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"Community" Review: "Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts"

Jeremy Fuster |
March 16, 2012 | 12:57 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer


 NBC Universal
NBC Universal
It's been quite an interesting few months since the last episode of "Community" aired and the show was pushed to mid-season by NBC.  Having learned from Abed's panic over his favorite show, "Cougarton Abbey," that mid-season hiatuses are the first signs of impending cancellation, the fans sent waves of pleas to keep "Community" on the air.  From making hashtags such as #SixSeasonAndAMovie to a flash mob at Rockefeller Center chanting "Go Greendale, Go Greendale, GO!", the message was loud and clear.  In the meantime, Jim Rash decided to spend his break away from playing a cross dressing dean to win an Academy Award as co-writer of the adapted screenplay of "The Descendants."

But now, fans of the Greendale Human Beings can breathe easy.  "Community" is back, and the most unpredictable and imaginative comedy on TV came back with it's most abnormal theme yet…being normal.  

Yes, in this episode, the study group challenges themselves to repress the bizarre qualities that define them and try to be normal people, or at least what society would define as such.  It calls to mind the peppy Glee-style song at the beginning of the season that celebrated being less weird, and show a possible outcome if the group were to achieve that.  

This story centers around Shirley, who could arguably be considered the most normal of them all.  Her ex-husband, Andre, asks her if they can be re-married, and she accepts. With the exception of Annie, who excitedly dives into the preparations, the rest of the group tries to suppress their weirdness to make the best wedding possible.  Britta proves to be an excellent wedding planner, even though it is internally killing her because she feels she is betraying her activist ideals and reaffirming the conventional feminine roles she despises.  Jeff tries to write a speech for the couple, but can't put anything down on paper due to his genuine distaste for wedding, not to mention his insatiable need for a glass of whiskey.  

Best of all, Troy and Abed realize that EVERYTHING about them is weird, and decide to completely purge themselves of their weirdness by spending 24 hours in an over the top make-believe fantasy.  Seeing the "normal" Troy and Abed was the best part of the episode, as they don drab gray suits and replace their trademark handshake with a traditional firm grasp of the right hand.  

Pierce, meanwhile, decided to straighten-up and become a serious business man.  He reveals to Shirley that Hawthorne Wipes fired him following his father's death, and that he wants her as his business partner to help open a sandwich stand at Greendale.  Shirley shows great business chops as she convinces Dean Pelton to invest in the proposal while Pierce charms him with little cartoons of the Dean holding large bags of money.  

Unfortunately, the venture draws Shirley's attention away from the wedding plans, and Andre is not pleased when he finds out his love is about to become the main moneymaker, leaving him to be "Mr. Mom."  The re-marriage nearly falls through, but when Jeff and Britta start a drunken rant about how much marriage sucks, Shirley and Andre realize in the middle of their retort the two important parts of married life that had been missing in their relationship: trust in each other and the willingness to accept that as life goes on, they will both change.  

This was a great return for "Community," and arguably the best story for Shirley.  Sometimes, she can become a bit of a two-dimensional character, being used only as a device to make religious jokes.  But this episode brought focus back to her rocky relationship with Andre, one of the major aspects of her character, and gave it serious development.  I was worried that the episode would end with Shirley and Andre wanting to get re-married, but postponing it so they could be ready.  Fortunately, the writers realized that this plot thread didn't need a large story arc and wrapped up the conflict with a sweet resolution and a well-delivered moral.  

The episode had some flaws, particularly Annie's lac of personal involvement in the story.  Unlike the others, a wedding isn't a step outside of Annie's comfort zone, and as a result she just sorts of darts in and out of the story, tending to the problems of the other characters instead of confronting ones she may have.  But she does do a good job interacting with the others and making their struggles clear.

In a way, "Community" used this episode to do exactly what its cast was doing: step away from the whimsical, unusual qualities that make it stand out from other comedies and try to fit into an established mold.  Of course, by doing so, the show only reaffirmed those qualities.  Community's main reason for success is that it embraces the idea of college as a place to experiment, and at any given week the characters can be trying out an activity they've never done before (Dungeons & Dragons, sailing, paintball fighting) or paying homage to a movie, TV show, or genre completely different from the ones they've done before (documentaries, spaghetti westerns, or, later in the season, 'Law & Order').  Playing with the idea of the "normal TV comedy" is just another experiment on Dan Harmon's long list, and hopefully his imagination will last for many more episodes.

Of course, it's all up to NBC to decide how long "Community" will last.  This week, the show brought in a 2.8 rating, beating out the 2.5 set by 'American Idol' in that time slot.  Of course, it should be noted that "Community"'s usual opponent, "The Big Bang Theory," was replaced this week by the NCAA tournament on CBS, which drew numbers away from both "Community" and "Idol."  When "TBBT" returns, it will be interesting to see if "Community" can hold onto their strong numbers.

For the sake of all things good and Dean-cent on this Earth -- sorry, I couldn't resist -- let's hope so.  "Community" is arguably the most imaginative show on TV today, and it truly deserves six seasons and a movie.

Reach Jeremy here.



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