Before it became known for its more outlandish, high-concept theme episodes, Community had to settle for just being the best and smartest comedy on the air, packed with whip-crack jokes that were able to turn on a dime into moments of genuine pathos. This week's episode, "Advanced Gay," was a classic in that regard. It wasn't one of the series' more groundbreaking installments -- no one went to pretend outer space in an RV, or played with alternate timelines, or engaged in genre-blending paint-based warfare -- but it was wonderfully timed and perfectly executed. Every joke worked, every character interaction felt genuine and fluid, and every story turn built organically and enjoyably on those before it on the way to a great ending. Credit regular director and executive producer Joe Russo for the breezy interplay, and Matt Murray for the great script, but give it up for the show as a whole. Most shows would kill to do just one episode this good a year. Community is that far ahead of the pack.
The episode dealt mainly with two major turning points: Pierce's battle with his dad and Troy's struggle to figure out what he wants to do with his life. They both hit home in terms of comedy and drama, but Troy's story had a bit more traction given where the show needs to go. This is, after all, the third season, and the study group can only realistically hang out together at a community college for so long before they have to graduate and get jobs. Dan Harmon has talked about that problem, saying that he wanted the show to be titled simply Community and not make a specific reference to school because it would (hopefully) get to the point where it was about a self-sustaining family of friends, not necessarily classmates. Sure, it's okay for now for Troy to just watch TV with Abed and re-enact Inspector Spacetime, but eventually he'll have to move forward with his life. Vice Dean Laybourne's cartoony threat about things "just getting started" wasn't an empty threat. Sooner or later, Troy will have to act. For now, though, he gets to be a kid a little bit longer.
Pierce, on the other hand, finally had to grow up. It was a fantastic idea to have his dad show up (though, like Annie, I'd assumed Pierce's dad was mathematically eliminated from life a while ago) because it let the writers explore the idea that, no matter how old you get, you always feel like a kid around your parents. Even when your dad is an aging racist homophobe who wears an ivory hairpiece, you still bow to pressure. Pierce's daddy issues also beautifully dovetailed with Jeff's, which connected to Britta's latest attempt to apply her psych degree to her life, which tied back to Troy's own journey of professional self-discovery. And then to have Jeff's cathartic confrontation of Pierce's dad pivot into a genuine funeral scene? Beautiful. The whole episode fed itself in a way, and nothing about it felt stray or wasted. Wonderful from top to bottom.
• Loved the Vice Dean's line about "incredible invisible inbelievable things" and "an unseen unknown unvincible fraternity of craftsmen."
• Chang was totally on point this episode. He usually works better as a tangential presence, moving through the weirdness of Greendale and commenting on it while also amplifying it. He had some great one-line moments this week, notably his complaint at the Gay Bash: "This party's a real sausage fest."
• "I'm gonna eat spaceman paninis with Black Hitler and there's nothing you can do about it!"
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• "In the wipes business, we call them towelheads." So wrong, and so perfect for Pierce.
• Shirley had some great moments this week, but my favorite had to be her wonderfully downplayed "Was I smiling?" moment. Yvette Nicole Brown absolutely nailed it, and it reminded me again how every single one of the main actors is a solid comic performer. Witness the way she says, "[Gay men] may live in defiance of God, but I'd die before I let a woman touch my hair."
• Even the priest thinks Britta's "the worst."