Friday, March 26, 2010

Community, "The Science of Illusion": Wunza housewife, wunza Girl Scout

A review of last night's "Community" coming up just as soon as you agitate my sciatica...

Last week, I complained that "Beginner Pottery" tipped the pop culture reference scales too far and threw off the show's balance. In many ways, "The Science of Illusion" was even more reference-laden, yet I enjoyed it a lot more.

Part of that is conceptual: Shirley as a salty sea captain seems incredibly random, whereas Shirley and Annie as buddy cops competing to be the alpha dog seemed both more potential-laden (Alison Brie totally went to town playing Annie as a snarling, toothpick-chewing renegade cop, just as Danny Pudi did a perfect Disapproving Black Captain impression) and because it seemed a bit more on point with the characters. Annie and Shirley are constantly trying to prove they're not the timid mouses people take them for, and it felt right to then place their police misadventure in an episode where Britta and Pierce and even Troy(*) are also taking ridiculous steps to transcend people's preconceptions about them.

(*) As I've said before, Donald Glover trying to talk while Troy weeps will never not be funny, no matter what he's saying, and it was especially funny here because the writers were acknowledging that Troy is too young to get the Cookie Crisp reference they were making. (Wikipedia has a good breakdown of the history of Cookie Crisp mascots.) Too often, the writers on shows try to apply their own tastes and references to characters who are younger than them, so I always appreciate a kind of meta acknowledgment like that.

The Britta story was also a good example of the "Community" writers continuing to turn into the skid with that character, rather than trying to fight it. Whatever the original conception of Britta was, it didn't really work. But because the show has embraced and acknowledged that she's the group's buzzkill, she's become more likable, and then jokes can be built around the difference between how others perceive her and how she perceives herself. Britta's self-deprecating knock-knock joke ("Cancer!" "Oh, good, come in! I thought it was Britta!") was a very sad, sweet, funny and charming moment for Gillian Jacobs.

There were a lot of funny jokes scribbled in the margins - old man Leonard as the most ruthless and vulgar prankster on campus, Senor Chang's fear of frogs, Pierce's gay psychic reading of Jeff - but the main jokes were even funnier. Annie doing a foot pursuit of Jeff and running through the pepper spray mist alone was worth the price of admission.

So, the big question is, which buddy cop spin-off would you rather watch: Annie and Shirley, or Sawyer and Miles from "Lost"? Could we combine them all? Or would Annie spontaneously combust if asked to spend a lot of time with a shirtless Sawyer?

What did everybody else think?

56 comments:

debbie said...

I just loved Abed saying "Now that's a buddy-cop movie I'd watch." It seems like every TV critic is saying that lately, so very fitting and timely for him to say.

Kristi said...

Another score for "Community", and actually the whole 7-9 pm Thursday night comedy block on NBC. Wire-to-wire, I thought each show brought the funny this week (although Michael's antics were a little over the top again this ep of "The Office", but that's for another post).

And Annie slamming Jeff's head into the table? Busted out laughing. I bet she enjoyed frisking him, though :)

Anonymous said...

The problem with Britta is that she was cast as the romantic lead but other than having a nice body doesn't really fit the bill. So they are trying to find something else to do with her to mixed success.

On the other hand, Alison Brie very much fits the bill as the show's romantic lead, brains beauty and comic timing galore, but Annie was written as being just 18 before it became apparent which of the leading lady's had the real chops, so now the show is stuck with a problem.

Anyway, not one of the better episodes to me. Too wacky lately, and too much Dean and Chang, whose comic power gets diminished from overuse. These are the type of characters we should see 4 or 5 times a season, not every episode. John Oliver would be a better regular.

kyle said...

I thought it was a big step up from last week and got the show right back on track. My favorite moments were Abed's asides to the characters to keep the buddy cop narrative moving. "Pursue him on foot." "Cut him off on the other side!"

Dan said...

I absolutely loved this episode. In my opinion it's the best episode of all the Thursday shows this season.

Mostly I loved Annie and Shirley's buddy cop antics. Abed directing them, eating snacks, his black cop impression were all just hilarious to me.

DrBobert said...

Donald Glover and Danny Pudi can do no wrong in my eyes. Whether together (The morning show bit was hilarious) or apart, they take the show from great to brilliant.

Best line: 'Ohhh! Colonial burn!"
Had in me stitches.

All in all, a great episode and makes up for the iffy ep last week.

Dan said...

LOVED Abed doing the buddy cop movie captain imitation.

And another commenter brings up an interesting point... what's happened to Jon Oliver? They should use his character to make the dean a little more scarce. We get it... the dean is a repressed gay man. The writers are beating that joke into the ground.

Chris said...

Thoroughly enjoyed this episode. Between Abed and Sheldon on TBBT I have a hard time choosing which is my favorite character with personality ticks.

Also have been wondering what happened to John Oliver? Was he canned from the show or do they just plan on using him very, very sporadically?

Adam said...

Donald Glover's cryfest was the most rewarding to me, since, like him, I was too young to know the Wizard mascot and only knew the burglar - and throughout the whole episode was wonderign what was going on. Abed continues to skyrocket up my list of favorite comedy characters on TV right now. Barney Stinson better watch out

Jeff Kelly said...

Abed is infinitely more likable than Sheldon.

Jim Parson's Sheldon Cooper is the Steve Urkel of TBBT. He completely hijacked the show but is so over the top annoying and sociopathic that I can't imagine anyone liking him. I know I don't.

The biggest problem with Chuck Lorre's shows, he can't write a decent three dimensional character. Two and a half men, TBBT, Grace under fire, Dharma and Greg, all of those characters are two dimensional caricatures with all the dials turned to 11.

I am astonished by Allison Brie's versatility. She is such an awesome actress that you buy everything she does. The naive 18 year old girl scout, the bad cop, the wife of a Mad Men, she sells everything.

clever_aint_wise said...

I really liked this one. Mainly because I too, was confused at the Cookie Crisp wizard reference, but it wasn't until Troy spoke up that I realized why I hadn't gotten it. Community, you really know me.

Although I didn't think Pierce reading Jeff's mind as a hotbed of gay thoughts was funny. It seemed to rely on the idea that just saying the word gay is funny because haha isn't homosexuality hiLArious.

strong cookie. said...

I would rather watch the "Troy and Abed in the Morning" show than any other spin-off.

Why isn't NBC selling that mug today?

cadfile said...

This episode was full of great bits, lines, references. Loved it all.

Annie cracked me up the most.

"They called me psycho because I had a nervous breakdown in highschool."

"I was more Shirley when I was addicted to pills..."

"These are *NOT* tears! It is self inflicted friendly fire..."

renton said...

I'm growing to love this show.

The Cookie Jarvis references alone put this one in the win column for me.

And Alison Brie is adorable in a baseball cap, too.

jeffrey said...

i'm a fan or troy & abed in the morning. that small bit was much funnier than the beating audiences take from watching SNLs spoof of the today show.

Andrew said...

First time ever seeing Annie in pants and yet still hot.

Andrew said...

"Britta, why waste your time envying my gift for levity when there is so much you can be doing with your natural talent for severity?"

Something about that line just killed me when I heard it. Writing is so sharp.

Steve said...

The Cookie Crisp comment killed me. As funny as Joel McHale is, Abed and especially Troy steal the show... and Annie is gorgeous.

And after finally being funny last week, Chevy went back to being over the hill and not funny.

Anonymous said...

I still don't love this show. It's just missing something. I agree about the Britta character. Whatever she was supposed to be didn't work and she's been floundering. I love Chevy Chase, but it's actually been sad watching him on this show. His character just isn't very funny. His jokes are poorly written and his character just doesn't work for me. Ahbed is by far my favorite. That guy has been great. Loved his police chief monologue. I like Jeff, Annie, and Shirley and Troy is okay.

Still, I mainly watch this show b/c it's on before Parks & Rec. If it didn't have a lead in to a show I really like I probably wouldn't watch it.

Zach said...

Enjoyed this episode quite a bit. Not enough Senor Chang for my liking, but still funny. And with all of the continuing characters, like the security guards, Dean Pelton, and Starburns, I still think the funniest they have is Leonard. His "how do you spell testicles" line was hysterical.

Zack Smith said...

Britta's getting better -- she's at least a B, and not in the Vaughan-song sense. And yet, every time the character has a big scene, she keeps getting upstaged by Troy. The teacup, the spanking, and her big confession this ep was less funny for me than Troy's Cookie Crisp monologue.

Perhaps they should avoid putting Gillian Jacobs and Donald Glover in scenes together.

There is little about Alison Brie that had not been said already, and I think I might have an unhealthy crush on the actress/character. I'm going to stop before I try to read some chemistry into her slamming Jeff's head into the table.

Chevy Chase WORE that wizard hat!

CEK said...

A subtle bit last night, but I was intrigued by Annie's comment she wanted to be the bad cop so that people would see her as an adult, and not a kid. An attempt by the show to "age her up" for what would be a scorching and hilarious romance with Jeff?

Stonewall said...

I laughed my ass off throughout the whole episode!

I loved the buddy cop stuff, with Abed directing/narrating from the back seat, or in the back of the Dean's office. Loved his angry captain impersonation. Loved the fighting and competition between Annie and Shirley. And, I just love Alison Brie - she is seriously causing a rift in my crush on Yvonne Strahovski. That's for a different therapy session.

Chevy Chase as Cookie Jarvis - too damned funny. Senor Chang afraid of frogs - too funny. "I told you that in confidence!"

Troy and Abed in the morning!

This entire cast is awesome.

To answer your question, I would rather watch Annie and Shirley all day - those gals crack me up!

compain87 said...

Even though I've heard the angry police chief a lot, this might have been the best execution of it. I love this show, it's amazing how much Community has surpassed The Office and 30 Rock in its first season.

I agree that senor chang shouldn't be in every episode and that it would be nice to see John Oliver again

Not sure which buddy cop show I'd rather watch but i think it tips to the community side because of Abed as the police chief.

Steve said...

oh, and how could I forget the awesome "Bababooey Bababooey Bababooey" line.

Amazing.

Andrew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hannah Lee said...

I thought this episode was a riot. And it’s definitely going to get a rewatch, because the jokes were going by so fast I’m sure I only caught half of them.

Alan, I loved your description of the writers “turning into the skid” with Britta. The gaping chasm between her anarchist/ progressive /confident self-image and the reality of her awkward, desperate need to be accepted and loved gives her the potential to be a fascinating character. I think they’re still figuring her out, and “turning into the skid” is a great way to handle it.

Abed using Annie and Shirley to fill the void while his cable was out (armed with popcorn and Raisinets), Annie and Shirley using temp security guard gigs to try to bust out their inner badasses, while silly, really worked given what we know about the characters. And Annie pepperspraying herself and then playing the next scene with raccoon eyes made be giggle.

The execution of the Cookie Crisp gag was priceless, "Troy and Abed In The Morning" (complete with matching outfits and themesong), Annie slamming Jeff's head into the table, and Shirley and Annie frisking him, Troy crying, Britta's Knock Knock joke...all great moments that worked on so many different levels.

Once again the show was absurd and hysterically funny, but still managed to have a heartfelt group hug scene that was actually moving. How do they do that?


Re: Pierce’s psychic gay reading of Jeff. I think that’s a call back to the movie-watching episode. One of the joke writers pitched gay jokes at him because he “loves gay jokes”.

Re: John Oliver – According to @danharmon on Twitter, he’d really love to have Oliver in every episode, but they have to work around his availability. He is coming back though.

Hatfield said...

With Abed's amazing impression, I was kinda hoping they'd find a way to get Frank McRae involved. That would have been genius.

Anonymous said...

When I watched 'The Science of Illusion' live I felt that it didn't gel with any of the 19 episodes that had come before. I laughed - a lot - but I was sure that there was some sort of tonal disconnect there.

When I watched it again that nagging feeling evaporated and I laughed harder at every joke than I had the first go-round. Annie slamming Jeff's head into the table joined such recent Community triumphs as the "sexual prospect" stare-off from 1x15 and pretty much all of 1x17 (Abed getting his Don Draper on with Trudy/Annie, the naked pool scene, White Abed).

This show is the biggest breath of comedic fresh air I've experienced since Arrested Development's first season. I sort of hate to make the AD comparison, but it's the highest complement I can pay to this wonderful show. SO HAPPY it was renewed!

DeeTV said...

Nobody mentioned the little mexican froggy props that were dumped out of Jeff's backpack, so I will. Come on, I almost fell off the couch. I don't know why that hit me as so funny but it did.

I absolutely love this show!

The only one I'm not crazy about is senor chang. I agree with the folks who say he's best in small doses. I think he works when he does something odd/weird/stupid and the students react to it. It's the students' reactions that are funnier than whenever chang did.

bratcat said...

Community continues to be one of my favorite sitcoms on air and at this pace could one day be up there with some of my all-timers. The most lol moment for me this week was T Bone's crying monologue about Cookie Crisp. His cry/talking, cry/dancing, cry/spank-watching is comedy gold, imo. Can't wait for the next Troy cry/x.

Annie- Such a smart and beautiful actress, and sooo crush worthy, for sure. I love the energy she puts into exploring her insecurities.

Britta- Im not as concerned about her character being defined as of yet, I'm fine with her just being the former crush/group creator/cynic. It works for me.

Chang/Dean- God I love these characters. El Tigre! Chino! And the Dean is basically a reprisal of his turn as Andrew on Reno 911, always makes me laugh.

My only criticism of this episode is that sometimes they go overboard with the delicate dance they do with pop culture references. The characters remind me of my friends, we're constantly throwing in pop references, and the more obscure, the more funny for us. But, with this episode, and some others recently, the 'subtle wink' that makes the show fun starts to turn into the actors looking straight into the camera and yelling 'WINK! WINK!' The buddy cop story line got awfully close to it for me,and when that happens the show loses its grounding in reality and crosses over into laughtrack era sitcom land. Walk the line Community, just don't cross it, please. Still a great show, can't wait for next week.

DB Cooper said...

I DO wish that they'd incorporated the spokes-wizard's actual name ("Cookie Jarvis," as noted above) - because Starburns certainly would know that - but damn it's hard to complain about this show.

Doc said...

I like many others seem to be developing an infatuation with Alison Brie. I was absolutely dying through all of the Annie and Shirley cop scenes and when she slammed Jeff's head I fell of the couch. One of the series' best in my opinion because everyone had a joke/plotline that was working well. This show is def up there with Parks and Rec right now. Might surpass it if their was more bacon.

Hatfield said...

Lucky for me, my friend is obsessed with Britta, so we can stalk together without ruining our friendship. Sweet!

This show is so dependably hilarious right now, it's just a joy to watch every week. I'm glad to hear John Oliver is coming back.

flem snopes said...

...coming up just as soon as I squash a frog and throw a cadaver out the window.

Flap Jackson said...

I thought all the stuff not relating to the buddy-cop storyline was kind of a wash. And again, Danny Pudi was amazing.

However, I still argue that Community still doesn't know what to do with Pierce, and I just find nothing funny/interesting about him. Britta can change, why can't Pierce?

Anonymous said...

Or would Annie spontaneously combust if asked to spend a lot of time with a shirtless Sawyer?

I think it's more likely that Sawyer would spontaneously combat if asked to spend a lot of time with Alison Brie.

I love this show.

Anonymous said...

Whoops, I meant 'combust.'

Teev said...

So much fun. I, too, didn't really get the cookie wizard joke. I'm old enough but somehow I'm not up on Cookie Crisp mythology even though I've got quite a bit of knowledge of other cereal thieves and guardians (seriously this comes up all the time with cereal. Why? It isn't so pervasive with candy so it can't be a for kids theme). But then the joke was all super awesome with Troy's tearful confession of how he didn't get it either. You know, here and at the AVclub everyone is writing their favorite line or visual and there are so many for this episode!

And since the cast of Community has to keep working with Chevy next year and the cast of Lost will be free I vote for the Sawyer and Miles show which will of course be Miami Vice except now Tubbs can ask the corpses who killed them (wait, this sounds familiar) but since that won't stand up in court Crockett and Tubbs then have to come with an elaborate con to get the killer to confess. It is likely that the con will involve Sawyer sleeping with the hot chick of the week - he can't help it if that is his job!

Jerry said...

The show's writing felt a bit different than some of the earlier episodes but it was still funny.

Seriously, how can anyone not fall in serious like with Alison Brie? She's awesome.

It's a shame more people aren't watching this show because it's damn good most weeks.

Banjo Billy said...

Count me in the crowd of didn't get the Cookie Crisp wizard joke either. Being 28, I'm a child of the Burglar too. Troy crying about that was the laugh out loud moment of the ep for me.

Banjo Billy said...

Also count me in the group of guys with crushes on Allison Brie. And to think that I couldn't stand her as Trudie on Mad Men.

Anonymous said...

I liked seeing Officer Jay (sans mustache), the breakout character from The Sarah Silverman Program, as one of the campus cops.

Geoff said...

Anybody wanting more balanced breakfast nostalgia should check out Brendan Jones' recently completed web-comic masterpiece Breakfast of the Gods.

And yes, Annie and Shirley on The Nice Ones, Friday nights at 9pm/8 central this fall.

Anonymous said...

You should say nice things about Modern Family more often. Not only is it a great show, but after your positive review this week, Marc hasn't taken to carping about the NBC sitcoms. Much more pleasant.

Anonymous said...

Wow. It took 46 comments for Modern Family to get mentioned in a Community comments section. Must be a new record.

אורי said...

Anonymous said:
I liked seeing Officer Jay (sans mustache), the breakout character from The Sarah Silverman Program, as one of the campus cops.


Me too, but I was disappointed they didn't give him a meatier role, or, I should say, a role with any meat at all.

To the less informed, he would occassionaly pop up in Mr. Show - as did Silverman, to a lesser extent - and he was always enjoyable, and at times, brilliant.
(If you don't know what I'm talking about and want to see an example, watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TyrM7GxyzGg

Dave T said...

You know what Alan, I heard a rumor that there's a plural form for "mouses." Probably just an urban legend though.

In this case, "mouses" is correct.

Chrissy said...

One thing I liked about this episode that I didn't see mentioned - Britta's joke, had she successfully pulled it off, actually would have been very funny, because, as we find out later, Chang is terrified of frogs.

Alf said...

"I just got a phone call from the mayor--what?!"

Rob said...

Wikipedia has a good breakdown of the history of Cookie Crisp mascots.

I love that sentence.

ST said...

I am developing an enormous crush on Alison Brie, as well. She nails the peppy girl as well as anything else she needs to play, and she's easy on the eyes, too.

I thought Britta's insecurity about her lack of humor interesting, too, though. Her knock-knock joke was adorably deflating, and her vulnerabilities make her more interesting than her usual straight (wo)man role in the crowd. It's harder to pin down her role when she's usually the observer rather than the instigator.

Also, Abed's ability to mimic others is downright scary.

Anonymous said...

Is Danny Pudi the next Enver Gjokaj?

Hannah Lee said...

This is kind of awesome.
http://kellyoxford.tumblr.com/post/479774445/my-story-about-the-film-monster-house (via TWOP)

Community creator Dan Harmon wrote a note to a little girl to help her get over nightmares caused by Monster House (a movie he wrote). It’s sweet and funny, and gives some insight to the creative process that goes into making movies (and probably TV shows too.)

Although, if he were Chloe Sevigny, this probably would have been followed immediately by an apology email.

lizriz said...

I loved the Cookie Crisp bit because it plays on the life/age differences of friends in Community College, and more and more IRL. Watching the episode, when Troy said his bit about not even getting it, I turned to my friend on my couch and said, "Wait, when you were growing up it wasn't a wizard?" lol

Ant$ said...

Alison Brie is quickly becoming the star of this series...I'm surprised that she's not making the talk show rounds while Joel McHale is...