Friday, March 12, 2010

Community, "Basic Genealogy": Now switch!

A review of "Community" coming up just as soon as I choke the Little Mermaid with a bike chain...

It's been instructive to watch the ups and downs of "Community" and "Modern Family" this season, not only on their own paths, but in relation to each other. (And I say this as someone who enjoys both shows a great deal and thinks the whole "there can only be one" attitude among some fans of each to be pretty silly.) Though "Community" got pegged at the start of the season as the colder, more ironic show with all its meta humor and pop culture references, I've found that it's not only displayed more heart over the course of the season than "Modern Family," but done it more naturally. Where "Modern Family" has felt compelled to spell out its morals at the end of each episode and make sure no one could possibly forget that these kooky people really like each other deep down, "Community" has chosen to show and not tell the story of its impromptu family coming together and learning to care about each other.

Yet this week, the roles reversed. "Modern Family" gave us the show's first episode in a long time (if not ever?) that didn't end with a voiceover where one of the actors summed up the deep meaning of the story. "Community," on the other hand, gave us an episode where the characters more blatantly talked about their feelings, about what they mean to each other, what they should take out of relationships with each other and with their biological family members, etc.

And I didn't necessarily mind it, particularly in an episode that had as much good comedy as "Basic Genealogy" did. But the slight change in style was noticeable, particularly in this week when "Modern Family" ducked away from this particular pitch. In particular, Abed reassuring Shirley that she's a good mom and Annie getting Jeff to realize he wants to be a good friend were a bit more on the nose than the show usually gets. (Though in both cases we at least got a good punchline, with Jeff again marveling at Annie's powers of manipulation, and Shirley's son winding up in the vending machine.)

As for the comedy, Troy trying to talk while crying has now become one of the show's most reliable laugh-getters, and the unlikely Troy/Britta partnership again yielded great dividends, with Britta's more-enlightened-than-thou whiteness getting her a good switchin'. Katharine McPhee was fine as Pierce's grifter stepdaughter (and certainly much more lifelike than fellow "American Idol" alum Carrie Underwood was on "HIMYM" last week), and it had been a while since we got some good Pierce/Jeff interaction. Early episodes had established that Pierce is who Jeff will become if he's not careful, and it was nice to see Pierce himself recognize this and for once have the self-awareness to try to talk Jeff out of it. (And that also had a good talking-while-crying gag, with Jeff venting about "Glee.") And the Pictionary/swastika/Rabbi Chang gag was wonderfully set-up.

NBC renewed "Community" last week, after the hilarious "Physical Education" aired. (Here's video of Dan Harmon telling the cast the good news.) This has quickly become one of my favorite things on TV, and I'm glad I'll get to see both the show and the study group grow and evolve for another year.

What did everybody else think?

53 comments:

William said...

I loved the Glee joke. For those that may not know, the folks at Community share their set with the folks at Glee. Harmon is always Twittering about it, and it was great to see that joke reflected in the show proper.

Flap Jackson said...

You would have to pick the most disturbing/kinky shot of the whole episode as the episode photo.

;)

Andrew said...

Thinking community couldn't top last week's pool scene craziness, they did it again. I was dying during that Britta scene especially when Jeff and McPhee run in there. I literally couldn't breath, that scene was so ridiculous

Community has really found their groove and is quickly becoming one of the funniest season of any show in recent memory.

Anonymous said...

So is this the end of Slater? Already setting the plate for Brief?

Jim said...

the whipping scene was... odd. Odder than last week's naked pool game? I don't know. But I liked the show. Everyone was funny, Senor Chang brought the awesome, as is his wont.
Katherine McPhee is from AI? I wondered why everyone was dropping that name. I thought she was from one of those hospital shows on ABC.

Marc said...

It didnt bother u that the rabbi was wearing a talis on campus, made no sense, no one would ever do that - whether you're reform, conservative, certainly no orthodox would. didnt work even for a laugh.

I get that you love the show and since you brought up MF, i just want to comment on that. I havent agreed with your criticisms of MF and your universally rave reviews of this show. This is a good show but its nowhere near as clever as MF, IMHO. I'm sure you disagree and that's fine. We all like what we like. I guess what I am saying is it seems you just like this show and NBC's snarky type shows more, which is why even when they do sappy as you say, you are more forgiving on COMMUNITY. I like the sweetness of MF and dont mind what bothers you about it.

Im being rather wordy, but i guess my point is from reading your reviews in general the NBC type shows are more your preferance and when we like someone/something we tend to be more forgiving and when we aren't as in love we are more critical. I actually prefer the ABC wed comedies, including the MIDDLE, over NBC, but outside of THE OFFICE this year the NBC ones are pretty good too.

Its a good year for comedy when you factor in CBS too.

paul in kirkland said...

When Katharine McPhee showed up the first thing I thought was "Oh brother, here we go. Carrie Underwood all over again." But she can actually act!

The Glee thing killed.

They really need to keep Slater, for obvious reasons.

cadfile said...

Just weird we didn't get to see the Rabbi Chang fight but got to see a bit too much of Britta getting spanked scene. The end of that scene just put me off and I don't mind some spanking (was that out loud??)

Other than that I enjoyed the episode and the tag at the end with Abed and Troy in the machine was another classic - "I think I hit G-13..."

Kensington said...

Boy I hope that's not the last we'll see of Lauren Stamile. She's...well, she's yummy.

Andrew said...

"when we like someone/something we tend to be more forgiving and when we aren't as in love we are more critical.."

To much irony not to restate. Thanks Marc.

Henry said...

Can't stop cracking up at Britta getting whipped over Nana's lap with the "switch" and Troy sobbing like crazy while watching.

Loved also the gaggle of totally inappropriate racial jokes, though some made me cringe a little (Pierce drawing a swastika for a windmill, though it was great that the cop knew what he was going for). I loved that Senor Chang's brother is a rabbi, which was just odd.

American Idol grads were really a good idea to cast in comedies? First Carrie Underwood and now Katharine McPhee. I mean, she wasn't terrible, but she, like Underwood, seemed invisible for much of her plot.

And hey! Jeff has a soul! And hates Glee!

Henry said...

Also loved Britta's weird hand gesture when Nana says, "Bend over."

And I loved the tag with Troy and Abed (Is this gonna be a regular thing with the tags, just Troy and Abed?)

Anonymous said...

Omg, I don't think I've laughed as hard as I did at Britta's "switching"/Troy's cry-talking, so hilarious, my sister came into check on me.

Hannah Lee said...

The Office and Community apparently missed NBC's "It's Possum Week!" memo.



...setting the plate for Brief

Please tell me that "Brief" is not one of those made up/smash up shipper names. I hate those.

While this wasn't the top Community episode, it still brought lots of laughs, and still had heart. I felt like the Britta/Troy storyline was stretching a bit for laughs, but it fit those characters. And the Jeff/Step Daughter crash in while Britta was getting her whooping was funny in a way that only Community can be. (Maybe Modern Family and 30 Rock when it's hot can get a multiple set-up/payoff like that)

I think they left some laughs on the table with the Shirley's family/Abed's family smash up, but the double pay off with the balloon house/vending machine was worth it.

Zack Smith said...

Seriously, damn, there is some chemistry between Jeff/Annie in even small scenes. I actually thought of them as "Jannie" tonight, and I HATE HYBRID COUPLE NAMES. I know it's an odd situation with the characters, but they're aware of that (as opposed to shows that just throw characters together and never remark on age), and that opens up some storytelling possibilities in itself.

Though I wouldn't mind Slater (and Vaughan!) sticking around. The break-up felt a might prefunctory as a way to introduce the one-off character of the stepdaughter.

Not quite feeling Britta's storyline. The role's become more likable, and I have nothing against Gillian Jacobs, but the character just doesn't quite pop like the others. The switching scene was funnier for Donald Glover's reactions.

I really hope this doesn't lead to some sort of "feud" with overreacting Glee fans.

That windmill scene was awesomely wrong. And no one's mentioned the Human Being's girlfriend...or whatever that was supposed to be.

Henry said...

Zack:

That was supposed to be the Human Being's kid, if I understand Jeff's comment about it correctly. I thought it was his/her kid when the first shot of the episode was presented (and the Human Beings are walking towards the camera).

Anyone else think or wish that Abra's last name was "Cadabra"? Product of my watching The Prestige earlier today on SyFy.


Also interesting that Jeff denies crying over Slater at the beginning of the episode, then breaking down at the end.

Anonymous said...

hybrid couple names are like rule 34 - might hate it but it's inevitable. destiny. fate. blah. bazinga.

there's been a lot of meta jokes at other shows's expense recently. HIMYM. Glee. BBT. Something else.

Kensington said...

Zack Smith:
"I really hope this doesn't lead to some sort of "feud" with overreacting Glee fans."

Is there any other kind of Glee fan?

(Kidding! I'm kidding!)

Sancho said...

I noticed that too Anon.

You got the Glee joke on this one (didn't know they shared sets with it. but as someone who doesn't get Glee either, loved it.), Andy referencing HIMYM on tonight's Office, and Dr Cox on Scrubs telling Trihn to set his dvr to record Big Bang Theory (which like the Glee joke, also made me laugh in that I agree with the comment. what's the big deal???)

George said...

I think we can all agree that the NBC comedies are the best on TV atm, Community has been pretty awesome all year, Parks and Rec has been at a similar level, 30 Rock never fails to make me laugh, even when it's just mailing it in and The Office...

A good episode; the Britta storyline was a reminder of the kind of annoying hipster she was at the beginning, I thought they moved past that but I'm not gonna complain because it was too funny.
I thought the Jeff storyline was kinda lame, save for his and Pierce's heart to heart and Pierce's interpretation of a windmill, but Abed and Shirley were the weak link.

Isn't Abed's dad Figgins from Glee? This show just doesn't stop with the meta jokes, even the subtle ones. I do like that show; it's fun and Jane Lynch kills (I'm actually glad she left Party Down to do it), but seriously it's like Beatlemania with teenage girls worldwide, too much!

G-13 lol

Teev said...

Why can there be only one? They aren't even on at the same time. I watch and enjoy MF and Community and I want them both on the air. If one of them "won" and only one kept going I would be sad. For a long time there weren't many good comedies on and now there are so many, it's fantastic.

Zack, you are right, Jeff and Annie have crazy chemistry. Too bad they made her character so young.

Anonymous said...

"Hey Phantom Menace, how's the trade embargo with the Naboo?"

DirtyKash said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DirtyKash said...

With the battle between "Community" and "Modern Family" going, it was nice that, this week, we had a battle of guessing games: Community with a game of Pictionary ("smiling sideways vagina"), while Modern Family had the charades commercial during the Oscars. Both very funny.

clever_aint_wise said...

There is a feud between Modern Family fans and Community fans? How weird and random.

Nothing could top last week for me, but I liked this overall. I thought Jeff/Pierce/stepdaughter was funny. Jeff's denial of being sad about getting dumped rang true and I liked the crying payoff at the end (I'm a Glee fan but I thought that was hysterical!)

My only complaint is with Britta being extra annoying. She can be a hipster-y pain in the ass, but I thought this episode made her seem outright stupid. Donald Glover saved that story line by being awesome as ever.

Bryan said...

Brita and Troy weren't the only ones crying during that scene (She's had enough!") I haven't laughed that hard since, well last week's pool scene I guess.

God that was funny. (I noticed last week during the baggel scene Brita goes from smiling to crying very funnily)

If I remember my American Idol history I think Katherine McPhee went to a school for performing arts somewhere so she's got some training.

Anybody else notice (and maybe somebody has posted this on one of the other reviews) but 3 of the 4 shows last night had the word FART in them.

Anonymous said...

This just became my favorite show currently on air. Lost gets booted to #2.

Jim said...

Could someone explain Troy's line about "My mom told me there would be white people like this. Coffee grinders, [something], pretending to ride in steamboats." (I think that was it).

JM said...

I liked Rabbi Chang in full regalia saying "Senor Chang? Do you realize how ridiculous that sounds?"

Anonymous said...

Andy referencing HIMYM on tonight's Office,

Thank you!!! I knew there had been a third show referencing another show (Scrubs and BBT and Community the other two). I woke up this morning and couldn't remember which was the third. The Office.

Odd that all shows would air in the same week?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Could someone explain Troy's line about "My mom told me there would be white people like this. Coffee grinders, [something], pretending to ride in steamboats." (I think that was it).

The idea is that white people - or, at least, a subset of them exemplified by Britta - tend to fetishize things from the past that have outlived their usefulness or appropriateness, whether it's obsolete technology or overly-stern grandmothers. Stuff White People Like has a long list of such things.

RB said...

The Britta spanking scene was a fetish scene on par with the worst of Fear Factor. It was funny at first, and then uncomfortable, and then, just plain weird.

Anonymous said...

30 Rock used the windmill joke in Hardball (still its best episode, I think).

Couldn't believe the spanking scene. I can't decide if I laughed out of shock or because it was funny.

Anonymous said...

I found the set up to the spanking scene to be funnier than the actual spanking. Much like Pam punching Michael in the Office, we could tell where this was headed while Britta kept looking for a switch. The only question was if she'd bend Britta over, or chase her around in her wheelchair.

And why did Nanna ask Troy to get the second switch? I couldn't tell if it was because Britta said Troy was right, or because she thought she heard Britta say Troy was white.

Mark said...

I think the grandmother heard Britta say, "You're right, Troy, she is a monster!" Which, of course, means Troy said she was a monster.

Matthew said...

I really enjoyed Jeff saying "I got a thing" to Pierc, one of my favorite Caddy Shack lines, and Pieces facial response was right on. If only Jeff looked down at a watch-less wrist to complete the parody.

Josh Elwell said...

Has it been discussed in past Community threads where this show has the best chance at an Emmy nod?

Pudi, Glover and Chase are my personal stand outs, but the Supporting Actor race looks crowded with Parks and Rec's Offerman and Ansari and every male on Modern Family crowding the category. Thoughts? Out of last year's batch (Cryer, Dillon, NPH, McBrayer, Morgan, Wilson), I'd think (hope?) Cryer, Dillon and McBrayer are most vulnerable to Chase, Stonestreet and Offerman.

Anonymous said...

That was Katharine McPhee? I didn't recognize her at all. She did a great job.

jenmoon said...

I was mostly amused by the episode, but man, I hated Britta and the switch. It turned her into a total idiot. Hated that plot like mad.

Anonymous said...

Continuity question:

Last week, Jeff said to a man he had met his son at family day and that he knew about this man's gambling problems.

Was this the correct order of the episodes?

Lee said...

I love Community but I didn't love this episode. Or rather I didn't like the Brita/Troy storyline. A grown woman allowing herself to be whipped? It's not funny. It's disturbing.

I'm not a Brita hater either. She's fine. She's no Annie, but she's fine.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Out of last year's batch (Cryer, Dillon, NPH, McBrayer, Morgan, Wilson), I'd think (hope?) Cryer, Dillon and McBrayer are most vulnerable to Chase, Stonestreet and Offerman.

I'd say you shouldn't get your hopes up. Modern Family will probably slip into several categories by virtue of being a hit - and therefore, the latest "Savior of Comedy" torch-bearer. But great as Community and Parks & Rec have been, it's incredibly hard to get shows/people out of certain categories once they're in.

Put it this way: Entourage was still nominated for Best Comedy last year.

With the Emmys, you wanna prepare for the worst, and try to remember Ron F'ing Swanson's philosophy about the pointlessness of awards.

Anonymous said...

I hated the spanking scene, it ran too long. Other than that I liked the episode.

Josh Elwell said...

Put it this way: Entourage was still nominated for Best Comedy last year.

It's dangerous, I know, but my hopes are officially up. Jeremy Piven's snub gives me hope for Community or Parks and Rec or both sneaking into the Supporting Actor race. These actors are too good not to be up for a pointless award.

bratcat said...

@ Anon 4:49, I noticed the continuity lapse as well. During the Pool scene when the whole school was watching I kept wondering why Slater wasn't there or being mentioned. They must have flip flopped those two episodes.

I find myself watching Community episodes multiple times online, its great entertainment. I like that although Winger is the central character the writers do a good job of keeping everyone involved in the action. Thats one of the challenges with The Office, the Jim/Pam story line tends to overtake the Stanley, Meredith, Creed and Kevin moments, which are some of the best.

Alison Brie has the most express face since Maura Tierney, I love watching her reactions, even when she's in the background she always brings it.

and Kudos to the writers and Ken Jeong for creating Senor Chang- a bitter, sadistic, Asian guy teaching spanish at a community college.. pure genius. his class scenes are always a highlight. Loved Troy addressing Chang as "El Tigre", referencing Chang's introduction scene where he told the class his name in Spanish was El Tigre! Chino!

Alan, any insight into the order of the lst two episodes being switched? As always, great review.

David said...

I didn't see anyone comment on another major "Glee" connection tonight, which was that Abed's dad is the same actor who plays that show's Principal Figgins (Iqbal Theba). How convenient for him if they use the same set.

David said...

i also loved Shirley's "you're like a black ghost" and "grrrreeetings" (with hand flips) when she made Abel's burqa-clad cousin.

David said...

Oh, and Senor Chang saying he ate his twin in utero was already used on The Office back in season 3's grief counseling episode - Dwight said he didn't regret it because he now has the strength of a grown man and a little baby.

Loved this ep, but yeah, the flipped order was odd.

Anonymous said...

I normally like Britta, but I absolutely hated the whole switch thing. That horrible scene also went on way too long, and pretty much ruined the episode for me.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, this is a weird thing to say, which is why I'm going anon with it. But I have never been nearly as turned on by a sitcom as I was during the Britta switch scene. I had to pause the episode and catch my breath. Wow.

boaterwalt said...

I have to give credit to the producers for having the courage to do the spanking scene and do it realistically, and not off camera. It was long, but quite amazing to see on TV that is much too much politically correct all of the time. And Gillian did a great job reacting to the switching -- she looked experienced! LOL

Matt said...

Good to see Community appeals to granny lesbian s&m lovers. Not everyone can love Modern Family. Happy that the rest of us can watch a show like Community.

bb said...

I'm a big fan of this show. I watched the pool episode on demand a week late and watched basic genealogy the night after it aired...talk about a let down. I laughed so hard during the pool episode. This one left me stone cold. Bummer.