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
"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?