Monday, January 24, 2011

TV Episode Review: Community "Asian Population Studies"

Community made a strong return this week after a loooong hiatus for the holidays.  The strength of this season’s past few episodes may prove important in the long run given that NBC has clearly decided to toss all of their Thursday comedies into a Yahtzee shaker with a couple total pieces of trash (Perfect Couples and Outsourced—double shudder) and just let things sort themselves out.  This continues to mean a tough go of it for Community which is stuck with the earliest time slot with no lead-in.  It’s a difficult position for the show to be in, but I can’t help but think the continuing strength of the show’s writing and the charm of its ensemble of leads will keep it somewhere in this bloated lineup going into next year—the question is where.  The Office may go down the tubes rapidly once Steve Carrell makes his exit, and the rest of the Thursday night lineup is a far cry from the ratings draw of that show.  Outsourced and Perfect Couples won’t replace any of our favorites, but their presence suggests that NBC isn’t completely in love with anything currently in existence on Thursday nights.

The episode opens with a strong entry into the growing string of great dialogue exchanges around the study table.  Annie is busily attempting to spread gossip about her own exploits over break (did they say it was spring break they were returning from?) with a seemingly-too-perfect fellow named Rich or Rick (apparently I wasn’t any more interested in him than the rest of the study group).  The group’s speculation about who it might be is hilarious—all of their guesses are campus mash-ups of celebrities, including the brilliant categorization of Abed as “brown Jamie Lee Curtis” (a title he approves of enthusiastically).

“Asian Population Studies” brought a couple of pleasant surprises with it, and even made something charming out of an unpleasant surprise.  The least pleasant surprise is that Shirley is pregnant…at the, uh, hands, of Change, potentially.  On a slightly brighter note, her old husband is back in the picture, and in the most pleasant surprise of all, her husband is played by the buttery-smooth voiced Theo Huxtable (known in some circles as Malcolm-Jamal Warner).  He comes off well, if a bit uncertain of the strange brand of crazy (even for crazy these guys are a bit off-center) the group practices in, but he’s kind and seems genuinely committed to Shirley.  It’s a bit of a dark twist for a goofy comedy that she may therefore be carrying an illegitimate child which would threaten their relationship all over again (not to mention creating a messy situation for the baby), so it’s not surprising that by episode’s end Theo (it’s how I know him) pledges to Jeff and then Shirley that he’s in it for the long haul regardless of who the father is.  It’s a simple and effective (if a bit sugary) solution to a single-episode problem that works just fine.  Whether Warner is remaining on board as a supporting cast member is a different question, but he’d certainly be welcome and provides a strong straight-man to contrast with the unusual world Shirley spends her days immersed in. 

So Chang may or may not have fathered a child, but that doesn’t seem to faze him for long.  Least of all when the study group (who actually think of themselves as “that study group”, we learn) is holding open auditions for one new member and all Chang has to do to win the contest is beat out the perfect Rich/Rick who is heavily promoted by Annie and even more heavily opposed by Jeff, who may have jealous motives.  There are mixed feelings among fans about Jeff and Annie’s odd, sexually tense interactions since their kiss, but I kind of like it and it has provided more than one interesting little side story this season to bolster otherwise thin plot lines.  Tonight it isn’t of great interest, but does lead to a head-scratcher of an ending as Jeff visits Rich/Rick at his house (it seems like Jeff already knows this guy—am I wrong in noticing that?) and begs him to make Jeff perfect as well so he can use it for selfish reasons.  The whole scene played very strangely, and not just because there’s a misdirect to make us think Jeff is headed to Annie’s.  I think they’ve done a nice job with Jeff’s character, but the idea of his continuing vanity and inability to put the feelings and needs of others before his own is wearing a little thin.  Isn’t he pretty clearly emotionally connected with these people, and wouldn’t it be okay if we allowed that maybe he’s grown a little for having been around them?  We’ll see where this little development takes him the rest of the season, but I’m not a fan of it at this point.

On the whole though, the episode reminded us what we’ve been missing since mid-December, and it managed to introduce several potential new storylines to follow eagerly through season’s end .

Overall Rating:  9.0/10

Great Quotes, Interesting Moments, What Not and Occasionally What-have-you:

  • “That sounded so sexy…laser disc.”
  • “Why are you using your ‘I love butterflies’ voice?”

  • “Someone’s finding river fingers with a cute boy!”

  • Among the guesses about who Rich is:  black Michael Chiklis or white George Foreman

  • “Who has Chang’s pile of nothing?”

  • Apparently Jeff was okay with Chang “Before he started using his name as a pun.  It makes me so Changry!  Now I’m doing it!”

  • Professor Duncan, in explaining his sobriety’s effects, seems to be writing “penis” on the board to emphasize his improved function just as Rich walks in the door—love these little touches.

  • Rich “has a land line and uses the word ‘album’.”

  • Pierce’s metaphor for Shirley’s situation is priceless.  It’s like having parsley caught in your teeth except “imagine your teeth are a uterus and the parsley is a half-Chinese baby.”
  • Jeff’s friend Kendra spells her name AND “kettle corn” with a Qu-.  And her attempts to charm the group are great: 
         Quendra:  “I love Star Wars.”
         Jeff:  “That’s Troy.”
         Quendra:  “I love footballs.”

  • Rich spent his summer “fixing children’s cleft palates and teaching them to play acoustic guitar”—what a jerk!

  • Chang on using his name to create bad puns:  “Guilty as Changed”

  • I love the gross revelation that Chang smells like band aids.

  • Britta is very upset she only gets mezzanine seats for showing off her breasts to some slob—going in blind, I’d guess they probably are worth main floor with backstage passes, but that’s an educated guess.


  1. You forgot my fave quote.
    Jeff (to Theo): Nice sweater.
    Theo: My dad gave it to me.

    And yes, Jeff definitely seemed to know Rich from before...they greeted each other (snarkily) by name when he came in to Anthropology class.

  2. This is Rich's third or fourth appearance on the show. Remember when Jeff took that pottery class, ultimately realizing that he couldn't walk into any room and be the best one there? That came at the hands of Rich's skill at the pottery wheel, which drove Jeff crazy and led him to initiate a smear campaign against Rich.

    Further, Jeff's comment during his appeal to the group on behalf of Chang that "nobody is this good" (referring to Rich) was in reference to that pottery class episode. The episode closed with an incredibly, comically sinister tone, zooming in on Rich's face as he angrily remembered a traumatic event in his childhood involving his mother and pottery. Turns out, Jeff was right when he openly accused Rich of sandbagging; Rich did lie about not having pottery-making experience, and the audience is led to believe that Rich is, on some level, actually evil.

    I really, really don't care for the direction the show has taken over the past few episodes. I was especially disgusted (this is not hyperbole) by the episode where Troy turned 21 and everything went way off track and out of character. This episode felt like a continuation of that directional shift. It's what I think happened to The Office; the show's writers notice that in writing brilliant comedy, the audience has become attached to the characters, and having a few serious episodes is then deemed a good way to set the hook. If I want to ask myself questions about the nature of marriage, substance abuse, ego, etc., I'll check out a season of Everwood from the public library. I seriously keep feeling like I'm about to hear someone start plinking on a piano while some soft strings fade in, a la Full House. I'm fine with character development, but it's jarring when a show abruptly changes the rate at which characters are developed.

    Now that's two very negative comments in a row. To balance things out, let me say that I agreed with you on Black Swan. 10/10.

  3. I do remember Dr. Rich from the pottery episode, but he was also the ill-fated doctor who "thought he was special" in the zombie Halloween episode, locking himself in the study room with the crew after being bitten, am I right? Run on sentence much?

  4. @Mabel--totally forgot about the sweater comment, but that gag was hilarious. Nice pickup on that.

    @DJP--I had not noticed that Rich was a recurring character, but now that you point out the pottery episode I recall him a bit. At any rate, I don't like him or think he adds much to the show's dynamic. I actually liked the episode where Troy turned 21 a lot, but I certainly hear what you're saying about comedies shaking things up in a way that doesn't improve on anything. The Office has pretty much lost me entirely.

  5. Obviously, I'm months behind in my Community viewing. I just watched this one tonight. I absolutely loved it. I loved all of their guesses as to the identity of the guest, especially the "Jean Claude Van Over-bite" reference (these mash-ups sound like the high-brow discussions I had in college with my dorm-mates). I loved the "my dad gave it to me line" - I don't watch TV to get super-subtle references, but it still feels good to understand a thinly-veiled Cosby reference. And I personally thought the ending was great. I was confused when the door opened and Jeff started his confession. I thought, "Come on Community, you can do better than this - Oh wait, they're going to do something clever, but who could Jeff be talking too?" I liked the pay off.

    And on a personal note - great review, Ziegler. I wish I watched as much TV as I used to so I could read all of your reviews. But when I do, I appreciate your comments and analysis. Keep it up, man.