Community: "Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts" (3.11)

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<em>Community</em>: "Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts" (3.11)

Like the rest of you, I’ve been impatiently waiting for Community to return. There’s been an incredible amount of support from its fanbase, as well as a smaller, but perhaps equally vocal, amount of criticism of the show. Community, it’s been said, is just gimmicks. It’s all pop culture parodies or in-jokes. It’s hermetic, only concerned with the small world within the show. These points have varying levels of truth to them, but one of the most important things that they miss is that there’s nothing else like Community on television. It’s not perfect, but it is original and unique. At their base, a lot of these criticisms boil down to the show being too ambitious, taking concepts other shows would toy with and going all-out for them again and again. Sometimes this has lead to strange failures, but when it succeeds Community’s high points are so spectacularly good that fans’ intense dedication makes sense.

Since presumably the show needs to raise its ratings in order to stick around for another year (although 30 Rock did no better at the same time spot), it’s probably a good thing that last night’s episode was a “normal” one. It wasn’t a musical, no zombies invaded, and not a single portion was animated. These are the parts of the show that fans tend to love, but they’re also what makes Community particularly forbidding to new viewers. The third season has also had a harder time than the first two in making traditional sitcom episodes. So what better way to lure in viewers than a wedding episode, which audiences love, with no real gimmick outside of normal sitcom tropes?

Shirley’s getting remarried to her ex-husband Andre Bennett (Malcolm-Jamal Warner), after he proposes at the beginning of the episode. At the same time, she’s working with Pierce to create a sandwich shop on campus, which makes particular sense given that she went to Greendale in the first place in order to gain the skills needed to start her own business. This causes her to arrive late to the wedding rehearsal, angering Andre and setting off a strange chain of events in which Britta and Jeff get very close to drunkenly marrying each other out of spite. At the last second, things turn around and Shirley and Andre do get married, while the sandwich shop falls through.

It makes sense that a Shirley-centric episode would be more traditional, but as much fun as her getting some real screentime was, what made this a really solid episode was that it gave everyone in the cast something to do. When Community’s not trying out a different genre, it frequently has problems juggling all of its characters and stories. Unlike Seinfeld or Arrested Development, the plots frequently fail to interact and seem pretty tangential to each other. There are regularly c-plots that feel like they exist only because the writers needed to figure out what to do with one of the study group members who couldn’t fit into the other stories. Here, though, with everyone gathered around one strong event, it was able to find small but interesting roles for the entire cast.

Britta’s reaction to the wedding was the most interesting as far as the show’s continuity is concerned, but my favorite part was Troy and Abed. As usual, they acted well as a meta-commentary on the show as a whole. The two, like the episode, tried to act as normal as they could. And while that’s attractive at times, there’s also something pretty creepy about that sort of pandering, which was reflected well in the pair’s ghastly attempt at being normal wedding guests. Their true selves are strange, as is Community’s, and that tension between knowing what’s expected and doing something else anyhow is a lot of what makes the show so good, not to mention Troy and Abed its most popular characters.

“Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts” isn’t destined to be a fan favorite, but I’m betting people will be surprised with how much they enjoy it when rewatching this episode on DVD. It’s a finally crafted bit of television that’s a reminder of how Community’s essential weirdness can work well without a surreal plot device. There were plenty of in-jokes and gags that wouldn’t work on a show without such a flexible reality, but there was also plenty of heart, not to mention real emotions and pathos. This sort of episode is just as much a part of the show’s DNA as westerns or zombie invasions, so it’s a pleasure to watch it succeed, even if it’s not the sort of all-out weirdness that fans wanted to see immediately upon the show’s return.

Stray observations:
•”She’s just pro-anti.” – Yeah, pretty much. There’s more nuance to Britta than that, but if you only had one sentence you could do a lot worse.
•An analogy is “like a thought with another thought’s hat on.”
•Shirley’s church is racist against certain cats?
•Pierce’s pants idea is something Karl Pilkington would be proud about. Also, something like that actually did exist, in the form of canes meant for sitting.
•The title cards during Shirley and Britta’s conversation are brilliant.
•Sorry, floral arrangement guy, cerulean is already a color.
•About a third of Jeff’s heart is filled with Annie (at times just her chest).
•”I came from a long line of wives and mothers.” “Many do.”
•”How fiscal will the quarterly earnings be?”
•Why is the wedding rehearsal catered?
•Who gave Annie’s Boobs a tag?
•The Straight A’s poster in the background lists as some of Greendale’s A’s: “Air Conditioning,” “A lot of classes” and “Awesome new friends.”