Genealogy” ends up making the show feel more insular, as all of these people coming in only reinforce how Greendale is the only thing that’s really important to the group of students we’re following around, not their families or outside friends. It’s why Allison’s boyfriend disappearing for a month is unimportant, and the fact that we’ll probably never get a glimpse of Troy’s grandmother again isn’t a loss, as they’re not really part of the show. For Community more than almost anything else, though, this ends up working because of the heavy amount of stylization and self-referentiality involved in the show already. Bringing in the outside world, even in a small way, didn’t particularly help Community, but it didn’t bring it down either … with the show throwing out jokes such intelligence and machine-gun speed, there’s little that could.

Stray Observations:
The beginning of the episode slings jokes so fast I can’t actually keep track of what they’re saying. I think there’s like twenty quotable lines before the theme song even hit.
“You’re like the bootynator.”
-Remember that one episode that had a full theme song? As if the show would ever have the time for that now.
“There’s something about his mass emails that made me certain this would be a family reunion.”
“Technically ex-step-daughter” i.e., no actual relation at all.
-Which one are you a bigger fan of, Rabbi Chang or Senor Chang? Here’s hoping we get to see more of the Chang family.
“Disappointing you is like choking the Little Mermaid with a bike chain.”
-Speaking of seeing more, Community was picked up for another season! Dan Harmon explains here.
“Stop pretending that my mean old nana is awesome.”
-Happy sideways vagina.
-I want to hate Star-burns, but Dino Stamatopoulos is just too good.

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