Community: "Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy"

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For all its wacky trimmings -- Ken Jeong as Ward Cleaver, kidnapped kids, the mere presence of Malcolm-Jamal Warner -- last night's Community was all about how growing up usually means giving someone a second chance. It's not that the episode was overly sentimental or cheesy, merely that it made an emotional argument couched in quality jokes and strong character moments. Basically, it was a solid line-drive of an episode. It won't rank among the show's best, but that's only because the show's best are pretty stellar. "Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy" was funny, smart, and economical. It also had the good timing to come on the heels of the news that Community has been renewed for another year (along with a few other NBC comedies), which meant I was able to watch it not as one of the series' final parting shots but as an example of how solid this ensemble can be, and how I'll have the chance to enjoy them for another year.

Annie was only around to throw Shirley a shower, but she wasn't really in the episode at all, and neither was Pierce. Sometimes there's just too much to do, so certain characters get sidelined. The dual plots broke down around crises of integration, as members of the study group struggled to get along with outsiders. On one hand, it was great to see Chang try so hard to figure out how to be a good dad, and to get it so wildly wrong. You knew Shirley would eventually see her way to forgiving him, thanks in part to Andre's Cosby-like reminders of tolerance and kindness; it was just a matter of letting the guy run his course.

On the other, we got some nice interplay between Abed, Troy, and Britta. Britta's usually the downer of the group, and her calls for peace and global thinking are always hilariously shouted down by people tired of her preaching. It was a nice twist to see her become the girl who cried wolf, and whose claims about Luca's warrior past were met with scorn from Troy and Abed, who just wanted a guy who could play video games with them. It was a nice, focused version of the broader dynamic, and they all played it well. The guys are total nerds but selective about their friends, while Britta acts cool but desperately wants to fit in. So just as Chang had to work his way back into Shirley's graces, so did the guys have to find a way to accept Britta for being a spoilery screw-up. A tight, fun 22 minutes.

Scattered thoughts:

• "Girls are so un-desensitized."

• "I'm nuts, Jeff! Get with the program!" We all know Chang's crazy, so Chang might as well admit it.

• "It's for an extremely thorough documentary I'm making on my life. It's mostly footage of me watching dailies, but every once in a while, it comes in handy." What a perfect Abed conceit. Also a nice touch to have him say "dailies." Community is never afraid to go nerdy and niche to land a joke.

• Loved the brief shout-out to last year's "Modern Warfare" with Abed showing Britta the sweatshirt he made to celebrate the game that read "It's all downhill from here." Obviously it hasn't all been downhill for the show since then, but creator Dan Harmon and the rest of the team know how much that episode means to fans, and they're able to joke about the expectations put on the show after that point. It's going to be interesting to see what happens when the paintball game returns in this year's season finale.

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