For all its (admittedly wonderful) cartoonishness, Community is mostly about Jeff Winger's gradual realization that he really is a good person and that life with his new friends is much better than his old one. But that's not an easy lesson to learn, or at any rate, it's not an easy one to remember, so every now and then something pops up to distract Jeff and make him think about abandoning the group again. Last night, that was Alan (Rob Corddry), an old friend from his firm who happens to attend NA meetings at Greendale and runs into Jeff in the cafeteria. You know that Jeff is not going to leave the group, and he probably won't even let them come to harm, but it's always great to watch him re-learn that.
Corddry, too, was a godsend. Dropping a comedian of his skill into an ensemble as great as Community's was predictably fantastic, and Corddry played his character with the mix of swagger, shamelessness, and blatant horniness that he does so effortlessly. The episode was also tighter than most, in that the side plots were directly related to the main one; in this case, Annie's realization that she knows Alan from NA meetings (I keep forgetting she's supposed to be a former addict) and that she heard him brag about getting someone, most likely Jeff, fired. The B-plots don't always have to tie in (sometimes you just want to see Pierce trying to hypnotize someone), but it makes for a much stronger episode when they do.
It was also clear last night that the creative team hasn't at all lost their edge. Last week's season opener had a few moments that weren't exactly bad but did seem as if the wind had gone out of their sails. But it seems clearer now that those pauses were the cost of the show's efforts to clear the air and mop up a few cliffhangers before getting back into the groove. The jokes came twice as fast last night, and they were delivered with such perfect timing and editing that I had to rewind on three separate occasions because I'd laughed so long I missed the next line or two of dialogue. When a single-camera show like Community really gets going, there's no end to the jokes, since they don't have to waste precious airtime on canned laughter to pad out unfunny exchanges. It remains the quickest, funniest comedy on television.
In the end, Jeff came around, and he did it in his own lawyerly way: Instead of viewing his friends as cool or not cool, he refused to grant the premise of the question and instead redefined what it meant to be cool in the first place. For him, it means people willing to care about you, and though Jeff had earlier referred to caring as a "disease," he later got out of an appointment with Alan by saying he'd "caught something" at Greendale. This being Jeff, of course, he didn't burn his bridge: When he got proof that Alan had indeed been the one who got Jeff fired for not being a graduate, Jeff filed the information away for future leverage. Once a lawyer, I guess.
• Drew Carey has lost some serious weight. Guy lost 80 pounds! That's impressive. Downside: now he looks like the ghost of Drew Carey.
• "I stopped doing blow, not being rad." Perfect line for Corddry.
• "The Heather Pop and Locklears" better show up as a team name on So You Think You Can Dance.
• Next to Chevy Chase, who long ago mastered how to be casually destructive, Donald Glover is the best physical comedian on the show. Just look at the way he uses his entire body when he breaks down and panics after Annie chloroforms the janitor. The scene also works as a way to keep the show grounded--yes, this may be a universe of break-dance marathons and epic paintball games, but it's still supposed to feel mostly real.
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• "Pierce -- do I even need to say this? -- it is bad to hunt man for sport."
• The Troy-Abed tag was almost sad for the way Troy got his hopes up about Abed's animated world being real. It's like Community itself: a bright, shiny place where normal rules don't apply. It's easy to see why someone would want to go there.