‘Community’ Open Thread: New Year, Old Problems

This post contains spoilers through the Season 3 premiere of Community.

I watched this episode of Community after Parks and Recreation, so it’s possible that the absolutely stellar kickoff of the latter show left the former feeling a little wan by comparison. There’s potential there — it’s hard to imagine Community without at least the germs of ideas — but the show spent more time dealing with the problem of how to deal with Pierce’s expulsion from the group than actually laying down a new dynamic for the new school year.

First, let’s address the potential. I think it’s time, as Jeff’s subconscious musical theater suggested, that Jeff and Annie sleep together. For all that this is a show about college, it’s weirdly dodgy about the subject of sexual experimentation. Britta and Jeff’s friends-with-benefits arrangement may shake up the group once they learn about it, but they’re both adults — this is territory they’ve both explored before, and it clearly doesn’t shake them up much. Similarly, Shirley may sleep with Chang, but her baby ends up being her husband’s. But there’s something a little odd about the fact that the three actual college-aged students, Annie, Troy, and Abed haven’t had a single meaningful sexual relationship in the course of the show. Vaughn was here and gone, Abed smooched Annie in character and exchanged soulful banter with a Secret Service agent, and Troy, despite his status as a high school stud, hasn’t had anything close to a girlfriend in the course of the show. It’d be nice to see something happen for one of these characters that is both emotionally and sexually meaningful.

Second, I’m contractually obligated to be excited about a long-arc subplot about a community college that’s facing severe funding shortfalls. But I’m still pretty uncomfortable about how the show is handling the showdown between the dean and his deputy. If it’s not rectum jokes, it’s implied oral sex as means as dominance. Community is too smart to rely on lines like “You bring your head down to my appendage tomorrow, and I’ll show you wassup.”

But I’ve got a real problem with the way the show handled the Pierce storyline. There’s something interesting about the war between Jeff and Pierce, the displaced father-son dynamic. But for it to be genuinely engaging, they’d have to actually work through things, like Pierce’s unbelievably terrible behavior to everyone last season, or the actual roots of Jeff’s resentment of the older man. Not to mention the fact that other characters have to have some feelings about the way Pierce manipulated and abused them over the last two years. This subplot felt stuck, and for the rest of the show to shake loose, it has to be resolved in some way that doesn’t feel forced. Community is, to my mind, at its best with low-fi but creative storylines like “Mixology Certification” that take the typical college experience and make it intensely specific in a way that moves all the characters forward at lunch. This episode felt like overcompensation in the direction of normality, following the dean’s directive of “No more paintball, no more spaceships, no more trampolines.” But that’s sort of missing the point.