Saturday, January 29, 2011

TV Episode Review: Community "Celebrity Pharmacology 212"

Community may not always hit home runs with their big ideas, but I respect the writers for going big with so many episodes and throwing caution to the wind in favor of plot lines and over-the-top set pieces that are what the kids today call “batshit crazy”.  Tonight’s oversized setup involves a play to benefit a local middle school filled with innocent young minds being tempted by drugs (and in the case of Britta’s nephew, being tempted by Britta as well).  The episode opens with a lot of promise—in fact, when it comes to Commuity, opening to two characters dressed as bumble bees, two more dressed as, uh, biker cats (?) and Pierce dressed up as an anthropomorphic marijuana leaf, suggests you’re in for a great episode.  Troy and Abed, as Bumbleton and Buzzbee, are particularly funny in the opening moments, especially Troy, who isn’t so sure his stinger shouldn’t be in front (you know, like the Dean’s clearly is when HE comes in dressed as a bumblebee for wholly stranger reasons). 

Unfortunately, the episode fumbles a bit with everything it tries to deal with tonight.  It’s a bit disappointing since we’ve certainly seen proof that the show can run in several directions at once and still see everything neatly wrapped up (often with immaculately clever criss-crossing of separate sub plots) in a single episode.  Tonight though, the show struggles a bit with tone issues—Shirley’s cold shoulder to Chang seems mean if understandable, and Britta’s subplot with her nephew (which I guess, technically, is actually Jeff’s subplot) is much more unsettling than funny.  Yeah it’s just light hearted comedy, but even Jeff’s initial move to set up sex for Britta with what he thought was a consenting adult is a bit odd and off the mark, so the fact that it’s her nephew was like trying to cram another bullet into the barrel of a gun that already misfired once.  It doesn’t quite blow the show’s hand off, but it certainly doesn’t hit the mark.  For a minute there I wasn’t sure where I was going with that metaphor, but it worked out okay. 

Pierce’s storyline isn’t much better, but at least it’s fitting of his character in that he utilizes what few advantages he has (money) to leverage what he wants (the starring comedic role in Annie’s production).  Discovering that Annie lives in a craphole of an apartment (a craphole which is “a monument to self reliance” according to Pierce) and collects cans to keep up on the rent seems like a bit of a stretch though, especially given that she could be living in the dorms much more cheaply or could be sharing space with someone.  I know, it’s just a comedy, but it seemed like a poor setup just to weasel in a storyline for Chevy Chase to go bonkers on stage.  When I describe it that way I actually don’t mind it so much—Chase does a great job hamming it up on stage (I was reminded of the show’s pilot where he and Jeff act out his ridiculous Spanish sketch for the class, complete with explorer costumes).  At the end of the day though, Community can do better with finding ways to create these sorts of conundrums and power struggles. 

The slow stretch leading up to the group’s big show is somewhat made up for by the show itself, which, thanks to Pierce’s rewrites and Golden-Globe worthy performance, is an exercise in hilarity and excess.  Pierce of course makes “Drugs” (I love that the character doesn’t have any other name) the star of the show and more or less inadvertently teaches the kids that drugs are the life of the party.  And by “inadvertently” I mean “advertently” since he declares “Ain’t no party without drugs!” as he’s embraced by the crowd of impressionable youngsters (one of whom declares “I love you Drugs!” to Pierce’s delight).  It’s a funny sequence, and it’s punctuated by a fairly funny wrap up to Jeff’s inappropriate sexting problem with Britta’s nephew.  He’s rightfully disgusted by what’s actually transpired and especially by the “emotipenis” and inappropriate picture Marcus sends to (he thinks) Britta.  Overall it’s still a sloppy B-story, but it could’ve been worse, and Jeff’s lawyerish dealings with Marcus to put the whole thing to rest is befitting his selfish nature and reluctant concern for his friends.

Ultimately, though, it’s Chang who saves the day (and the episode, to some extent) when he takes the stage for Act II, stealing Pierce’s role in the process.  Chevy Chase playing the role of “Drugs” is a riot and well worth rewatching if you DVR, but Chang’s manic, insane turn as the scary version of “Drugs” is a highlight of this season so far.  He’s intent on terror, motivated by a need to get Shirley to talk to him, and fueled by his naturally unhinged nature.  The results (a.k.a. the new “Drugs”) speak for themselves: “I’m gonna deep fry your dog and eat your motha’s face!  I’m gonna wear your little brother’s skin like pajamas!”  Ken Jeong given two to three minutes of screen time to ad lib is one of the surest bets this show has (and that’s saying a lot considering the cast’s uniform excellence), and it puts him great use here.

From there on, things wrap up roughly as you’d expect—Pierce is apologetic, Annie is sympathetic, Jeff is off the hook, and the Dean is fully erect after catching a glimpse of Winger in a coffin, confirming his suspicions that Jeff would, in fact, look hot even in a coffin.  Most importantly though, at least to those of us who enjoy the show’s master plots, is that Shirley eventually speaks to Chang kindly and apologizes for her cruel behavior.  It’s a nice twist that Chang is so banged up that he isn’t really there to hear it, but that’s about what we’d expect for the finale to such a goofy episode.  It’s pretty harmless start to finish in terms of altering any major stories, and it tells a nice little story of its own without ever quite getting all the cylinders to fire at the same time.  Having said that, even when spewing oil from its engine and with flames licking out from under the hood, Community is capable of delivering some laughs, and tonight wasn’t even close to being that kind of a clunker.   
 Overall Rating:  8.7/10

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

The Dean is "Off to the airport Ramada" dressed as a bumblebee--I love that the Dean being into cosplay is one of the show's running gags.

Chang's mix tape is mostly Johnny Gill--love it.

Pierce:  There's a rapist in the hallway.
Annie:  That's my landlord.  If he wanted to rape you, you'd be raped. 
Considering she lives above a store called "Dildopolis", I'm not sure she's completely kidding.

Annie used to get visits from "The Period Fairy" and Pierce asks if she still comes.  Gross and funny.

Pierce was once the "Gerber baby of moist towelettes".  The flashback scene is a bit dark for a backstory though--especially with no real resolution.

Chang:  Do you ignore me because I'm Chinese?
Shirley:  You're Korean.
Chang:  Like there's a difference.

I think it's quietly clever that Pierce finally finds an audience who appreciate his humor in a bunch of middle schoolers--those dummies really WILL laugh at anything.

Troy's reaction to taking a baseball in the face is hilarious--Donald Glover's facial expressions remain a great source of funny moments on this show.

"I feel much better now thanks to NOT drugs."

Pierce's excitement after Act I is great; he's so pumped that the audience is loving him--"And I haven't even used my penis material yet!"


  1. I really need to start watching this show at some point. It sounds really good.

    You appear to be a fan of "Parks and Rec", so I must ask why you're not reviewing that show? This week's flu episode was just sensational.

  2. I DO love Parks and Rec. And this week's episode was absolutely phenomenal. The problem is Thursdays I do Community and then Friday is Fringe and I'm usually behind by that point on reviews from earlier in the week, so I just can't keep up with two reviews in one night. Maybe once I get a routine down I can expand, but for now this is all I can handle. But I'm an avid Parks and Rec watcher and this past episode was definitely a stand out (and a lot better than the season premiere).