Just a couple of episodes ago, I was pontificating about whether Community would up the self-reflexiveness that it’s started to show or stick with its more typical tone. “Debate 109” answers that question quite nicely, with a vehement yes that for once is a good thing. Self-reflexiveness is a tricky tool. On the one hand, it can lead to jokes otherwise inaccessible and on occasion create some awesome situations. Venture Bros. comes to mind here, given that the entire show is aware of its own ridiculousness but that’s in some ways part of its essential premise. On the other hand, when a show not-so-reliant upon self-reflexiveness tries to add that aspect, it can frequently fail … sorry Simpsons—just not your strong suit. Or it can be part of the premise and just suck, but we’ll ignore Family Guy for the moment and just move on.
-Doesn’t the guy who plays Abed’s version of Troy look kinda like Coolio? Where is Coolio these days, anyhow?
Anyhow, my point is that it’s a tight rope to walk and can lead to some deadly ground. Arrested Development remains in a way the apex of self-reflexive yet still, you know, funny but it’s hard to figure out why they were able to make it work there while it rarely succeeds anywhere else. Abed’s videos in “Debate 109” fail to fall into that chasm because while they’re ultimately referencing the show’s nature as a construction, they also exist just fine within the already established universe. Making Abed a little bit weirder, at this point, only makes sense. If you read my column on the site last week about Community’s Dan Harmon (plug plug), you’d probably come to the inevitable conclusion that Community was bound to become self-reflexive sooner rather than later, it was just how it happens that was the issue. So far, so good … let’s just hope Harmon doesn’t reinvent things in space by the end of the season. Yeah, that’s a real fear—he’s done it before.
But that’s just a detail of the episode and ultimately a very small part. “Debate 109” is primarily about a debate team contest Annie drags Joel into through a combination of begging, guilt and the promise of a parking space. Her, and the college itself, believe that he’d be great on the debate team given his history as a lawyer. Of course, he’s never actually been to a debate before, so he uses tactics normally employed to trick a jury rather than actually trying to debate through facts or apocryphal, for some reason presumably meaningful quotations, which is apparently the normal way of doing things.
Second to that plotline is Britta working with Chevy Chase to remove her smoking habit. According to him, Chase is a master hypnotist who can help her with her smoking problem. Of course, he’s as incompetent at this as he is with everything else in his life, as well as senile in this as everything else in life, and thus unable to even get her asleep. Due to a combination of pity and, well mostly pity, she continues with his sessions until he tries to creepily convince her to sleep with him during hypnosis. She reveals she was faking it and he reveals that he was faking it, too. Oh sit-coms. It works out for the best regardless as she’s unable to think about smoking without recalling her creepy evenings spent on a dirty old man’s couch. Turns out Chase is either a mindblowingly good therapist or the worst one ever. The jury’s still out, but I tend towards the former.
Finally, there’s the whole Abed is filming versions of his friends for his films thing. The creepy aspect of these films is not so much that he’s recreating what’s happened in the show’s past, but rather that he’s doing so in the future. Shirley’s convinced he’s some sort of seer or perhaps an unholy witch. In any case, not to be trusted. His predictions continue to come true and this plot doesn’t have so much resolution, which is kinda nice. For once, a show just sets down a premise and plays with it. I’d expect this to pop up at least a bit in the future, hopefully with werewolves involved.
So how does it all play out? Wonderfully, in fact. Not only did this episode of Community take some much needed breathing room from the whole Britta/Joel thing, I also kinda like the Annie/Joel thing a lot better and as everyone knows, trios are far better for bad, Three’s Company-style escapades to be riffed on. There wasn’t too much deeper going on, but as far as pure humor goes this was the best thing in the night and a third week of greatness for a show that’s quickly becoming the funniest thing on this season (keeping in mind that I haven’t caught any of the new Venture Bros. episodes).
“I’m saying this because I care about you and you’re my friend … you need to start smoking again.”
“That’s wrinkling my brain”
“The best compliment our sports teams get is that our basketball team is really gay”
“I’m not a witch – I’m a student of human character”
“I think your shirt’s trying to get out of your pants”
“I always envision the opponent having aggressive sex with my mother”
-I enjoy seeing the terrible human mascot around. How awful it is really blows my mind.
“By zooks, what sort of jackassery is this?”
“You’re right, my feet are long, and stupid.”
“Is that me being chased by a werewolf?”
“You forgot your phone” “Oh I can get another one!”
“Wow, this is a real barn-burner…oh god, did i say cross burner” “NO you didn’t…”
-It’s a cheap joke, but Chevy Chase falling repeatedly on instruments is pretty damn great.
“Apu from the Simpsons” “Catsup is a vegetable!”
-Yelling “Eat that Simmons!” to a crippled man on the ground – classy