Film and TV

Community: The Bittersweet Smell of Success

"Competitive Wine Tasting" might not have been the funniest episode of Community's second season, but it managed to touch on a classic plot complication: doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. With all three story lines this week -- Jeff and Pierce, Abed and the teacher, and Troy and Britta -- we got to see the downside of people's obsession with the truth, and specifically the price they paid for doing what they thought was right in revealing that truth. It also says a lot that the Jeff vs. Pierce story was the biggest, when neither of those men is remotely close to the show's emotional center, while Troy and Abed (usually the moral core) each did things that wound up hurting people a little. That's an impressive amount of narrative bravery to pack into a 22-minute sitcom, but the show pulled it off pretty well.

The battle between Jeff and Pierce felt the most familiar of the story lines, right down to Jeff's dogged determination to figure out what's wrong with the woman (Michelle Krusiec) who favors Pierce over himself. It's just like Jeff to chalk this up as a character flaw on her part, and the payoff isn't so much that he finds out she's a phony looking to topple Pierce's company as it is that Jeff, by the end, grows just a little and actually sets them up on a real date. Even the loosest episodes of Community are still sticklers for the basic character arc of stasis-challenge-resolution-growth-new stasis. Jeff's still stuck on himself, but he's also able to see that not every woman is right for him.

Abed's rundown with Professor Sheffield (the awesome Stephen Tobolowsky) had a similar set-up: he methodically shot down the man's pet theories about Who's the Boss? not out of vengeance but because Abed's a pop culture machine who just wants to dig into the source material. Watching him lay out a ridiculously detailed plan for the class about why Angela was, indeed, the boss was pitch-perfect, as was Sheffield's legitimate sorrow when his work was torn apart. Abed just wanted to be honest, you know?

And of course, watching Troy try to woo Britta with tales of manufactured trauma was hilarious. (Plus that's one more fleeting couple match-up off the list for the writers.) Troy's story was also the inverse of the others: instead of telling the truth and unintentionally hurting people, he told a lie and got a little lucky. (Just a kiss, but still.) You knew it couldn't and wouldn't last, so Troy's confession to his acting class was a nice way to set things right again, but it was fun while it lasted. There was even a nice moment at the end when he acted as calm as he's ever been and told Britta that she'll meet a normal guy sooner or later. It's doubtful it'll be Troy -- Donald Glover's 27, but Troy's just 21, which makes it a little weird for him to hook up with someone that much older; it gets into Jeff-Annie territory -- but it's bound to be someone, and maybe soon.

All in all, not a ton of big laughs, but some smaller jokes that totally worked and an emotionally interesting story that clicked in all the right places. A solid risk with some decent payoff.

Scattered thoughts:

• "He refused to drink pint noir because he thought it was French for 'black penis.'"

• "I wasn't so much 'molested' as I 'made it up.'"

• "Very impressive, Veronica Mars." Please oh please let Kristen Bell do a guest spot on this show. Dan Harmon, get on this.

• Loved the music cue of the Who's the Boss? theme after Abed wisely told Sheffield, "There's a path you take, and a path untaken. The choice is up to you, my friend." The lyrics to 1980s sitcom theme songs are like the I Ching. After all, you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and then you have ... well, you know.

• I'd kill to see Fiddler, Please

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Daniel Carlson
Contact: Daniel Carlson