This post contains spoilers through the Oct. 27 episode of Community.
As much fun as this episode and the previous one were, I remain somewhat concerned that Community is treading water. While these shows have given us some good insight into the way the characters see each other and feel about their patterns of interaction, they haven’t really done anything to move the ball forward. And the study group is halfway through college, at this point. It’s time for some momentum, and some bad-but-more-informed-than-freshman-year decision-making.
The thing that struck me most about tonight’s episode was the politics apparent in the way the characters think of each other. “I’m entitled to sex,” Britta imagines Jeff saying to her in her horror-movie version of their relationship, casting our one-time hero as a much less subtle meathead than he actually is. And Annie imagines Britta as the willing victim of a vampire, dragged out of the closet to satisfy Jeff’s lusts and to explain to Annie, “Do not judge me for my weakness…I’m fine with this.” Are we still stuck in a dynamic where Annie thinks Britta’s a slut, Britta thinks Annie is a tease, and stereotypes of ladies fighting and undermining each other go round and round? Because if so, I’m tired of it.
Abed, by contrast, uses politics to inject logic into an inherently illogical horror movie situation. “I guess they shouldn’t have cut corners, though it is understandable given the economic downturn,” his imaginary love interest version of Britta tells him, clarifying why a local mental institution’s cut its security force. And Shirley whips out some more conservative — or at least more decisively conservative — views that we’ve seen from her before, imagining a demonic version of the Dean chainsawing the study group’s sinners to death forever while cackling “Gay marriage!” at the top of his lungs. I suppose the anecdote as meant to illustrate that Shirley thinks her classmates see her in cheap and reductive terms that make assumptions about her Christianity, but given that the story had more the feeling of a revenge flick than an actual way of working through Shirley’s concerns, it felt a little disconcertingly judgmental. That said, Pierce’s vision of Troy as Coolio and Abed as Flava Flav was genuinely funny, showing that Pierce is both something of a racist and doesn’t know the cultural contexts for either figure, a well-crafted double joke on him.
But I felt like the final scene, showing us that Abed had the only normal psychology score (or perhaps the only wildly abnormal one) felt a little too on the nose to me. Wired’s profile of Dan Harmon explains that in the course of making the show, Harmon came to identify with Abed and to be diagnosed as lying somewhere on the same part of the autism spectrum that the character does. Which is great for him, but doesn’t mean that Community is a better show for making Abed — or any one character in particular — the hero. Given the caustic way a lot of the characters have behaved this season, we need reasons to like them again, rather than simply being told that we should.