Amongst Community’s more immediately noticeable traits is generally the show’s self-consciousness. It’s this feature that tends to divides critics more than other elements of the show, as for some people this facet is indicative that Community is full of nothing but shallow, hip self-regard. But self-consciousness isn’t necessarily a bad thing and it also doesn’t necessarily lead to a bunch of South Park-style jokes that don’t particularly go anywhere aside from a particular episode’s heavy-handed point. Self-consciousness can actually make things feel a lot more real, despite the stylized way that they’re being used in Community.
It’s a fact that nearly everyone watching Community has spent countless hours watching television sit-coms, as well as probably an equal amount of time on trashy Hollywood movies. It’s just a part of our landscape—you can’t avoid watching the blockbuster of the season, and even if you miss it you know the gist. Well, the characters of Community have done the same, and aside from Abed’s auto-didactic capacities for remembering pop culture, they respond to clichéd show tropes in the same way you do. They know that Jeff is the cool guy, that Britta has been set up as a romantic interest regardless of the lack of chemistry between the two characters. They know that Pierce is comic relief and that they’re the center of the universe because they are television characters. When characters on The Big Bang Theory fall into another typical sit-com trap, I end up annoyed. When Troy remarks that a black guy being on a boat is novel, it’s not because he lives in the same world of pop-culture cacophony I do and, well, black people getting a role outside stereotypes is as novel for him as it is for people watching the show.
The main focus of “Beginning Pottery” centers around Jeff’s knowledge that he is the cool guy and, as with the seminal cool guy of television Arthur Fonzerelli, he should be good at everything. This includes esoteric topics unrelated to anything he’s ever done before such as pottery, a course he’s taking because it’s apparently the easiest thing to pass ever created and he’s a slacker. So long as you don’t make a reference to the pottery scene in Ghost, you pass. The only problem is that Jeff sucks at pottery and someone else in the class doesn’t. This goes against everything both he and the audience knows about television, especially when even Jeff putting his all into the pursuit can’t change the fact that he just plain sucks at it. And, well, that’s just how reality is at times. After going through a large period of denial and Jeff Goldblum-style obsessive research, he finally comes to grip with the situation and accepts it.
Jeff’s arc in the episode isn’t learning to be the best potter. It’s not even learning to accept that he’s not ever going to be good at pottery. It’s learning to accept that he’s going to be average at just about everything and good at a few things, like everyone else. It’s a more realistic arc that nonetheless draws on a lot of television for both references and clichéd structures to work against. I’m not sure Jeff really grows in “Beginning Pottery,” but he assures us that he’s not simply becoming a type, that he’s not destined to succeed at everything he tries simply because he’s the show’s main protagonist.
The show’s secondary plot isn’t so interesting, as it’s kinda just a wacky bit on the side. That isn’t meant as a slam against what is a pretty ingenious bit of physical comedy, though, as the half of the study group who didn’t follow Jeff into pottery instead decided on a boating course. The only thing is that given that Greendale is a) a community college and b) nowhere near a body of water, they’re forced to practice their boating in the school’s parking lot. Shirley takes the helm and soon Pierce ends up screwing things up in not unforeseeable ways. Some of the episode’s best laughs come from the boating sequences, but its end is a bit abrupt, making it so that as usual there’s clearly 10 more minutes of material Dan Harmon and co. wanted to show but the compressed version is all they’re able to put out. Neither one of these stories was one of the show’s greatest, but at this point a decent episode of Community is still one of the funniest things to come out in a given week, not to mention interesting for reasons beyond its top-notch joke-telling.
“Your last blow-off class ended up teaching me to live in the moment, which I will always regret and never do again.”
“This class is like a redhead who drinks scotch and loves die hard, I suggest you all get her number.”
-I’m pretty sure Pierce didn’t always call Abed “Ay-bed,” but I’m not sure when exactly that switch occured.
“A black person on a sailboat? I have to see this, I’m in.”
-Tony Hale! The college aspect of the show has really allowed them to do guest stars unobtrusively, and his appearance was good but in a way that didn’t draw attention to itself.
-S. S. Nosecandy
“I commanded a jet ski through an electrical storm, and only had one casualty.”
“Nobody gets out of Santa Fe without learning how to make a pot.” – As a New Mexican who has lived in Santa Fe, I can attest that this is in fact true for only 95% of the population. Unfortunately I’m not one of them.
“I hope I get multiple personalities; I get lonely in long showers.”
“Is that nautical talk or urban speak?”
“Congratulations, you failed a class so easy that people passing in the hallway get a contact credit.”
-Annie working on the world’s most phallic pot during multiple scenes was highly distracting. Not that I’m complaining or anything.
“Do you still have the number of that private investigator you used when you thought Ross Perot was sleeping with your mom?”
-The Chang, rather than Troy and Abed-centric, last scene was still good. I wonder if they’re sick of those by now and wanted to try something else?