"We can do anything we want! It's Greendale!" -JeffFor me, a little Jack Black(*) goes a long way, even when he's relatively dialed down like he was here as Buddy. But Black's presence allowed the show to do a nice job of examining the evolving dynamics of the study group, to show Jeff trying to be more Zen and Hawkeye-like in his approach to Greendale, and to portray the awkwardness of newcomers trying to join a well-established (if weirdly-established) group.
(*) Who starred in the Dan Harmon co-created "Heat Vision and Jack," one of the most famous (and weird) unsold comedy pilots of all time, about a former astronaut fighting crime with the help of his talking, sentient motorcycle. The motorcycle's voice? Owen Wilson, who made his surprise cameo at the end as the leader of the cool group.
There were still plenty of good jokes - Senor Chang's rap, Dean Pelton's stereotypical black guy voice, Pierce mistaking Shirley's voice for Troy's, Shirley pushing for her boring friend to join the group, and the tag with Abed and Troy and then Pierce auditioning for Starburns - but what I like is that, for all the show's meta references and sarcasm, there's a genuine heart and interest in character development that doesn't feel forced to me. I was just as happy with Abed explaining the other side of Hawkeye to Jeff as I was to see Senor Chang eat Annie's brains.
Couple of other quick thoughts:
• Note that Annie is very interested in transferring out of Greendale, as someone with her background and ambition would be. When we visited the set last week on the first day of press tour (which seems a lifetime ago), Dan Harmon said he had some ideas in mind for how and why these people might all stay together at Greendale without it seeming out-of-character. (He also reminded us that you can, in fact, get a bachelor's degree from a community college, so Jeff has no real reason to leave.)
• Also, speaking of Starburns, he's played by Dino Stamatopoulos, a writer whom Harmon originally brought in to consult on the show. Then he thought it would be funny to make him a background character in the Spanish class, and now Dino has to spend so much time on the set that Harmon almost never sees him to talk about the writing. Also, the Starburns sideburns were originally made by the hair and makeup department, but Dino eventually decided to grow them for real. So he walks around with them.
(Harmon had a bunch of good Starburns anecdotes. If I ever get home from this place and have time to transcribe the interview, I'll put up some of the better quotes in a future "Community" review.)
What did everybody else think?