Regardless of the fact that this season of Community has little reason for existing, features characters whose role on the show remains undefined, and struggles to maintain a coherent identity, the show is still bold and strange. The odd thing about it is that, rather than really trying to attempt at solving problems that are perhaps so far gone at this point as to be unsolvable, the show has decided to ignore these things entirely. That’s not necessarily a bad approach, and while it doesn’t lead to a particularly compelling season as a whole, at least individual episodes can be weird and interesting in ways that were never attempted in the past.
“Queer Studies and Advanced Waxing” took Community into the realm of commentating on race and gender in a way that the show hasn’t really been comfortable with before. Sure, its cast has never been all white, and Dean Pelton has never attempted to hide his sexuality, but at most these parts of the show tend to get a line or two in an episode and otherwise remain in the background. Spotlighting diversity in two of the episode’s stories, and bringing it up in the third for a pretty good joke, took the show outside of its comfort zone. And although “Queer Studies” never really came together—to be honest it largely fell apart by the end of the episode—it didn’t eclipse the rest of what was going on here.
30 minutes of running time has allowed Community a lot of bloat (every single episode so far would’ve improved with a couple minutes cut through another round of editing), but this has also allowed the show to field multiple A-stories. This time, one of these concerns Dean Pelton being offered a position on Greendale’s school board in order to show that the school board doesn’t hate homosexuality. They recently replaced the school’s Pride Parade, and this is their weasel-y way to pretend they care. However, in order to do so Pelton needs to come out as gay. He’s conflicted both because of the tokenism and because he’s not, strictly speaking, gay. He’s queer (according to him, gay is 2/7 of his sexuality), and doesn’t want to hide this fact, but also would love the position. So Pelton takes the job despite his internal conflict, and from there we get a wonderful montage of what this means for the school in the song “Gay Dean,” sung to the tune of “Jolene.”
This story has a great set-up, an entertaining new character in Pelton’s gay beard, Domingo, and takes the show in a bold new direction. Then it just trips all over itself after Pelton has guilt over caving to the school board’s demands (making the IT staff actually do their jobs), at which point he calls a press conference to come out as a politician. Wait, what? And people care for some reason? It’s one of those cases where the show is unwilling to really move forward, and wants things to return to the status quo. Instead of figuring a real way out, Community did something really lazy and completely forgot what it was talking about. Any insight that this story was growing toward disappears, and instead we’re left with tepid, sub-fourth season jokes.
The other A-story concerns Chang and Annie playing parts in a theatrical adaptation of The Karate Kid. The director seems to love Annie but constantly berates Chang. However, in a nice reversal, it turns out to be due to the potential he sees in Chang, giving the show a nice Whiplash parody. There’s also some interesting commentary here as Chang is forced into the role of Mr. Miyagi while Annie is allowed to play Daniel, yet this turns out to be because of dramatic reasons, not race. Miyagi is the better role and the only one the director cares about, and Chang is the actor with real potential. That it’s a racist role makes things complex, and this combined with Annie’s casting brings to the fore issues of casting in Hollywood right now, which seems particularly timely given the idiocy going on elsewhere. The play itself seems… fine? It’s one of those cases where a show wants you to think things are brilliant, so there are a lot of reactions shots from the cast, but really it seems like a pretty ordinary student production. And while yes, that’s the joke here, it’s one of those cases where Community’s not so much parodying a trope, as it is replicating one.
Things end on an interesting down note with this story, but there’s also just a lot of weirdness in Community wanting its wackiest character to get some pathos. This has happened before, but because every time this happens Chang soon reverts to just being a clown, it’s impossible to treat him seriously here, either. Ken Jeong is a great actor, so if you only saw this one episode the story would work much better, but within Community as a whole it’s just off. Once again, there’s a problem with continuity and character’s not acting like themselves anywhere else. And while I hope the show continues showing Chang as a talented thespian, expect to have him back in clown mode next week or, at the very least, two episodes from now.
The third story involves Elroy, who is still here for no readily discernible reason (he’s hired for IT a couple minutes later), and Abed working at fixing the school’s wifi. It turns out a bird’s nest is causing problems, but they decide to let the bird’s nest stay so that their mother can find the baby birds. This story ends the episode, and is mostly just… a series of events. There isn’t a plot, which is fine, almost a breath of fresh air for Community, though it leads to some more or less forced emotion at the end of the episode, as the sole surviving bird flies away. I’m happy that at least there will be a reason for Elroy to stick around in the future, and the confrontation between him and the Dean was wonderful, but aside from that, this didn’t really go anywhere.
That being said, even this c-story was different. It wasn’t a typical Community story, and it wasn’t phoning in the jokes either. While so much of the episode got away from the writers, “Queer Studies” was always surprising in a way that the show rarely is these days. Community remains massively flawed, but with this episode, at least it’s not treading water.