Community isn’t a show that’s just pop culture savvy, its characters for the most part live within a safe little bubble of standard TV and movie plots that protects them from harm.
What’s more, they know it, and are more than happy to play their roles as protagonists within a buddy cop movie or a romantic comedy or whatever else comes their way. Luckily that’s not all there is to the show, so it never slips into a world where references themselves become jokes, but there’s definitely a risk of that taking place—only the razor-sharp writing and a stellar cast keep the show from falling off that dangerous edge.
So it’s a surprise (albeit a welcome one) at the beginning of “The Art of Discourse” when this safety apparatus breaks away and, for lack of better terminology, shit suddenly gets real. Following some lighthearted depantsing action* Abed and Troy are goofing around with, Pierce depants Shirley and before he knows it is kicked out of the group. For at least a little while, there’s real consequences to what’s happening—though even here it seems likely that he’ll reunite with the Spanish study group before the end of the episode, there’s at least a hint that maybe he won’t.
The rest of the group has a hard time dealing with Pierce leaving, less so that they like him than because he’s usually their scapegoat. Pierce isn’t willing to apologize because as far as he’s concerned it’s not his fault Shirley can’t take a joke, but it becomes increasingly clear to everyone else that without him things are going to take a turn for the worse. At this point, the more standard Community tone returns and they begin scheming to get him back. Sure, it fails and Shirley leaves as well, but scheming is definitely in line with normal sitcom shenanigans, so it’s safe. By the end of the episode, Pierce and Shirley have bonded and return to the group, making it so that all is as it started at the beginning of the episode, but the path they take towards gaining respect for one another is hopefully something that will stick. It’s been unclear thus far how much Community is willing to let its characters change, but having that pair lose their antagonism towards each other would definitely affect the entire show dynamic in a pretty interesting way. Here’s hoping that it’s confident enough to run with this.
While this is happening, a group of overachieving high school students attending classes at Greendale for some reason makes it their mission to annoy the hell out of Jeff and Britta. The trio is thoroughly unlikable and gets under our protagonists’ skin, which is rough because Jeff and Britta have pretty fragile egos and the truth of what the teenagers are saying does really hurt. They come up with a few more schemes to get back at the young students, but fail pretty miserably. This ends in an extremely silly but perfectly executed battle of, well, what are the opposite of wits exactly? In any case, a “duh” off ensues in which Jeff and Britta are on the verge of losing but come from behind to win it after Pierce and Shirley come from behind and depants the youngins.
Then, in a largely negligible (but pretty great) C plot, Abed and Troy decide to go through a bucket list of requisite college experiences, which amongst other things means building a robot named the Boobitron 4000. What the robot does is never really explained: “It seeks out boobs.” Wait, what? I would like to see what exactly that means, but in any case the robot is pretty sweet.
I’m perfectly fine with Community staying safely in its pop culture comfort zone, but there was something exciting about the few minutes when that dropped away. The tension of these two different realities came through wonderfully, and once again the set-piece at the end of the episode was thoroughly brilliant. Even with those obnoxious teenagers, the episode was a definite success.
*****I don’t care if the correct term is pantsing, I’m saying depantsing because “pantsing” meaning to remove pants is just stupid. I’m a rebel like that.
“Is she wearing a discman?”
“You have literally identified me to strangers as ‘the black woman’.”
“Get ready to meet Jeff Winger esq., attorney of aww … snap.”
-I don’t care if it’s a cheap joke, everything having to do with the goat is amazing, especially when Troy begins speaking to it.
“They’re making us walk around with pretzels in our butts. I put mustard on mine like an idiot.”
“You don’t happen to have an extra bottle of sports drink, do you?”
“Ridiculous situation descending into heavy-handed drama for the illusion of story… check.”
“Why are Jeff and Britta making fun of those handicapped kids?”
“Congratulations on your… victory…”
-The show’s creator Dan Harmon has been talking up next week’s episode as the best of the season for months now, so we’ll see if it lives up to the hype.