With all of Community’s non-stop meta-commentary it’s a surprise that the show wears its heart so very much on its sleeve. Early commercials for it mentioned The Breakfast Club, and while that’s not really what Dan Harmon and company are going for, there’s a lot of that earnestness going into the show. Characters are really supposed to work out their issues and improve as people, which immediately sets the show off from the kind of nihilism of Seinfeld or meandering repetition of The Office. There’s an element of the show that, for better or worse, is a bit didactic. In a sense, episodes of Community are rarely supposed to be just 22 minutes of laughter, they’re supposed to actually say something about the world.
Given those lofty ambitions it’s almost a wonder that the show hadn’t gone to the children’s PSA well before now, since it’s an almost perfect place for the show to comment ironically on the ridiculousness of these things while still getting its messages across. I say almost perfect because it’s not exactly an original idea, and while Community loves to wallow in cliche, here it wasn’t really acknowledging what came before it. A satire stops being interesting when it becomes just another example of the genre, and “Celebrity Pharmacology” was perhaps the most traditionally sit-com-y episode the show has had so far. It had its fun joking about the hokiness of a PSA, but without the show’s usual twist. Unlike most episodes, it’s pretty easy to see how this one could’ve been shot with three cameras and a live audience.
“Celebrity Pharmacology” focused primarily on Annie’s desire to put on an anti-drug play for children, and this is the backdrop for the rest of the episode. Pierce isn’t happy with his role, so he goes to see Annie about it personally and in doing so we get more backstory about her. Turns out she’s not speaking with her family and is barely making ends meet. He gives her money with the understanding that she’ll give him a bigger role, and when they’re about to put on the play the next day he’s written himself a MUCH bigger role, which happens to resonate with the children.
The play itself, and Pierce’s rewrite, is extremely fun. This is clearly why the episode was made, but the deal between Pierce and Annie, while fitting well with their characters, is far too thematically blunt. The talk about self-reliance etc. is grating and unrealistically explicit.
Pierce’s rewrite turns out to be a big hit with the kids, so big, in fact, that they spend the play’s intermission screaming for his return. The problem is that, well, he’s supposed to be a bad character, being drugs and all, so this compromises Annie’s entire goal (the episode itself couldn’t be more clear about this message). Until now, Chang has been trying to get Shirley to befriend him since she’s carrying his child, so he takes this chance to prove himself and remakes drugs into an obnoxious character, saving the play and earning Shirley’s respect. Chang’s performance here is the high point of “Celebrity Pharmacology,” and the way he perhaps loses her respect at the end is perfect, too. If that’s all it took to end their parental issues it will be disappointing, but for now it was enjoyable enough.
Going on at the same time is Jeff sending a text message to Britta’s nephew, and the less mentioned about this plot the better. Not only does it only peripherally have anything to do with the rest of the episode, it’s also the most disappointingly sit-com by-the-numbers story the show’s ever done. Of course, not everything can be a winner, but this was pretty disappointing.
The play itself made “Celebrity Pharmacology” passable and with the entire cast in one area Community was firing off quips as fast as anything. I also appreciate the attempt to bring out characters’ backstories, and giving Pierce more screentime is always a good thing. But the episode as a whole was coasting on the characters without a compelling plot and was just put together without the show’s usual elegance. Some of its jokes were amazing, but like the plot they tended to be unnecessarily overstated for a show whose audience is sophisticated enough to not need handholding. “Celebrity Pharmacology” is an episode of Community that functioned as a good episode of another sit-com, but by its own standards it’s a bit of a disappointment.
•”Does marijuana make people work faster? I thought it just made them custom-paint their vans and solve mysteries.”
•Futurama has long had an obsession with Charleston Chews as well, which is just a really funny old-timey candy. I loved the way it was worked in, up until the point where the principal came right out and mentioned that the kids had eaten them. Same problem as the whole episode.
•I had a discussion about the importance of texting in modern relationships with a friend about a month ago and couldn’t agree more with the episode on this.
•”Is the message Jeff Winger? Because he’s on every page of this thing…”
•The skeleton they briefly show is pretty amazing. Is it really a human?
•“There’s a rapist in the hallway.” “That’s my landlord, and if he wanted to rape you, you’d be raped..”
•The period fairy is just… wow.
•”Well that answers my question—Jeff Winger is sexy even in a coffin.”
•Why is there an intermission in a play for children, especially one after they’ve already flushed the drugs down the toilet?
•Don’t really find the whole dildopolis thing very funny. Meh. Nice that they serve espresso, I suppose.