"She was born in the 80’s, she still uses her phone as a phone!”
Serial drama (even when we call it comedy) works in arcs. Some arcs are meant to form the entire structure of a series as a whole, some give shape to the current season of that series, and then there are mini-arcs which run for a few episodes. Last week’s epic pillow war episode drew an abrupt close to the mini-arc of Abed and Troy’s crumbling friendship, a storyline that had been working in subtle ways throughout the season but became more focused in the episodes since the return from hiatus. Now that storyline is resolved, and Troy and Abed are once again playing patty cake in the study room and watching crappy action movies (sorry, Troy, Blade is a crappy movie). So we enter this episode at the beginning of another story arc, and if the longing glances at this end of the episode are any indication, that storyline will have a lot to do with Troy and Britta and Annie and Jeff.
Britta’s season-long arc is studying psychology, often a way for broken people to diagnose their own personality disorders (calm down before you think I’m getting judgmental, I was once a Psych major myself). Britta’s underlying issue is a complete lack of self-worth, a trait that she shares with Jeff, and ultimately why she fell so easily into a casual sex relationship with Jeff in the first season. The minute that someone expresses true, heartfelt emotion for her Britta loses respect for them, as she does with the sweet text that Troy sends her, while posing as Britta’s carny ex, Blade. I did think it was a nice touch that we never hear what Troy’s message was, but I wonder how far their relationship can go. As child-like as Troy can be, Britta would actually have to do some serious growing up to catch up with his rapidly evolving maturity. That growth could be good and sweet, and fun to watch play out, I just wouldn’t want to see this series devolve into a revolving door of fuck buddies like Friends.
At the very least, the Troy and Britta coupling has had time to develop organically. The same can’t be said for Annie and Jeff, which came out of nowhere in the season one finale and has lived on through breathless glances and cheesy speeches ever since. Like a mole on the back of the show, this thing just keeps spreading and pretty soon we’re going to have to get it checked out, then either cut the damn thing off or leave it alone forever. That’s not to say there’s not potential here--Annie’s reactions to shirtless Jeff are always funny--but we need to see the ways that their flirtation is changing either of them or we’re not going to care about it. You heard me, shippers. I laugh at your GIFs.
Jeff’s series-long story arc is to come to terms with who he is, in relation to women and the world at large. So naturally, when Jeff meets Blade, Britta’s blank slate of an ex-boyfriend, he is amazed at how effortlessly effortless a person can actually be. Blade is a stark contrast to Jeff and all the hard work he puts into exuding cool. But luckily for Jeff, Blade’s preternatural calm is the result of a brain injury (caused by a freak accident, which in a sense makes Britta’s Blade as much a superhero as the one played by Welsey Snipes), which restores Jeff’s sense of order. He returns to the group to deliver a flat, rote Winger-speech, which conveys...I don’t know, something.
The final kind of story arc is that which takes place in the episode itself. Take Pierce, whose story arc unfortunately never develops past bullet points:
A. Pierce feels he’s not part of the group.
B. Pierce becomes best pals with Chang.
C. Pierce and Chang fight.
D. Pierce returns to the study group the same old whackadoo he was in the beginning.
It’s a brief sketch in service of a decent punchline, when Pierce barges into the apartment at the end of the episode and takes Britta’s place locked in Annie’s room. But this is yet another episode where Pierce has very little to do with the rest of the group. If you’re going to set up a storyline to comment on that, fine, but put some meat on the bones or it’ll be slight, like this one was. Why, it’s almost enough to make you storm off set and leave pissy voicemail messages.
So there you have it. Tonight’s episode had a lot of moving parts but somehow felt motionless. Sometimes, even on a show with such an excellent cast, you can sense the actors mugging a bit to try to bring life to dead words. There was a lot of that tonight. There were also genuinely inspired moment’s like Annie’s fake douche voice or Blade’s inscrutable axiom “it won’t change how mustard tastes”. The things that I liked most about this episode were the little character touches. Abed calling for help “reacting” to the Dean’s arrival, the fact that Annie brought her beloved Charlie St. Cloud poster along to Abed and Troy’s apartment, and seeing that even though he is newly obsessed with trains, Dean Pelton still finds ways to express his love (desire?) for dalmatians.
And, yes, I just rambled at you for 800 words about story theory because nothing really happened in this episode.
Community, Episode 3:15 “Origins of Vampire Mythology”: C+