One of the great things about Community is its ability to skillfully execute standard sitcom set-ups even when it's not being ironic and meta about doing so. For instance, last night's "Applied Anthropology and Culinary Arts" was a wonderful bottle episode, but the point wasn't to bring the writers' laser-like intensity and gleeful deconstructionism to the concept of bottle episodes as happened with "Cooperative Calligraphy." Instead, the point was to use the set-up in a classical sense, getting the maximum impact from a one-stage story without ever calling attention to the fact. As a result, the episode was tightly done and perfectly pitched, from the believable reasons for the gang's isolation in the anthropology classroom (race riot on the quad) to the way everyone pulled together for that other sitcom staple, the emergency delivery. It even had some unironic sweetness as everyone learned a lesson or two. Community gets a lot of very well deserved praise for its bravery and skill at playing with form -- and this episode featured plenty of self-referential lines and callbacks -- but it's worth remembering that it can deliver a straight-ahead story when it needs to.
It was nice to see John Oliver return for a fleeting moment, though the episode really didn't kick in until he left. Forced to stay together in the classroom after the dean's international food festival turned into bedlam, the gang had to help Shirley get through her surprise labor. Shirley and Chang found a way to make amends thanks to Chang's real skill at keeping her calm during the contractions. This was where their quasi-friendship has ultimately been heading since it was revealed that they hooked up and that Shirley was pregnant, and Chang's ability to come through in the clutch wasn't diminished by the fact that the baby turned out to be Andre's. In fact, that's almost beside the point in terms of Chang and Shirley reconciling. The baby's race couldn't play a part in it, so when Andre just in time to see Shirley give birth to his son, Chang was able to still be a reliable and (however briefly) solid guy.
And of course, it was great to see Abed take charge, too, telling the gang he knew about childbirth after delivering a baby earlier this year while everyone else was "off in the background." It's one thing for the earlier gag to just be an Easter egg, but to actually make it pay off in the main story line? That's some good TV.
• Troy and Abed's Indecent Proposal story with Pierce and their secret handshake was a fun way to kill time, and it made sure they had something to do for the episode. It felt a little too neat that the magic of Shirley's birth restored their mojo, but hey, it was cute.
• Looks like Jeff and Britta are once again sliding back toward the "on" end of their on-off relationship. Or at least they both think babies are a lot cuter than they're willing to admit.
• Did Annie ever solve her financial problems? Did Britta?
• "We almost had one class that wasn't about them." A nice nod to the fact that Greendale is (or is meant to be) its own little world with plenty of characters. It reminded me of how Arzt complained to Jack and Hurley that there were more people on the island than just their little clique.
• "After a fierce campaign, I happily concede this baby to you. Pretty classy of me."
• "I didn't even know there was a difference between North and South Korean barbecue!"
• The script, credited to Karey Dornetto, had some great banter between Jeff and Britta. This was probably my favorite, starting with Jeff's line:
"Listen, backseat birther, Shirley's on her third kid. She doesn't need a 30-year-old slacker with two one-eyed cats governing her body."
"First of all, together, my cats can do anything. Secondly, you disqualified yourself from this conversation the moment you decided to grow a wang."