There’s so much to like about this show—especially the various directions it can go in terms of humor—that when it’s firing on all cylinders I think such episodes become something quite remarkable. Tonight was such an episode. The setup to the night of reverie was brisk, machine-gun quick with jokes, and rolled out the episode’s premise without wasting a breath. The familiar structure of an opening placing us in the midst of a celebration is a common time-saver for sitcom writers, and Pierce’s pointed question about why they only sang the last two words to “Happy Birthday” was a phenomenal little meta-joke about the structure of 22-minute television. By the time Troy was done extorting Pierce for money for a birthday cake he never received (for a birthday celebration he never experienced), I had a good feeling we were in for a solid episode.
I thought taking the gang off campus for a night was a nice shakeup for the show, even though they’ve already been outside the boundaries of the campus this season on multiple occasions (to mixed effect at best, in my opinion). The difference tonight is that the episode maintained many of the facets of great on-campus episodes. Most notably, it found two different ways to maintain the “round table” moments the gang engages in, which are arguably the funniest moments on the show. The near-perfection of the recent episode that found them entirely trapped at the table (or at least in the lounge) underscores the writers’ ability to extract great comedy from simple dialogue with these characters. So tonight benefitted from the car scenes (to and from the bar—putting nice bookends on the bar scenes) as well as the snappy dialogue between Britta and Jeff at the bar (to Troy’s general confusion).
The physical comedy was also hard at work in this episode. Britta’s expression when Jeff shushes her on the phone was rivaled only by Abed’s reaction at the end of the phone call to Jeff’s parting remarks about the bar—both testaments to the stellar acting on this show. A few minutes later, though, both were trumped by the phenomenally simple joke of Pierce getting trapped in his straw-controlled wheelchair in the entryway to the bar. The brief overhead shot of his awkward maneuvers to free himself was worth a rewind once I finished the first round of laughter.
The only real complaints about this episode would be regarding the disjointedness of some of the storylines. Annie and Abed were pretty lonesome and isolated this episode (Abed especially, given his unfortunate seating arrangement on the drive home); which is not to say their storylines weren’t funny. But the show generally excels at tying everything together and it felt a little unfamiliar to have the characters still splintered as the episode wound down (though Troy’s moment in the hallway with a drunk and emotional Annie was nicely handled). As for Abed’s solitude at the bar, I think in the long run I’d take it again if the payoff is as rich in comedy—Abed’s encounter at the bar (and the reveal that he wasn’t oblivious after all, just enjoying a good Farscape chat) was excellent.
Thematically the episode played loosely with ideals of the privilege and punishment of entering adulthood. Troy’s “coming of age” is used cleverly (and humorously) multiple times during the episode, but perhaps the best moments had more to do with how the existing “adults” revert to childishness as soon as alcohol is placed in front of them: Abed is drawn to a video game from his childhood while Britta and Jeff argue—childishly—about who has better taste in alcohol (and end up making out in the backseat of a car like sophomores after homecoming). The only ones who seem enlightened to the lessons of maturity offered by the night are the youths: a newly-adult Troy realizes the hazards of alcohol and other reckless choices and a disheartened Annie gets a lesson in self assureance (but only after she “played pretend” with an adult role at the bar—clever twist, Community!). All very well handled and, in the true tradition of Community, comfortably light-hearted and well earned. I wonder if the show had 2-3 more minutes whether Shirley’s history at the bar would’ve been more tightly wrapped into the theme as well (it certainly stands as a visual metaphor for adult regret).
A great episode all around—easily one of my top 3 this season. Thoughts?
Great lines and moments:
- “Hey why did we only sing the last two words?”
- Best use of birthday cake writing ever: “A date whose numbers coincide with the day you were expelled from a uterus”
- Shirley: “Let’s go to Friday’s. They have great virgin mudslides!”
Britta: “Those are milkshakes.”
- “You’re ruining Fuddrucker’s for everyone.”
- “Don’t repeat that you goon!” (Britta’s facial reaction to this is what really sells the moment for me)
- “Speaking of wormholes…” might be the grossest come-on in the history of TV comedies—well done!
- “Why would you do that in front of me? I’m not a coat rack.”
- “Stargate’s better.” An angry, rejected gay man has never gotten in a final dig that hit home harder—Abed looked utterly dejected.
- “Alcohol makes people sad. It’s the Lifetime movies of beverages.”
- “I can’t wait to understand these arguments!”
- “Plans fall off me like chicken crap off an armadilla’.” I love Annie’s perception of what a southerner would say (and how hot she sounds saying it).
- Others? I can’t remember them all, but there were many more.