Community, “Applied Anthropology and Culinary Arts”
In light of last week’s very funny episode of Community, there’s been some discussion about the series’ desire to tell us about the emotional connectedness between these people instead of showing it. That’s a criticism I can totally see and if there’s one thing I would knock about this season it would be that sometimes amid all the amazing high-concepts, it’s hard to just let these people be real friends with real heart. I’m fully aware that this isn’t the comedy for everyone, it just happens to be the comedy for me. But I will be interested to see how some of those people critical of an episode like last week’s feel about “Applied Anthropology and Culinary Arts.” This isn’t an overly complicated episode, but it has a number of really solid, straightforward emotional beats, something we haven’t seen from the series for most of this season. I still have some issues with the places that those emotions are coming from, but we can discuss that further below.
So before we get to the two-part western paintball bonanza at the end of the season, the study group needs to have their Anthropology final and Shirley needs to have her baby. After Duncan tries to make the final all about drinking and easy questions, Dean Pelton comes in with a reporter from Dean Magazine, delaying the fun. Fortunately for the group, they don’t have to take a real final because Shirley kicks into labor and you can imagine and insanity that could ensue from that development. After pumping up “natural births” during the exam, Britta’s forced to head into action and actually help with one while Chang stands by Shirley’s side trying to convince her that the baby is most certainly his.
This is, without a doubt, Ken Jeong’s best work on the series. He’s only been asked to play a few notes on the series and even the sad-sack routine this season has been mostly been a dialed down version of his season one character. But in this episode, he’s actually very strong. At the beginning of the episode, his rants about Shirley’s baby being his and his various trivia nuggets about Chang babies — they love the sauce, meaning alcohol and duck — are typical, annoying Chang. But as the pregnancy unfolds and it’s clear that Andre might not show up in time, Chang is there to support Shirley. His endless footnotes about the terrible conditions in which Chang babies have been born becomes soothing and sort of charming. The episode allows for Shirley and Chang to share their first real moments, since well, ever and it’s actually very nice. We always know that Shirley has forgiveness in her heart, but it was great to see her embrace Chang and his eccentricities. Similarly, it was very nice to have Chang dial it down when it mattered and serve as something as a hero in a moment of crisis. Their interactions here had no ulterior motives or unnecessary references, they were straightforward and honest, which is totally welcome.
However, I have to ask: What was the point of all this? Shirley already has two kids so it’s not as if this is really a new development in her life. Andre wasn’t around enough to really develop that relationship to the degree that we totally care about how the child has brought them back together. He’s not going to become a regular. Shirley is still the same person now that she was pre-pregnancy and the only thing I can think of this doing is forcing her away from the group early next season, which could be an interesting development. And for Chang, the questions are sort of the same. At the beginning of the season, there was an obvious intent to tinker with the character, but that sort of got lost, whether because Ken Jeong had to go film The Hangover Part II or the writers realized it wasn’t a worthwhile plot point. Chang has certainly calmed a bit over the season and he’s most certainly a great guy in this episode, but it’s really unclear how the pregnancy will impact him. He’s no longer tethered to Shirley and the responsibility, so that won’t necessarily mean he’s going to stay this way. I don’t want to call the whole plotline a waste because I found certain episodes that discussed it to be very good (including this one), but it’s definitely a bit head-scratching. Sometimes I probably give the writers too much credit, so perhaps this was just a basic plot they wanted to do put in there because it would provide some solid laughs, and nothing more. I guess that’s fine.
Elsewhere in the episode, Jeff and Britta continued their antagonistic debating, this time over the value of natural birth. It was pretty obvious from the beginning of the story that Britta was going to have to actually help Shirley with her natural birth, but that didn’t make the story any less effective. The second half of the season has been much more Britta-heavy and that’s a welcome thing in the Barker household. I’ve talked about how she’s such a difficult character to work into plots, but I love how the series has just decided to smash her in and let her screw things up on a consistent basis. It’s sort of one-note, but in the best of ways. She fails, but not in catastrophic ways (most of the time), and I really loved that she actually got the job done here. Jeff and Britta are always going to fight and then realize they’re both mostly fraudulent, but that’s one of the series’ best qualities.
Finally, I have to say that the little runner with Troy, Abed and Pierce with the handshake was one of my favorite small plots of the season. Pierce is yet again the villain, but not in a terribly vicious way. His indecent proposal to Troy and Abed felt like something Pierce would have done in season one, which is I guess progress for a character/person who has been very, very terrible all season. And of course, all of Pierce’s actions come from a place of jealousy anyway, so this story was a nice little reminder of that.
Although I don’t quite understand the reasoning behind the plot to begin with, this was a really great conclusion to Shirley’s pregnancy and a nice platform for both Ken Jeong and Yvette Nicole Brown.
- The Dean’s struggles with the race kerfuffle was hilariously awesome. Can we go ahead and make Jim Rash a regular?
- I loved the small nods in this episode: Star Burns and others looking back fondly on the time the group took a field trip on St. Patrick’s Day (which we saw last week!), Fat Neal finding love with a young lady in the class.
- Ben Bennett is really a horrible name.