Friday, February 25, 2011

TV Episode Review: Community "Intro to Political Science"

Tonight’s episode of Community played as a bit untimely, and a bit unclever, unfortunately.  It took some sufficiently funny jabs at politics, and in true Community form it didn’t limit itself to the predictable directions you’d expect such an episode to take, but overall it lacked a certain something that has set apart the last few week’s episodes in quality.  There was certainly some inspired comedy on display, most especially in the “Decision Gate” community television coverage of the student representative elections provided by Troy (“Butt Soup”) and Abed, but overall the episode didn’t seem to reach any sort of dramatic or comedic crescendo to send it over the top.  Part of the problem seemed to be the half-baked premise of Vice President Biden suddenly announcing a casual drop-in as part of some tour he’s on.  Abed has already noticed the secret service roaming the campus, but I find it hard to believe an event of this magnitude wouldn’t be planned and announced far in advance.  As a single element of the show, I wouldn’t really consider it worth mentioning, but as the dramatic push leading to the frantically organized elections of a school representative, it made the whole proceedings seem wonky and unnecessary (I know, it’s a goofy show, but the whole ordeal seemed like the last thing the school would waste a day on given the type of rare guest they had the honor of hosting.).
The political satire was a bit uneven as well, which is fine, but the broader jokes about muck raking and other unfortunate elements of politics and campaigning just felt below this show’s writers at times.  Jeff offering platitudes about his favorite colors being “red…white…and blue” to win roars from the crowd felt stale (I won’t bore you by naming other shows that have already gone the same route in skewering empty political rhetoric, but it’s been done a lot).  Most of his speechifying ultimately felt flat and uninspired, to be honest, with the notable exception of the very clever moment where he seems to be pointing out imaginary figures from the audience to exemplify true Americans, including the inspiring “latina from Nicaragua working in the cafeteria.”  It’s a clever mixture of lampooning the “Joe the Plumber” ploy of the last presidential elections and the absurd rhetorical devices regularly employed to create memorable but meaningless sound bites for media replay.  And it’s what I’d hoped this episode would have been packed with more of.

Troy and Abed’s use of the proceedings to get themselves some airtime on the heretofore unknown campus TV network were mostly inspired and really carried the episode through some dry spells (most notably the B-story of Abed and SS Agent Robin and the dull emotional redemption between Annie and Jeff).  Their infographics about each student running for election required constant pausing, to the point where I feel sorry for any Community fans who don’t DVR the show—these were an absolutely hotbed of comedy tonight.  The overarching joke was a poke at election-night infographics in general, as well as the very concept of trying to present a candidate in any meaningful way with just a few bullet points and a head shot (Troy and Abed’s valiant efforts to do so included listing Annie’s ethnicity as “Hot” and Leonard’s as “non-Hispanic” and for poor Garrett providing nothing but a list of his allergies and Troy’s observation that he’s such a mess, “It’s like God spilled a person.”).  The sequences of them anchoring from the news desk also had more scrolling news jokes than I cared to try and keep up with typing, but most of them were clever references to past issues on the show, including the troubling news that chicken fingers are still in shortage.

Unfortunately most of what surrounded this concept just wasn’t going anywhere.  Pierce has just returned from rehab for his pill addiction, but it hasn’t improved his more pressing problem of the past few weeks, which would be being an insufferable bastard towards everyone.  Tonight his victim was a girl named Vicki who suffers his wrath because she wouldn’t loan him a pencil.  It’s a mistake she rectifies by inserting a pencil into Pierce’s face off-camera, but the joke is played in a really lame way and just falls flat.  Pierce deserves the face-stabbing, given all he’s done the past few weeks, but I still think the show is making a mistake in how they’re allowing him to get away with so much excessive cruelty and unacceptable behavior (even by a goofy comedy’s standard of reality) without having to face any meaningful comeuppance.  At any rate, he’s used to no great effect here.
Meanwhile Annie and Jeff go through another crisis of conflicting worldviews which feels redundant and results in them coming to terms again with the fact that each should be more respectful of the other and so forth, but it all seems dull and pointless, especially since they don’t end up kissing again when they reconcile.  The one pleasant surprise was Annie pulling a political coup by throwing up Jeff’s 19-year-old Real World Seattle audition tape—where he energetically performs his best rehashed rendition of “Faith” in full George Michael attire—on the big screen for the whole school to witness.  The video is a riot, and it’s funny that Jeff is finally outdone in the election by a play that you would expect only Jeff would consider, but it’s in keeping with Annie’s excessive sense of competitiveness.

Meanwhile Abed gets his own side story (“Do you constantly have your own side adventures?” Troy asks him suspiciously tonight) in addition to the cleverly titled “Decision Gate” (I love that the show takes a subtle poke at the fact that the media now declares every news item some sort of Gate-ian crisis now as a matter of course).  When he notices that the secret service are crawling around campus, he catches the attention of an agent named Robin because of his own attention to detail.  It’s a clever enough premise, but it doesn’t really go anywhere.  The agent can’t find a way to be with him unless she’s investigating him, so their relations go nowhere until he makes a suspicious remark on camera to bring her back to check him out (wouldn’t that become the FBI’s baby based on his remark, especially since it diverts VP Biden to a new location anyway?) more closely.  The follow up scene of her watching him watch a movie through binoculars is an odd joke that doesn’t really add much to the proceedings, so I guess it’s a good fit for the subplot in general.

In pointing out how much didn’t work for me, I might be overselling the episode’s failures at the expense of fairness.  There were a lot of funny lines and a few clever little jokes (especially great was the perfectly believable fact that Abed notches the table in front of his seat every time Jeff lets loose a “classic Winger” and Troy just keeps a collection of notches).  I think we’ve (or at least I’ve) gotten used to episodes which match a machine-gun pace of one-liners and pop culture gags with monstrously clever wrap-ups or meta-concepts that heighten everything and make everything else resonate harder (including the laughter).  Tonight amounted to a solid collection of jokes that didn’t congeal into anything more insightful or clever, which I think, given the standard the show has set for itself, is just not going to cut it for the shows biggest admirers.
Overall Rating:  8.0/10

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

Pierce met Tom Sizemore at rehab and compared penis sizes.  His conclusion:  "More like SizeLESS."

"Eat that city college and wash it down with a tall glass of suck it."

The Dean plans to wear his sister's Uncle Sam outfit which looks like some sort of stripper version of what Uncle Sam would look like, but the Dean can't think what else to do on short notice.  Jeff's suggestion:  "You could not dress up like Uncle Sam."

"I wonder if that’s the same sister who tweets me to see if I think her brother’s cute."

"I could issue a warning about this bootlegged copy of The Last Airbender."
"Where were you a week ago?"

Other highlights from the infographics:
  • Leonard "remembers all wars" and is a member of the Whig Party
  • Starburns DJ name is "Sparkles" and he's affiliated with the Legalization Party
  • Garrett is allergic to water, among other things.
  • Pierce's favorite Roman Emperor was Cagilula.
"Pull up Abed, you're in a nosedive."

"For my closing statement I was thinking of smashing a watermelon with a hammer."


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