Community 2×03: The Psychology of Letting Go
Here’s why Community works week after week: it grounds its witty dialogue and deliciously absurd situations in characters that it has taken the time to establish and develop even in its short run so far. When Jeff freaks out about his cholesterol and starts turning everything around him into a depressing, mopey deathwatch, it makes sense because Jeff is a self-centered alpha male who would see everything around him through whatever obsession happens to hold him at the moment. When Britta and Annie start fighting, it makes sense, because the situation brought out latent jealousies and annoyances that both have had of the other for a year, and Shirley’s sidelined but pot-shot-taking figure fit her passive-aggressive nature to a T.
This episode wasn’t as laugh-out-loud funny in dialogue as the first two of the year were, but that’s okay – it made up for it in character moments. The comedy here was very true to the characters and made up for in timing and poignancy what it perhaps lacked in immediate jocularity. The writers understand different types of comedy and are willing to use more than their patented zingers and meta-humor to sell an episode.
Community 2×04: Basic Rocket Science
Anatomy of a joke on Community. The Set-Up: The Dean wants to run a space simulator earlier than rival City College and assigns our study group to clean up the ramshackle Winnebago-turned-sim before the big day. The Referential Level: Study group heads toward the simulator (the first shot of them in the film) in slow-motion, dressed in white jumpsuits, with a low-angle shot followed by a full-front shot that depicts them as heroes in a Michael Bay-esque astronaut film. The Meta Level: Jeff asks “Abed, can we stop walking in slow motion now?” The Character Level: Pierce asks “You guys are walking in slow motion?” Every level of this joke is funny, and stacking them on top of each other, stretching it out as far as possible is brilliant. It gets to the heart of Community – it’s a show that knows a funny situation (spur of the moment show-off space sim in a KFC promo vehicle), knows its pop culture (it gets both those angles and the music SPOT ON), knows its characters (the Dean is a neurotic, ineffective, and pointlessly competitive insecure man; Abed is always making a movie in his head that expands into real life; and Pierce is old and doesn’t realize it), and knows how to exploit and combine all those things. In a twenty-second joke.
After last week’s solid but more character-driven episode, this one is back into full-on hilarity, while still having time to pull out some character moments – the big one here being Annie wanting to transfer schools, but also smaller ones like Jeff’s willingness to out the group as the anus flag creators because he couldn’t stand that the Dean didn’t get the joke. Overall, another knock out of the park for the Community team.
Here’s the astronaut joke: