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Community: Enough With the Daddy Issues

by Ethan Alter November 4, 2011 12:30 pm
<i>Community</i>: Enough With the Daddy Issues

Well, that was... different. One of the admirable things about Community is its willingness to regularly reinvent itself from episode to episode, with the writers often playing around with narrative, tone and even genre. As a result, the last thing you typically expect from a Community episode is a typical A-plot/B-plot sitcom structure. But that's what we got with "Advanced Gay," which split its focus between two very different storylines, the first involving Pierce and Jeff's daddy issues and the second positioning Troy at a crossroads between two careers: plumber or air conditioner repairman. There's something to be said for playing it straight, particularly after the high-concept hijinks of the past two Community outings. But as the episode progressed, things felt increasingly off and not in a deliberate way. Part of the problem was that one plot -- specifically Troy's -- proved significantly stronger than the other and there wasn't much connective tissue binding them together. So "Advanced Gay" wound up feeling like two distinctly separate episodes mashed together in a lumpy, misshapen way. It wasn't unpleasant -- just unfocused. Here's our breakdown of the good, the bad and the meh.

The Good
The Return of Serious Troy: We got a glimpse at the more serious, adult side of Troy in the third timeline on "Remedial Chaos Theory" three weeks ago and that version of the character returned tonight as he was momentarily forced to stop goofing around with Abed and think about his direction in life. Donald Glover excels at the goofy stuff, but he's also become increasingly adept at playing Troy at a lower key. In an episode that sometimes strained to balance drama and humor effectively, Glover pulled it off without breaking a sweat.

A/C Initiation: John Goodman's vice-dean has been MIA since the season premiere, but was back in full force last night, providing Troy (and us) with a glimpse into the benefits of choosing the life path of an air conditioning repairman. The initiation ceremony itself was a funny blend of Twin Peaks and The Big Lebowski, complete with a Panini-making astronaut and Black Hitler. That's the kind of patented Community absurdity we wished the episode had had more of overall.

Inspector Who?: The Community writers may one day run their Doctor Who spoof Inspector Spacetime into the ground, but that day isn't here yet. There will be a David Tennant cameo before the season ends, right?

The Bad
Angry Jeff: Jeff's conflict with his (still unseen) father has been referenced several times now and we've grown increasingly weary of it, to be honest. So even though his hijacking of Pierce's own daddy issues made sense for the character, it wasn't especially enlightening or entertaining to watch. The sooner he gets over it, the better for us (and the show).

Bad Dad: We chuckled at Mr. Hawthorne Sr.'s Plasticine-like wig and his prejudiced comments about Britta's Swedish roots. Otherwise though, this character was a total wash, awkwardly written and performed by guest star Larry Cedar. Like Pierce, we weren't all that broken up to see him six feet under at the episode's end.

That's So Gay: We usually rely on Community to subvert standard television stereotypes. So it was disappointing that it went all-in on the usual broad depiction of gay characters on TV, from Pierce's extra-flamboyant fanboys to party decor that looks as if it was stolen from the set of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. (We do confess to waking up this morning with Urbana Champaign's highly danceable ditty "Pocket Full of Hawthornes" still playing in our heads. Can't wait for the inevitable Glee cover version, preferably sung by Puck.)

The Meh

Britta and Jeff's Sparring Sessions: Gillian Jacobs and Joel McHale are usually at their most adorably together when squabbling, but their arguments mostly fell flat last night, despite a few decent zingers. Between last week's episode and this one, we're not certain that Britta's interest in pursuing a psychiatric career is proving to be the best fit for the character.

The Forgotten Two: We know that with a seven-person ensemble, it's hard for every character to be effectively integrated into the action on a weekly basis. Still, Annie and Shirley were so underused in "Advanced Gay" that it might have been better had they just sat the episode out entirely. Not seeing them at all is preferable to seeing them ignored.

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