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'Community' Recap: Economics of Marine Biology

Jeremy Fuster |
March 22, 2013 | 11:10 a.m. PDT

Staff Writer

After reconciling with his father, Jeff now reconciles with his sometime-nemesis Pierce (NBC)
After reconciling with his father, Jeff now reconciles with his sometime-nemesis Pierce (NBC)
Ever since the terrible Inspector Spacetime episode, it feels like the recent episodes of "Community" have leveled out in quality, consistently reaching that "not quite as good as before, but still good" grade that makes for lame reviews but at least leaves us feeling like half an hour of our Thursday nights has been well-spent. The reason why the show is still able to satisfy is because the new writing team makes up for their lack of Dan Harmon-brand comedic zing with strong stories that seriously develop the characters we have come to know well over the past 3.5 years and show that this change isn't just to teach some moral and will hold no consequence in the next episode.

Of course, most of this development has been centered around Jeff, the show's central and most flawed character.  He goes the extra mile to help his friends get into a class, he has stood up to his father, and now, in "Economics of Marine Biology," we get to see how the resolution of his daddy issues have changed his uneasy relationship with Pierce.

In this episode, Dean Pelton hatches a scheme to lure in a stoner named Archie, who is highly sought after by recruiters for his parents' wealth and his complete lack of initiative, making him a huge potential cash cow, or "whale." Annie and Britta work with the Dean to turn Greendale into a party school that Archie will fall in love with, while Jeff is assigned to spend the day with Pierce off-campus, since Pierce is a long-time whale and could ruin the plans with his jealous nature.

While all of this is happening, Troy and Shirley get enrolled in a P.E. class that turns out to be a Physical Education Education class (yes, the acronym is mentioned). In typical fashion, the revelation that the class is designed to teach students how to be gym teachers turns the tables, as Shirley quickly becomes the top student thanks to her experience as a parent, while Troy struggles to learn how to deal with a wild locker room and equipment storage.

This C-plot is a dull story that has very few interesting things to offer. Yvette Nicole Brown does a good job showing Shirley switch quickly from strict disciplinarian to a kind sweetheart who is just excited to be succeeding in a class she was expecting to struggle at. But the rest of the plot just feels like a retread of the sailing class half the study group took in "Beginner Pottery," in which Shirley excelled in a task that was thought to be not her forte.  The resolution feels especially sloppy, as Chang "Kevin" randomly shows up, giving Shirley an opportunity to use him to teach Troy how to be a teacher. After a quick montage, BAM, the plot is resolved.  It felt too much like a quick fix to the plot and left me scratching my head in instead of laughing.  

The main plot focused on the "whale hunt" provided the most laughs, mainly because of the comedic brilliance of Jim Rash.  While other elements of this season have been inconsistent, the Dean has been a constant source of hilarity thanks to Rash's great delivery. He knows that the best jokes in "Community" are the ones you don't expect, the prime example from this episode being the Dean replying to Annie's idea for a forensic body farm with a dreamy "Mmmmm…"  Thanks to his ability to banter, Rash is bringing most of the laughs nowadays, and I don't mind.  It shows that the Dean doesn't need goofy outfits to provide a laugh.  

But as I mentioned at the top, it is Jeff's initially-reluctant day-off with Pierce that is the most memorable part of the episode. These are two men that have clashed with their unloving fathers as well as each other, but now that both have come to terms with Cornelius Hawthorne and William Winger, their relationship is starting to change. Unlike so many episodes in the past, Pierce is not malicious towards Jeff.  He genuinely wants to spend some man-time with Jeff because he now feels a kinship with him after the events of the Thanksgiving episode. Naturally, Jeff is skeptical of this, but after a trip to an old-school barbershop, he begins to enjoy both the experience and being with Pierce.

The barbershop scenes show that Jeff and Pierce have more in common than Jeff may think.  Both men enjoy the finer things in life, they enjoy busting each other's chops, and they both have a desire for a better life, though they do enjoy a great deal about the place they are now. Jeff finally comes to realize that Pierce can be a great guy to be around when people treat him like something other than a cantankerous old fart, something that Annie has been trying to tell him for years now.  I've been waiting for this show to give me a reason to miss Pierce when he leaves, and this episode finally gives me it.  Pierce feels like a real person with some prejudices, rather than just some Flanderized caricature of a grumpy old man that's only good for providing c-plot gags and being the occasional antagonist.

"Economics of Marine Biology" doesn't have a particularly memorable story or many great jokes, but it does show that the writers have a great grip on who these characters are and still know how to make stories that build on everything we have come to know about them, and as long as they can keep the Greendale Seven interesting, I will tune in every week to see what happens to them next.

One final thing: the best touch to the episode was when we see Jeff texting in the barbershop, and it turns out he's actually texting Annie.  Yes, that's right, Jeff is texting people for real realsies! PROGRESS!!!

Reach Staff Reporter Jeremy Fuster here. Follow him on Twitter here.



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

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