After much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments (and petitions and Evil Abed flash mobs) among the show's small but ardent followers -- to say nothing of creator Dan Harmon's own angst over the show's uncertain future -- Community returned to NBC's Thursday lineup last night.
Maybe it was the burden of heightened expectations, or perhaps Harmon and company, conscious of the show's consistent 4th place finish in its time slot, have elected to rein in the weirdness for a time (and even made a subplot out of it), but this latest ep felt much more subdued than usual. The result was an installment with a handful of good moments, but one that'd merely get a "Satisfactory" on any report card.
The first of two storylines involves Shirley and Pierce going into business making sandwiches. It was nice to be reminded of just what Shirley's doing at Greendale, as references to her desire to be an entrepreneur have been few and far between the last few seasons. More importantly, Pierce reveals (during some rather lackluster pitch meetings) that he was let go by Hawthorne Wipes after his father died. Investing in Shirley is both his attempt to make something of himself and finally one-up Cornelius.
Pierce's daddy issues are well-documented, and further insight into Jeff and Britta's family backgrounds also comes up thanks to the other story line: Andre and Shirley's re-engagement. After Andre's boffo re-proposal (was that really Boyz 2 Men?), it's decided to hold the rehearsal in the study lounge. Conflict arises (what wedding-themed entertainment is complete without the possibility of a break-up?) when Andre feels Shirley is neglecting their life together for her sandwich shop idea, but it primarily serves as a forum for Jeff and Britta to voice their anti-matrimony platforms.
Jeff, sandbagged into offering a toast, mistrusts the institution because his father left his mother, voiding his vow that whole "'till death do us part" thing. Consequently, all who take the vows are liars. Similarly, Britta worries that being descended from a long line of wives and mothers has genetically preordained her to go down the same path. They get increasingly drunk and vituperative, which is always entertaining.
By necessity, we don't see a hell of a lot of Troy and Abed, though their entering the dreamatorium to purge their weirdness ends up naturally being the weirdest part of the episode, and Andre misconstrues their attempts at sincere banter for sarcasm until Troy helpfully rescues Abed from the possibility of having sex.
[Aside: Hey, you know what really sets the mood for the long-anticipated return of a favorite comedy? Antidepressant commercials. More Abilify ads, please.]
Annie is also largely on the periphery this week, though it comes as no surprise she has a handy wedding scrapbook within reach at what seems like all times.
Let's face it, there was no way the return of Community was going to live up to the hype. Even with a decent mix of sentimentality, drunkenness and butt jokes (and the return of Annie's Boobs), it felt like first-time writer Vera Santamaria (whose most notable previous TV output has been for Outsourced and Degrassi: The Next Generation) was trying to establish her footing.
Still, it's good to have the study group back, for however long that may be.
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