Friday, January 15, 2010

Community, "Investigative Journalism": Hawkeye vision and Jack

Swamped with press tour stuff (so swamped I'm not sure when I'll have time to watch and write about "Parks and Rec," so please save your comments until then), so very quick thoughts on last night's "Community" coming up just as soon as I grow up in a land without sun...
"We can do anything we want! It's Greendale!" -Jeff
For 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?

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't know why, but I thought this was one of the funniest episodes of it's short run. I thought everything worked and it was the first time it totally lived up to my pre-season mental build up.

Joemo said...

I thought it was hilarious. The cast is really gelling and having Jack Black in to disrupt things was a great way to prove how far the chemistry has progressed between characters.

Crapshoot said...

Yeah, absolutely great episode. I like the Annie-Jeff interplay a lot, but I'd watch half an hour of Troy and Abed going back and forth.

Marc said...

WOW i know you havent reviewed this weeks Modern Family but you basically didnt like the last 2 before this weeks, even calling the Christmas one lackluster. I think MF has been on fire, it's so amazing. I think this show is very uneven with soem good (christmas) some bad, but even so, I thought this episode was terrible and mostly due to Jack Black. But if you think this was good and the 2 Modern Family's not great I guess we are just on different wavelengths of what we think is good. Oh and by the way this show just cant be pop culture references every week, like with the MASH close yesterday. Use the pop culture a bit more spairngly.

Anonymous said...

Did the cast party too hard during the break, or enter some sleep-deprivation pact? Did the Community crew switch to the Dealbreakers HD cameras? Everyone looked terrible, especially the white characters. I could've swear that the production style has changed too. Were they using handheld cameras? Natural lighting? Whatever it was, it was bad. SeƱor Chang was the only one who came out okay.

Jon88 said...

That was "dialed down" Jack Black? Wow. I spent much of the show thinking that the story might have worked better (and perhaps even been funnier) if somebody less known was playing the part -- Black's shticky energy made the character way too cartoony for me.

Anonymous said...

Wow ... I thought that it was my television or some HD issue, because Jeff looked orange and Britta just looked odd. It seemed like they did change some camera settings, no? Otherwise this episode was brilliant.

Ben said...

Strong episode, very happy.

Also was glad to see that a character, in this case Annie, made some mention of planning on leaving Greendale at some point.

Also, I wonder if in someway, the combination of Annie's talk of leaving the school and Jack Black's addition to the group is a way of showing how the core could evolve over time.

RB Mullen said...

The aside regarding "Heat Vision and Jack" caught my attention.

Jack Black was in a recent episode of the children's show Yo Gabba Gabba covering the topic of new friends. In the episode, he is riding a motorcycle that talks.

I have a 18mo daughter, so Yo Gabba Gabba is on a loop and I've seen this episode countless times.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the lighting and makeup people defected to Rashida Jones. Ann looked especially nice on last night's Parks.

Scott said...

The ironic use of you go girl line and Troy and Abed saying you go girl and snapping killed me. This isn't the greatest show, or the funniest, but I just like it. It's a good time

Matt said...

1. The MASH tag and music would have been much funnier had HIMYM not done a similar joke with Cheers a couple of years ago.

2. It's a shame that supporting actress-comedy is such a competitive category at the Emmys (it's Jane Lynch's to lose this year, I expect, but also, Elizabeth Perkins, Jayma Mays, Rashida Jones, Jane Krakowski, Kaley Cuoco, Alyson Hannigan, Colbie Smulders, Vanessa Williams, and others), because Alison Brie's performance here is an underrated comic weapon.

Anonymous said...

Dino will always be the "You got the goods!" guy from Mr. Show in my heart.

NoMoreVegas said...

Me during this ep of "Community": "God, the screen grinds to a halt whenever Jack Black is on the screen. Honey, when have you ever seen something with Jack Black that made you laugh?"

Girlfriend: (eyes look up and to the right to indicate accessing of mental hard drive before looking straight ahead at the TV to a new, non-Jack Black involved screen) "..."

Raz said...

This was one of my favorite episodes so far. I was "meh" on this show at first - it just seemed so formulaic - but it's really coming together.

My favorite moment of the night was a throwaway line - Jeff's "Annie's just 18, we try not to sexualize her." It was both meta-commentary and surprisingly sweet.

lambertman said...

I loved the detail behing Jeff's desk in the newspaper office - the encyclopedia was six volumes of the Funk & Wagnall's Encyclopedia that we used to see offered a volume at a time in '80s grocery stores. Four of them were Volume 1 (which was always introductory-priced at nine cents).

Emily N. said...

There were parts that didn't work for me, but overall I thought this was one of their best episodes. I loved how meta it was. Lots of funny moments. I saved this one on my DVR to watch again.

Chris said...

I actually thought it was the WORST episode yet. I am not a Jack Black fan, just don't like his schtick.

Marty said...

Missed a great chance at a pop culture reference, if only JB had said the days of the week Appolonia style, ala the Godfather.

Still thought it was hilarious, though, how he used the most often basic Spanish phrases.

cadfile said...

I missed watching it "live" on Thursday so I was concerned by some comments else where but when I did get a chance to watch it I thought it was a funny episode.

I thought Jack Black mixing things up and it seeming out of sorts was a great plot point. It started when the beginning credits started up in the middle of his line about throwing off a group's rhythm

Senior Chang's bit was great. Now he has his own theme.

The M*A*S*H stuff was funny especially the credit gag at the end before the tag and Owen Wilson's cameo was a nice touch.

It is the little stuff and throw away lines that work for me on the show. It makes me have to pay attention for the 22 minutes of story time.

David said...

I don't hate Jack Black - I like him in some things, but the show stalled HARD for me whenever he was on screen. I thought the rest of the episode was very strong.

sean said...

My two favorite Jack Black parts of the episode:

- in the beginning when he realizes that the group doesn't want a new member because they're so used to each other. Then.....as he's saying something like "You guys don't want me to ruin your rhyt..." and the opening credits interrupt him mid-word. I lost it at that......but then they came back and he finished his sentence and I thought it was great.

- "Paul Blart, Marll Cop....Mall Cop!"


He also seemed to be making Joel McHale genuinely laugh when he was first introduced at the table.

jrepka said...

I liked all of the MASH send-ups (like Jeff's and Abed's shirts) but I didn't quite get the credits joke: all I saw was a list of credit titles with no names. Did MASH do that at some point?

belinda said...

As someone who does find Black grating at times and that he's only great in small doses, I love that they acknowledge the most annoying attributes of Black (the singing, the kicking, etc)and incorporated it in such a great way into his character. Made for a really excellent guest star.

JR said...

"They made me crossword puzzle editor because I'm a girl... and because I LOVE crosswords!"

Karen said...

Dino Stamatopoulos is responsible for the heart-crushingly brilliant 15-minute Adult Swim series, "Moral Orel."

Alan, I know you're not an AS kind of guy, but you should really try one or two of these. It's kind of an updated "Davey and Goliath" for our Christian Right times.

DeeTV said...

Ugh, Jack Black. I just don't get it. Why do people think he's funny? I hope he never returns to this show or any other show on my current "Must Watch List".

On another note, I am really enjoying this show - other than the JB guest appearance.

Tyroc said...

Jrepka,

The M*A*S*H final credits joke was the use of the font from the show, the freezing of the picture,and the music (all used at the end of each episode of M*A*S*H.)

I liked the episode and the series a lot, but the constant referring to other TV shows/movies drives me bananas. (Note I like bananas just not being driven to/by them.)

Dan F said...

The crossword lines made me roar. Because I'm way into crosswords, and Alison Brie is my TV girlfriend (having recently supplanted Rashida Jones). However, my real girlfriend was not amused in the slightest.

Anonymous said...

It took about two lines from Jack Black for me to hate that character. Good writing or not?

One thing I've been wondering about is their choice to have the show run in "real" time. While this has worked for The Office (but is getting close to being unbelievable), it is going to become really hard to buy the characters still at Greendale in two to three years.

floretbroccoli said...

No love for the David Letterman / Crispin Glover pop culture reference?

Anonymous said...

I think one thing that was lost is the group has a new potential rival group to compete against in the future. Of course half the group won't be shown becasue they are played by Jack Black and Owen Wilson, but it sounds like the other group is recruiting for new members anyway.

Number Five said...

Yeah, the strength of the show has been the sense of them forming a real group, not just a bunch of people swapping jokes for 22 minutes.

Hard to describe, but I liked the structure of the episode, which felt looser and more inventive. The first half of the season was good but many of the emotional/serious hearts of the stories were structured in the same way. Here Jeff still learns a lesson, but it felt different.

I also loved the crossword line...a classic kind of joke and the way Alison Brie said it was hilarious.

The sheer overload of meta-humor continues to annoy, but I loved the deliberately hokey cliche of retconning Jack Black into footage from the first season's classroom scenes.

Maura said...

I love this show, but I thought this episode was pretty bad. There were some great lines, but JB brought everything to a screeching halt. The episode mostly felt clumsy.

ken shen said...

Anyone else catch Jack Black = Crispin Glover on Letterman?

Anonymous said...

My favorite reference, having Chevy's face covered with the lemon bar powdered sugar, a la 1981's "Modern Problems", though I don't remember it being powdered sugar then.

--bad dad

Matt said...

Not much to add at this late date, but I love how they "Nikki and Paolo"'d Jack Black into the earlier episodes. Could be a reference in and of itself.