'Community' Taps Into Love, Old Flames
As soon as Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) said, “Sock hop” in this week’s Herstory of Dance, I couldn’t help but smirk. All I could think about was how my friends from high school would rush into Physics class to write their rendition of that phrase onto the white board. “Socke hopp.” “No, no, no. it’s sauque hop.” To this day, I still don’t know why it happened or why it continually occurred, but it did. And it was funny at the time, or was it, as Troy (Donald Glover) would say? From this one memory, my mind started working like a time machine in a way that I could hardly pay attention to the show. And really, it didn’t help that Herstory of Dance made it so easy to check out with storylines and jokes that were fondly used in past (funnier) episodes.
Story consistency has always been a strength of Community. Stuff that occured in previous episodes affected future ones. Nine months after Abed announced to the Greendale students at the STD fair that they should not use condoms, Abed had a storyline in a background where he helped a student give birth to her child. So it was a surprise to see that Herstory of Dance was very sloppy in this regard.The main plot revolved around Britta’s (Gillian Jacobs) “Britta-ing” of Susan B. Anthony’s name into Sophie B. Hawkins. She steadfastly refused to admit her mistake and sought to continue planning her Sophie B. Hawkins dance so Jeff (Joel McHale) wouldn't be able to use her name as a pun. We saw all this before in season one’s The Science of Illusion when Britta tried to prove that she was not a buzz kill by pulling an awful April Fool’s prank. Images from that day like Pierce’s (Chevy Chase) cookie wizard outfit and Abed’s narration of a buddy cop scenario flashed through my mind and also reminded me of how much better that episode was. And if this episode couldn’t BE more season one, its B plot was ripped straight from Physical Education. Annie (Alison Brie) and Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) forgot that Abed doesn’t need anyone’s help with life, especially with girls, but they approached him anyway.
Through it all, Jeff and Britta tried to rekindle the chemistry they had through season one. Abed once proclaimed, “To be blunt, Jeff and Britta is no Ross and Rachel . Your sexual tension and lack of chemistry are putting us all on edge, which is ironic, and hear this on every level, you're keeping us from being friends." Yet, with the warm scene between the two at the end of Herstory of Dance, perhaps they really are like the love-struck duo from Friends. Their chemistry was an underrated part of season one’s success and their witty banter and bickering has always been fun and endearing. I hope it comes back again. This of course makes Troy, the “Joey” of the relationship triangle. But Troy and Britta’s relationship has been flimsy from the start and has barely been mentioned in this post-Dan Harmon season.
Speaking of Harmon, you can still see the insecurities of a show trying to find its identity. There are the aforementioned plot errors above and also the constant recycling of old jokes. The meta reference from Abed, “I figured I should show some growth, it’s been three and a half seasons” pales in comparison to Jeff’s “Why don’t you take your cutesy ‘I can’t tell life from TV gimmick with you.’ You know, it’s very season one,” from Anthropology 101. Troy’s line, “Yea, he’s like the Colin Farrell of people,” made me long for the Dungeons & Dragons episode where Troy said in an exasperated fashion to Britta, “You’re the AT&T of people.” It’s not like Harmon never reused and altered old jokes, but to me there’s a lack of timing and emotion in these new callbacks. At the same time, it has to be tough for the writers on the show. They have to deal with pressure from a studio that hasn’t been exactly supportive of the quirky nature of the show, its new producers, and its obsessive fan base.
When there’s something new, like a storyline that hasn’t been explored before, Community still delivers the brilliant writing that made it one of the best shows on television. In Herstory of Dance, Abed finally finds a girl, Rachel (Brie Larson), who he likes. Ironically (or unironically following the plot from Physical Education), the girl wasn't one of the two blind dates arranged by Annie and Shirley, and she approached Abed first. Rachel matched Abed’s observational wit line for line in an endearing back and forth to start off their budding interest for each other. Their short time on screen was a better version of a rom-com where the two leads have instant chemistry, but start off as friends; the audience knows they are meant for each other, but the two have to endure a few pitfalls before it all works out. And by the end of the episode, I joined in with Annie and Shirley’s collective “aww” at Abed and Rachel’s relationship.
Originality is tough to find though this season Community, and without it the series teeters on the brink of becoming a parody of itself. But last night we caught a glimpse of the innovative brilliance that made Community one of the best shows on television. Unfortunately, based on this entire season, this unique voice still feels like it is more or less “herstory.”