Community: “Early 21st Century Romanticism” (2.15)

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One of my favorite things about Community is the sheer number of unique episodes the show’s had already in less than two seasons. Last week’s episode was one of those, re-framing the entire show within the world of a fantasy game, but that still leaves us the rest of the episodes. You know, the ones that don’t have a gimmick to rely on, the ones that need to go back to old-fashioned sit-com storytelling in order to get their points through. Unfortunately, those episodes aren’t really the show’s strength, even when there’s nothing particularly wrong with them. It’s just that, contrasting with a zombie attack, they can feel like a little bit of a letdown.

Despite being centered around Valentine’s day, “Early 21st Century Romance” is one of those more conventional episodes of the show. It begins with Jeff entering into the world’s silliest fight with the rest of the group over the quality of the Barenaked Ladies’ music (which I have to confess is the type of fight I get into with my own friends, so who am I to judge), which leads him to storm off and spending the rest of the episode away from the group. Everyone else is headed to a dance, to which Troy and Abed have asked out the same girl. Britta’s there with her supposedly lesbian doppelganger and Annie, while Pierce attends to his drug-induced imaginary friend.

There are a lot of plots going on in order to give everyone in the show’s large cast something to do, but this also means that each individual plot is pretty small. Pierce, for instance, only shows up a few times, despite his decisions actually having perhaps the largest effect of anyone in the episode. It’s a funny little story but it feels very slight. We’re getting a little bit of Pierce’s drug addiction, but it feels like there’s a lot missing.

Britta and Annie’s story is a bit larger, and I liked its points about the treatment of homosexuality, but it felt like there could’ve been a lot more going on here. For instance, Britta’s narcissistic attraction—whether sexually or platonically—to her doppelganger weirdly goes uncommented upon. At the same time Troy and Abed’s story was rather sweet but we only got about 45 seconds of their date with the librarian. All we really know about her is that her name’s Mariah, she’s a librarian and she’s attractive. By the end of this mini-date that seems like all Troy and Abed know as well. Some really funny material there, but it felt a bit out of character for Troy.

The biggest story was Jeff’s, which should have some interesting repercussions in future episodes if Chang is in fact now living with him. The show has been struggling to figure out where Chang stands for some time, and it looks like this is an attempt to at least approach what direction he’s headed, not just with the study group but also with life in general. This also had the benefit of John Oliver’s presence, not to mention nicely isolating Jeff from everyone else for a little while.

In all, a funny episode, but one that could really have benefited from being double its length. Four plots, even with one being extremely short, is incredibly hard to balance and although Community is wonderfully written, its strength isn’t in featuring that sort of Seinfeld-esque intricacy. It was a solidly enjoyable 22-minutes but every single one of these felt truncated and under-explored. Of course, I far prefer having four stories that are interesting enough to sustain twice their length than having four stories that are equally irrelevant or annoying, but it’s still a little disappointing.

Stray Observations:
•”Is she… a friend of Ellen?” – I hope that this slang way of referring to homosexuality catches on. Its implications that Ellen only has homosexual friends amuses me, probably too much.
•”Many, many paragraphs of that were oddly supporting.” – on Pierce’;s lesbian statement to Britta
•”Why does everyone leap to defend that band so aggressively?” Because they have quite a few great songs, OK Jeff? No… I’m not defensive….
•”God gave you a British friend and a massive TV for a reason.”
•”Andy Dick mentions “Streets ahead.” A nice little nod for big fans of the show.
•Abed’s shirt says “Chicken Suds Hand Cleaner.”
•”What’s in the briefcase?” “Tacos.”.
•”What are you doing here Chang and how do you know where I live?”
•Those may be the right colors for liverpool, but you gotta admit that Chang sure looks like Waldo there.
•”In England, everything means vagina.”
•”I love pizza—in England we call them Italian fannies.”
•The non-union, Mexican (and less attractive) equivalents of Britta and Annie are pretty well cast.
•”Who the hell is Nicholas Nickelby? And she wouldn’t she shut up about it?”
•The conversation around the terrible v-day statue is a great way of blocking Annie/Britta’s discussion.
•I didn’t mention it in the write-up, but the text/voice-over ending was saccharine even for a show that goes that direction frequently. Feels like they really didn’t know how to end this one, for once.