Community: “Physical Education” (1.17)

TV Reviews
Community: “Physical Education” (1.17)

When Community began, one of my biggest fears was that the show would be taking Abed’s immediately popular quirkiness and turning this into the entire show. Remember Family Matters? If so, you might recall how quickly the show was subsumed by Urkel and went from watchable if unoriginal to frighteningly awful. Community was always a better show than that, but breakout characters run the risk of ruining the balance of things, especially when they’re not really developed. For more examples, just think of nearly every running character that SNL has ever had.

But after being featured prominently at the show’s beginning, Abed drifted into the background and became a comfortable part of the show’s ensemble. Injecting him into episodes works well, but keeping the focus elsewhere was a wise move and the show’s become all the better for it. Other than having at least one part of every Community episode focus on Jeff, the show’s cast has become so balanced that Abed’s left the realm of novelty character and became a real person as much as anyone else in it has, and “Physical Education” showed this off wonderfully.

In contrast to the schizophrenia of a lot of recent Modern Family and 30 Rock episodes, “Physical Education” stuck with two strong plotlines and gave them both plenty of room to develop and interact with each other naturally. One of these centers on Abed because the gang finds a picture of him in Troy’s textbook with hearts and other romantic-y stuff drawn around him. They track down who had the book before Troy, and it happens to be an attractive woman, and all of the group sans Jeff is committed to getting them together. Turns out the drawing was just of a guy who looks a lot like Abed, but he doesn’t care because he was only going for her to placate the group anyhow. The story develops Abed as, like the rest of the group, having a life outside of what we see in the show and makes him a lot more interesting. It’s hard not to wonder about what really has been going on with his personal life that we’ve been missing out on, since he’s apparently doing pretty well with the fairer sex on his own.

Since he’s not interested in interfering with Abed’s personal life, Jeff instead spends the episode feuding with his new billiards instructor, who insists that all of his students, billiards team included, wear gym outfits. And at Greendale, that means short shorts. Jeff thinks this is stupid, perhaps because it is, and so he rebels. But eventually Abed teaches Jeff that doing things to placate people doesn’t change who you are, so he heads back and challenges his instructor to a suitably epic pool match. As with most episodes of Community, this means a fantastic and flashy set piece and “Physical Education” does not disappoint. Even that it’s clear Joel McHale is making practically none of the actual shots in the game doesn’t detract from the excitement and humor of the sequence.

All of that and we also get a naked Jeff, Abed slyly getting his shot at the girl after all and a Bert and Ernie-inspired denouement. I don’t think Community fans could ask for much more.

Stray Observations:
“Stricly speaking, Troy, the Bible condemns this level of friendship.”
“We’ve all seen enough after-school specials to konw that Abed only needs to be himself.”
“Jeff’s unprecedently right about this.”
-Abed’s very, very creepy vampire version of himself is awesome. I feel like there’s something else going on there, too, but can’t put my finger on what, aside from a vampire, it is.
“Vanity, thy name is … his name. It’s the first day and I didn’t catch it.”
-The Mad Men self-referential moment works beautifully. I don’t watch the show, but knowing that Alison Brie is in it, even in a small role, is making me want to see what I missed.
“I mean, do hipsters walk around wearing 300 dollar pants from Italy?”
“If you’ll all excuse me, I have a man to beat in pool while playing shorts.”
-Prof. Chang taking bets on Jeff’s pool match is one of those wonderful details that makes the show so great.
-The pool match is in fact barely a montage. They show nearly every ball made. I get the feeling that this sequence was shot extremely fast.
-Anyone else notice Annie taking a nice little look at Jeff when he takes off his speedo? Brita does, too, but I care a bit less about that…
“I’m reading Pride and Prejudice.” “So you’re familiar with two sins…how ’bout a third?”
-White Abed

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