"‘Community’ Open Thread: Growing Up"
This post contains spoilers through the November 10 episode of Community.
It’s been interesting for me how Community, a show that started with Jeff Winger as its main character, and began the formation of the study group when he met Britta, has evolved to a show that’s much more interesting about its three actual college-aged characters and much less interesting about its adults. To a certain extent I’m sorry about that: there’s a really interesting story to be told about adults who need to reset their lives, and how hard it is to do that. But I also really love Troy, Abed, and Annie, and think they’re the linchpin to the show’s best episodes, its explorations of the ritual stops on the pilgrimage to adulthood, run through a very Greendale lens.
That said, I totally appreciate the fact that this episode moved the ball forward on Shirley, at least a tiny bit, addressing the sort of aggressive resurgence of her religiosity we’ve seen this season. “I’ve seen enough episodes of Friends to know that cohabitation leads to sex, drugs, and something Parade Magazine calls Schwimmer Fatigue,” Shirley complains to Britta about Annie’s move, prompting Britta to try to prove that secular morality can go toe-to-toe with Christianity. Shirley’s dismay when she discovers that their hitchhiker believes himself to be Jesus, and when he declares, in response to Britta’s question, that marijuana “was given to us by God. It should be legal,” is pretty priceless. But it’s nice that they end up reaching a common consensus that their passenger is nuts after he says that “And now, with your permission, I’d like to sing a little song about race mixing called ‘Don’t Do It.’” The show doesn’t have to have them talk about it, but they’ve found the thing that’s just too much for both of them.
I’m less fond of the Dean’s role in this episode. His deal with Jeff has always been a little creepy, but he’s crossed the line here from slightly off to outright predator. If he’d spied on the email of a female student, using that to force her into a date, people would—rightly—be horrified. If the Dean was a woman, this would be some Fatal Attraction territory. Instead, because Jeff is a guy who is more physically imposing than the Dean and who we assume couldn’t be physically coerced by him, the show treats the Dean’s emotional coercion of him as if it’s sort of adorable. There’s no question that their “Kiss From a Rose” duet was fun (and two of the best recent moments in the series have come from study group sing-a-longs), but I’ll be pretty uncomfortable if the show treats this as if it’s no big deal. This is Quinn-tries-to-get-Shelby-declared-unfit on Glee territory: it’s just not okay to behave this way, and narratively to treat it as if this is behavior that carries no major implication for the characters.
It was counterbalanced by the fact that this was a very good episode for Troy, Abed, and Annie. I thought it was a usefully forceful reminder that there are things that are objectively desirable about being a grown-up, and that wanting them doesn’t make you dull. “”Living here’s going to be fun all the time!” Annie tells herself—as much as Troy and Abed—after the puppet show, momentarily forgetting that when things are fun all the time, they’re not necessarily that fun after a while. And Troy and Abed confess that they could really use Annie’s expertise: “There’s a couple of things that you’d help us with,” Abed tells her. “Like where does the water go in the iron?” Troy explains. “And what is the iron for?” Abed chimes in. And while I do think there’s something weird about the fact that none of these attractive young people are dating, keeping them the children in a chosen family rather than actual adults, there’s something really nice about the fact that Annie and Troy have moved past their high school dynamic, her crush on him and his total ignorance of her, to become just good, solid friends.