[Review based on "Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts" (3.11), "Contemporary Impressionists" (3.12) and "Digital Exploration of Interior Design" (3.13). Also, I'm trying a new format for this review where I separate my commentary by storyline]
This week's Community didn't break new ground with its character pairings, but did manage to involve every character (in contrast to "Contemporary Impressionists," which left Shirley, Annie and Pierce on the sidelines for a lot of the episode). Everyone got a bit of character development this week, while managing to deliver the weirdness that many of hardcore fans expect.
Troy and Abed go to war over their pillow and blanket forts
Community often seems like a few different shows competing for airtime: a high-concept, slightly insular and inaccessible show and a more conventional, character-developing show. A sizable (and vocal) segment of fans base their enjoyment on which of the two shows they classify a given episode. Along with next week's episode, this week seems to try to combine both fan service and character development, showing the development of Troy and Abed's relationship within the context of the blanket and pillow forts.
I've really enjoyed Troy's struggle to mature over the last three episodes as he realizes that his friendship with Abed can't last forever. In "Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts," he helps Abed denormalfy but realizes the limits of their carefree fun in "Contemporary Impressionists" when he has to consider the real consequences of Abed's celebrity reenactment addiction. This all seems to be leading up to a crucial moment for Troy where he'll have to face his future after Greendale and the fact that his future will be most secure doing air conditioning repair, something he is good at but doesn't enjoy. For him, college has been a sort of reprieve before adulthood and responsibilities dictate his life.
This sentiment fits in with most of the other characters: Greendale is an oasis from the rest of the world for them. Outside of school, Shirley is responsible for her children and marriage. Pierce has been continually enrolling in Greendale for years and now has to deal with losing his business. Annie has already shown that she couldn't handle life outside Greendale (dropping out of school for addiction to Adderall), and is the most involved in school activities. Britta's often extreme views aren't really sustainable in the real world (since she dropped out of high school to impress Radiohead). Jeff and Abed (the only sane ones according to Britta's psych test) are the least connected to Greendale: Jeff is just using it as a means to return to the real world and Abed is capable of creating his own reality when he can't deal with problems ("Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" - #2.11).
Annie pushes Jeff to apologize to Kim
I don't think the show has had a clear vision of how to treat Annie and Jeff - at times they are a will-they-won't-they coupling, while other times it shies away from pairing them. The show has played this off as Jeff equivocating and being unsure of what he wants; most often this point of view comes from Annie's perspective ("Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Stories" - #3.5 and her comments in this week's episode). I would be more amenable to this line of reasoning if this point were made more consistently and often. The ensemble cast and willingness to devote entire episodes to a concept hurts Community in this regard, since a single character's development over the entire season can feel disjointed and inconsistent.
Pierce and Shirley use Britta to take down Subway (and the sub restaurant)
Along with the two preceding episodes, "Digital Exploration" really demonstrates how the writers and improved and changed Britta as a character. The three episodes have each presented a storyline involving Britta, with three different facets. "Urban Matrimony" showed her over the top third-wave feminist side, and "Contemporary Impressionists" incorporated her newfound "talent" for psychology. "Digital Exploration" was more reminiscent of the first season (in which her character's problems were based on the guys she dated - like Vaughn), but had fun with having her struggle with her values before rationalizing her feelings using 1984.
This episode also continued the rehabilitation of Pierce from last season, seeming to have reset the character to the offensive, but ultimately harmless version from the first season instead of the supervillian of last season. This storyline reminded me of "Environmental Science" (#1.10), in which Pierce and Shirley worked together on a business speech. I was a little more put off by Pierce last season than most fans so I welcome this return but I'm still having trouble reconciling the two wildly different versions.
- Subway is really willing to advertise on struggling fan-favorite shows, right? First Chuck, then such a prominent spot poking fun at itself in Community
- Britta hadn't noticed Subway in her Pre-menopausal-post-feminist experiential marketing (Pre-en-post-fem ex mark) class because he was waitlisted
- Enjoyed seeing Travis Schuldt, Keith Dudemeister from Scrubs
- Annie's only allowed one stuffed animal in her sleep study class, but using Ruthie's pouch to sneak in Nathan
- Dean Pelton just happened to be Googling record lengths of stuff
- John Goodman was again great as Vice Dean Laybourne. He's going through some stuff, causing him to grow a beard, ponytail and makes him really insecure when he crawls.
- Britta and Subway think that everyone should be forced to read 1984
- "Pop pop Captain"
- "That got unhealthy real quick... You know, I was raised in the Bay Area, but I'm a father now"
- Loved the subtle joke about the Subway exec being unable to stand up for a while