Community: “Advanced Criminal Law” (Episode 1.5)

TV Reviews Joel McHale
Community: “Advanced Criminal Law” (Episode 1.5)

One of my main complaints with Community so far had been that, while it did a pretty good job recreating the feel of actual college life, it wasn’t a very distinct place. In fact, it rarely even felt like a community college and was more of an every college. That’s not bad, as it made the experience a lot more universal, but the lack of distinction was starting to make the show a bit blander and less interesting with every passing episode.

Almost as if they’re reading my mind, though (and if the show’s writers are in fact reading my mind, please stop—there are some parts you do NOT want to get in to), “Advanced Criminal Law” is all about putting the show in its place, putting the community back into … well … Community. Soon after it begins, Ken Jeong’s character Señor Chang accuses a member of his class of using that most devious of cheating devices, a crib sheet. Since he has no other way of figuring out who did this dastardly dead, and also really likes taking any sort of power trip he can, Chang sets down that if someone doesn’t confess, the entire class will be given zeros. It’s the sort of ridiculously unfair rule that sounds just like what a teacher would do, though not in an actual university. A community college, though? Fair game.

Britta confesses to the crime not just because she did it, but also because she has quite a guilty complex when it comes to lying. Seems she doesn’t like it or some such nonsense. Luckily, Joel McHale’s character is available to bail her out with his many years of legal experience. A trial is set up to see what will happen to Britta with Chang, John Oliver’s Dr. Duncan, and the school’s Dean, whose dream of working for a real university is the reason why the entire affair is put on in the first place. Because it’s a community college, this trial takes place at the school’s pool.

Joel ultimately gets Britta off with the old fashioned insanity plea, though he twists it by more or less saying that everyone in a community college must be insane because, well, look at the place. While an episode ago that wouldn’t make quite so much sense, regardless of how old and insane Chevy Chase is. Here, though, setting has finally been developed enough that you have to concede he has a point, and not just because the trial is taking place at the school pool. It’s because the trial is taking place at the school pool where a naked guy is swimming.

The episode’s secondary plot is about Abed and Troy’s friendship, which is having a rough time because of Abed’s inability to understand a joke, in specific the joke that Troy is Barack Obama’s cousin. In return, Abed decides to pretend to be an alien in order to show that he, too, can tell a bad joke and be committed to it. This involves creating a fake language, film, and having a friend dressed up in a rather poor quality alien outfit, but it fails to convince Troy. They end the episode as friends and, well, the plot doesn’t really go anywhere or have too much of a payoff. Yay?

Stronger is the episode’s third plot, between Annie and Chase’s character, where she needs to write a song for the school and enlists him to do so because, according to Chase, he’s awesome at it. He fails because he can’t actually write songs so much as steal popular songs and switch out the lyrics. While it only gets a couple minutes on-screen, the plot line’s pretty great because of Chase’s truly awful songwriting and a finale which rewrites a contemporary non-classic for an appropriately community college moment. OK I admit, I just like watching Chase wail out those terrible terrible lyrics, but so what? It’s funny.

The other great part of “Advanced Criminal Law” is that it assuages fears that the show will be a class-of-the-week sort of affair. By theming the episode off of a more typical college moment, it ends up feeling more assured of itself because of it. It’s probably the first episode where you can tell what the show will look like if it makes it to more than one season.

Random Thoughts:

“There’s one Asian stereotype that does apply to me.”

“Are you two an item, and is that item impervious to sabotage?”

“Well I may be stupid, but I’m not trying to look like I’m not.”

“The only difference between Señor Chang and Stalin is that I know who Señor Chang is!”

I’m kind of hoping that naked guy becomes a running gag, even though I realize how cheap the laughter really is. Sometimes you can’t be too snobby about your humor.

“I move that this be thrown out of … the pool area.”

John Oliver and Ken Jeong finally really interacting together was probably the episode’s highlight. Really, it shouldn’t have taken this long for that to happen.

“I’m no more of a songwriter than you or Billy Joel.”

How amazing was that Luis Guzman statue? No that’s not a rhetorical question, the answer is: so amazing.

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