This post contains spoilers through the Nov. 3 episode of Community.
It may have taken some time, but much more so than “Remedial Chaos Theory,” which I thought was conceptually brilliant but emotionally static, this was the episode that made me feel like there’s a plan for this season of Community that moves the characters forward. And it resolved my concern about what the show is going to do with John Goodman, who I thought was overly broad in his first appearance, existing mostly to confirm old stereotypes about the Dean.
But now he’s got something to do, and it’s terrific. I think the decision to turn the air conditioner repair school into a secret society, complete with “space paninis and black Hitler,” and to put it in competition with Troy’s plumber mentor, is brilliant. It’s squarely in line with what Community does best, which is to take the universal experiences of college, like ordering your first legal drink, or in this case, joining a fraternity or secret society and picking a career path, and lending it a surreal twist that reveals something about that universal experience that other college shows and movies don’t. In this case, it’s both the way professions fetishize themselves, and the way joining a new group simultaneously separates you from your old group of friends and makes them more important than ever because they can help you process what you’re going through. I also really appreciate the way the show is lending a mystique to blue-collar jobs: “Our predecessors were slaves, fanning the pharaohs with palm fronds,” the Vice Dean tells Troy. “We became experts at making our surperiors comfortable, and along the way, we learned to make ourselves comfortable. Now we are the pharaohs, Troy.” But it’s not just his hyped-up mystique: it’s that Troy is ridiculously gifted in a way that’s treated like it’s valuable and powerful.
I’m a bit less certain about the second arc, in part because it’s continuing the show’s trend of establishing Shirley as a cheerful homophobe. “What do Hawthorne wipes have to do with the choice to be gay?” she asks on the discovery that Pierce’s fans, who he thought were “just brothers. Or wealthy,” (which in itself says a mouthful), are gay. “I’m always nice to the gays,” she says later. “They may live in defiance of God, but I’d die before I let a woman touch my hair.” I’ve said that I wish there was a gay main character in the mix many times, but given this development, I wish it even more. Because the way the show’s setting it up now, both Pierce and Shirley’s homophobia is getting a pass in a way that’s not really acceptable. Believing that homosexuality is a choice has public policy consequences, it’s an argument against treating gay people as if they’re a class worthy of legal protection. And Pierce’s joke to his gay fans that they have so much in common because “We hate lesbians,” may be funny because it’s evidence of Pierce’s ignorance, but it’s also a symptom of the marginalization of queer women in our society. Homophobia isn’t adorable or excusable. It’s not a character trait. It matters. And I wish Community would acknowledge that.
Then, there’s the C story, where Jeff’s own issues with his father become so intense that he lectures Pierce’s father to death. Pierce doesn’t really blame Jeff, explaining “He bought a lot of his organs from questionable sources.” But it’s interesting that, however incompetent Britta’s psychology skills are, Jeff’s so blocked that he can’t make a connection between his treatment of Cornelius and his own internalized anger. It would be interesting if Community ended up being a show about a man who was so determined to make his way back to his own life that it turned out that he had nowhere to go.