This post contains spoilers through the Sept. 29 episode of Community.
As I was writing recaps last night, AV Club editor and Friend of the Blog Todd VanDerWerff tweeted, “As I finish up writing out this Community review, it strikes me that @AlyssaRosenberg probably loved that A-plot.” He is absolutely correct that the prospect of an epic game of Model United Nations that turns into a speculative fiction two-Earths scenario settled by a multidimensional invasion designed by Abed is pretty much the definition of up my alley. But while I thought this was a fine episode of Community, I didn’t think it was a great one, once again concerned with recapitulating old issues — namely, Jeff and Annie’s mutual attraction, and Annie’s issues with success. I actually think both of these characters are fruitful territory and I have some hopes we’ll see something happen with the former, but the latter is handicapped by the fact that the show can’t actually let Annie do what a recovering successful person in her situation would do and transfer to another school.
Increasingly, one thing that bothers me about the show is the way it privileges different kinds of enthusiasm. I appreciate Abed’s pop culture enthusiasm — he is, after all, a stand-in for those of us who are the most passionate fans of the show. And I liked the moment where Professor Cligoris (the always welcome Martin Starr) declared with a little shiver of delight that he’d have to stay all night designing rules for an extra-complicated Model U.N. match. But I think there’s actually something really distasteful about the way the show treats activism as if it’s not just a lesser concern than, say, fandom, but actively stupid. I recognize that some campus activism (selling racially-priced cupcakes, chaining yourselves to things out of sheer cussedness) can be pretty silly. But not all college political engagement is stupid. And the show has treated politically aware students as if they’re all frauds from the earliest episodes of the show, whether it’s Annie and Shirley getting the details of protest all wrong (by Britta’s standards) in some of their first days of school in their eagerness to have an authentic college experience; to Annie and Britta’s mudwrestling match; to tonight’s showdown between Britta and Chang.
Their symbiosis was very funny, from Chang’s declaring that the handcuffs he’s carrying as a campus security guard are “just for sex,” to Britta’s bridge-too-far rant, to the other guard’s nostalgic remembrance of college radicals past. “She incited a riot at the WTO. Got choked until she passed out. By a real cop, with a real billy club. Sometimes I wonder, you know?” he sighs. “What are you waiting for? Go show that hippie how the world really works.” But it would land a lot harder if the show was clear that it’s Britta’s approach tor radicalism that’s hilarious rather than political engagement in college.
Everything about the A story was fantastic, though, even as it felt like a retread of the Season 1 debate episode. From Troy playing Georgia in a Southern-belle accent, telling his fellow countries, “We kindly request y’all mind your Ps&Qs;” to Pierce referring to his own territory as “This great country of Somalia, this gem, this Shangri-La;” to Abed reminding everyone that “Earth 2 is out there. Can’t ignore us forever,” the assignments were distillations and extensions of the characters’ personalities. And even if it didn’t actually move them much closer to an inevitable hookup, there was a genuine sweetness to Jeff’s admission that he infantilizes Annie to avoid things getting weird, but that “You have to grow up because the world needs more women like you,” no matter what it means Jeff has to grapple with.
And as a side note, I really love Garett as the show’s Greek Chorus. Whether he’s explaining to Jeff what happened in the first paintball episode; explaining in his quavery voice that he doesn’t really want to be student council president, he just got in line for ice cream; or his role as crisis announcer for things like confiscated rain supplies tonight, Gareth is maybe the purest representative we have of what an actual, non-zany Greendale student would be like. And I appreciate that even as the show wastes folks like Jon Oliver by bringing in a rotating cast of guest stars it uses wildly inconsistently, it’s got folks like him figured out and solidly placed within the show’s universe.