Community: Season 3, Episode 15
Origins of Vampire Mythology
One of the things Community is doing very adeptly since its return is making room for all of its characters. Where often throughout its history, the show would split them up into pairings in order to give more characters something to do, it is increasingly figuring out ways to make everyone part of a central story by branching it out in various ways. I think this approach is a good one (even though sometimes, like in "Contemporary Impressionists," it will mean that if I'm not on board for one plot line, the entire episode may sink as a result), and it leads to a richer, more cohesive whole than the old format of "three weird stories and one big speech to put a bow on things." The speech was still there, tonight, but it felt more applicable because of the way the episode around it flowed (I also have to admit that I have never been as bothered by Jeff's "big speeches" as many fans of the show are. I'm a softy at heart). I think that this format does more justice to the characters, even the ones who aren't in the spotlight in any given week, and actually lends more of a connectivity to the series as a whole. Its easier for me to buy these people as a surrogate family when their adventures intertwine as they did tonight, and the whole episode seems to take place in one world.
At the center of this episode (and, arguably, this season, which I will return to in a moment) is Britta, whose ex-boyfriend, carnival worker Blade, is coming into town. Britta has an addictive dependency on the man, and so turns to recovering addict Annie to help break her of her habit. All of the stories tonight spring from this central well, as Annie wonders if she is similalrly addicted to Jeff, while he and Shirley investigate Blade, Pierce tries to be best friends with Chang, and Troy, Abed, and The Dean just want to watch Blade (the Dean has a silly ulterior motive, but again, we'll get to that).
Annie's attempts to break Britta of her dependency were funny, especially as she began trying to impersonate Blade and forcing Abed, Troy, and The Dean to impersonate a carnival. Her story tonight was really two-fold, as she tried to help Britta through a problem she had survived before while also wondering if she was in a similar situation herself. Alison Brie played this confusion perfectly, and she has gotten so good at playing the obviousness of Annie's feelings for Jeff it is a bit of a marvel to watch.
The Troy and Abed watching Blade story is thin stuff, but I think its exactly what is needed for these two after their meltdown in the last few weeks. Their fight is glossed over a bit here, but it sort of makes sense that these two would just want to get back to normal. Plus, this was a runner that kept on giving, allowing every character to give ridiculous commentary on Blade (a movie I enjoy enough to find every one of the comments made about it hysterical), and allowing for a very interesting dichotomy to develop, where every character was thrown off by The Dean's presence, and yet accepted him into their world incredibly quickly. This may be just me, but a lot of the material in the apartment tonight, and really, in the episode as a whole, played like a trial run for what this show might look like in a theoretical fifth season, after the gang has graduated from Greendale. There were no school-related subplots tonight (unless you count that the carnival was on the school grounds, which was only mentioned in passing, or The Dean's motivations, which were brushed to the side in favor of just letting Jim Rash be hysterical), and the cast members most closely tied to Greendale (Rash as The Dean and Ken Jeong's Chang) were integrated pretty naturally into the proceedings. Call me a crazy person, but with Community still doing well in the ratings, the idea of this show making it past graduation seems less and less of a pipe dream, and if "Origins of Vampire Mythology" is any indication, the show might rely less on the school as a setting than some might think.
The Dean, of course, is at Troy, Abed, and Annie's apartment because Vice-Dean Laybourne (Still rocking that pony tail) has tasked him with convincing Troy to join the air conditioning repair school, a task he is completely useless at and basically abandons for most of the episode's runtime. This ties the episode into the season's master arc, but does so in a way that doesn't drag the episode down or really do any work except enough to demonstrate how well The Dean might work as just a regular member of the gang (answer: very well).
Early in its run, the show wasn't quite sure how to make Jeff and Shirley work as a pairing, but what it settled on is a recipe for excellence in my mind. Both are self-destructive people who can default to cruelty and rage, and that they both egg each other on and try to hold each other back from that place makes them a lot of fun to watch. Tonight, it involved them pretending to be a couple (for some reason) as they tried to determine what made Blade so irresistible to Britta. Kirk Fox (who fans of Parks and Rec may recognize from the Sewage department) has a lot of fun being completely ambivalent, and while Blade having no shame is kind of ridiculous, it lead to a meaningful conclusion in which several of our characters come right up against the thing that is holding them back in life: their self-hatred. They are attracted to people that are bad for them as a way of shifting responsibility away from themselves, when in fact, their problems lie a lot closer to home.
It wouldn't be one of my reviews if I didn't mention the Jeff-Annie work the episode does tonight, or the equally interesting Troy-Britta moment at the episode's end. Annie is of course concerned about how similar her attraction to Jeff seems to Britta's attraction to Blade, but sees something in Jeff as he comes up against his own self-loathing. What works between Jeff and Annie that did not between Jeff and Britta is that, while the latter pairing began by Britta lifting Jeff up to her (put on) higher level, they ultimately dragged each other down, the former pairing each brings out the better intentions in their potential partner. Jeff will need to become a better man to win Annie, yes, but Annie too will have to improve to make a relationship with Jeff feasible. Watching two characters grow toward each other is, in the end, far more rewarding than watching one strive to win over another. As for Troy and Britta, Troy reached out tonight, and was openly hurt at how quickly Britta showed disdain for his comment. Yet at the end, when Annie revealed (in an excellent wordless sequence) that Troy had sent that message, there was a glimmer of hope. Tonight Britta learned that she deserves better than a carny named Blade, and she might have started to realize that Troy is that better option.
If season one of Community was largely about Jeff, while season two focused on Troy, Pierce, and Shirley, then it seems like season three is coming to be about Britta (there may or may not be some large Annie developments waiting to emerge in the closing third of the season, but we shall have to see). As I've said before, Britta is the most unique of the show's creations, which means that when utilized well, she ranks among the higher echelons of current TV characters in my mind (and, as readers of this site well know, Michael Richardson tends to agree with me on this). If this season is about what Britta Perry will grow to become, and manages to stick the landing, I think it will be quite the sight to behold. Regardless, this show is figuring out how to tell its stories in new, interesting, cohesive ways, and making a weekly argument for why it should get another season to do so.
-The show is continuing to do well in the ratings (at least, by NBC standards). With The Office sounding death knells fairly ominously, things look bright for a renewal. If that happens, Community will be safely in its fourth season, which cancellation geeks know is a sort of safe zone as a rule, and means this show may live until it reaches its own chosen conclusion. Just keeping my hopes up...
-"On an unrelated note, I'm into trains now." Jim Rash KILLED this episode. Unsurprising, as he is a comedic genius, but still.
-"Natalie, can you get me a book on how to...do things? You know what, can you just make me a scotch and soda?" "Make it yourself." "I don't know how!"
-"Boy, this guy doesn't give vampires a square inch of leeway!"
-"You could change it." "To what? Templeton Ferrari the Third? Won;t change the way mustard tastes..."
-"She was born in the '80s. She still uses her phone as a phone."
-"So I don't get it. He's a vampire, but he can walk around during the day?"