Community: “Geography of Global Conflict” (Episode 3.02)

TV Reviews
Community: “Geography of Global Conflict” (Episode 3.02)

From the start, Community has been less about the experience of going to a community college (which seems to require a great deal of exaggeration to make interesting) than about throwing a group of interesting characters together who would otherwise never meet and watching how they grow and learn together. It’s like, as NBC’s ad campaign used to continually remind us, The Breakfast Club, just over an extended period of time. But since season one the show really hasn’t known what to do with the Annie/Jeff relationship and that largely comes to a head here and is also the episode’s main problem.

It’s possible that the show’s creators had something in particular in mind for what would happen next between the pair after they kissed in the first season, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way. It feels like an accident, an error they’ve been trying to erase ever since then despite how unrealistic this has made the pair’s relationship. Not that Community is by any means realistic, but it certainly likes to draw on real emotions whatever its absurd circumstances and Annie/Jeff have them in a corner. On one hand they seem to find the pairing completely disgusting, and on the other hand it’s two incredibly attractive people who have great chemistry together… what’s an audience to think? As we barrel into the third season this no longer has nearly as much of the inherent creepiness about it as it first did: Annie’s no longer a freshman and she’s no longer as much of a surrogate daughter figure for the group. She’s Jeff’s peer, but if she’s treated like a peer than a romance is possible.

“Geography of Global Conflict” does a good job of masking what its real concern is by giving us a goofy, old-fashioned sitcom plot in which Annie finds herself being “replaced” by a doppleganger in the form of Annie Kim. Like the study group’s Annie, Annie Kim is a perfectionist grade grubber, which instantly rubs Annie the wrong way because this is a key part of her identity. Annie’s grown to become a lot more than that, but she still feels threatened, especially when Annie Kim steals her idea to create a Model UN at Greendale. So she rounds up the study group to compete for the title of the real Model UN, largely with the type of wacky results we expect from the show.

The competition between the two groups is beautifully done, with wonderful character-based jokes all the way through. It feels a tiny bit like something we’ve seen before due to the show’s debate club episode a few years back, but that seems intentional because that episode was also the time that Jeff and Annie first kissed. “Geography of Global Conflict” recreates that tension between them, but where “Debate 109” was willing to have that happen, here the show backs away and does so in a manner that feels completely disingenuous. In real life, people rarely talk about their attraction and decide against it, instead they act out and bad choices are made (or possibly, good choices, who can say). This moment feels like it goes against the humanity of these two characters so that they “do the right thing.” But the right thing feels incorrect and forced to the audience because for once it’s not real characters reacting to absurd circumstances; at the moment Annie and Jeff talk about things and decide against ever being with each other they become merely TV characters doing what their writers want them to do.

While everyone else is embroiled in the Model UN competition, Britta and Chang are having identity crises of their own. Britta hears that a friend of hers is out there in the real world being arrested for her activism, while Britta’s just attending Greendale and enjoying her life. Chang is chafing at his position as security guard because he has no power and, really, nothing to do. They work out their problems by both taking their roles to the extremes, and while this B-plot wasn’t extraordinary, it was always pretty enjoyable. Unlike in the main story, both of the leads here felt like they were on character.

There were many great moments in “Geography of Global Conflict,” and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how good a job Martin Starr did in his role. One of the best things about the episode is that it didn’t feel the need to explain who Starr or his class was, it just threw us right into them. By now we don’t need an introduction to every part of the school, we can just accept it if the characters accept it, and doing away with exposition entirely is something Community should do more often. Here we dove right in, and while last season most episodes felt straining at their 21-minute running time, this one was paced perfectly.

But I can’t get rid of the feeling at the back of my throat that Community once again chose to bunt when it comes to Annie/Jeff rather than digging deeper and trying something that its creators find uncomfortable. “Geography and Global Conflict” worked well on an individual episode basis, but as part of the series it was a bit disappointing.

Stray observations:
•It seems unlikely, but who wouldn’t like to see more of Martin Starr this season? At least in one more episode.
•”My first cop flashlight: can’t wait to get some brains on this bad boy.”
•”How’s my smile?”
•”How progressive of you to have a multi-cultural Asian twin.”
•”Someone woke up on the regular side of the bed.”
•Abed attempting to follow Britta’s hand movements was a great detail. “Geography and Global Conflict” was a great reminder of how good Community’s cast is when they’re just background players.
•”That’s just like … not women, Asians.”
•”I don’t understand your relationship here, is he your father or your lover?” – Neither does the show, apparently.
•”The rules to which… I will have to spend the evening devising!”
•”May the most united nations win.”
•I can’t help but wonder why the hell they chose those countries to represent? Good jokes, but boy were they random.
•”Peace!” gun shot
•”China has money, does anybody want some?” – I wish the world really worked like that.
•”You’re as much a criminal as this idiot is a cop.”
•”Annie, stop. You’re acting like a little school girl and not in a hot way.”
•The handcuffs-to-taser fake-out is wonderful.
•”The science works out.” – Uhh sure, why not.
•Also bringing its A-game to the episode this week: Lionel Richie’s “Hello.”

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