by Za’chary Westbrook
3 out of 5
CRITICAL FILM STUDIES
We love Community for the quirky characters for the same reason we love Mad Men for its stoicism; we see a magnified version of ourselves in it. Which, I know, is one of those ridiculously pretentious things film people say when they want to sound deep while talking about a George Clooney movie. In this case, at least, it is genuinely true. The characters in Mad Men are so repressed it hurts and it’s safe to say that everyone is a bit repressed. After all, we live in a world where we have to accept everyone’s opinion and not argue with it; it’s true for them, my opinion is true for me and ironic-pseudo-deity forbid that one should dare to say the other is wrong. Of course, believing A is right and B is wrong is the definition of an opinion, which means that we are no more allowed to have unique opinions in 2011 than we were in 1961. It’s the same thing in reverse. Hence the repression. Community too is the same thing in reverse. These characters are the people we allow ourselves to be in the bathroom mirror.
So, what we love about Community is getting to see those insanely neurotic other selves we have run wild. Many of us wish we had the mad combination of fear and courage to live every day spouting our thoughts and to hell if people don’t like us. I’d say a lot of us wish we could be so passionately consumed by one thing that it dominates our thoughts night and day. And who hasn’t, at some point in life, wanted to be ridiculously vain, yet dearly loved? It’s good times, Mr. Winger! Good times.
This week’s episode was a bit of a kick in the head because it was precisely a play on the opposite of that. The grand joke of the episode was that Abed was breaking from his usual gimmick which was weird, unsettling and kind of annoying. Sort of like the first twelve minutes of this episode. Or absolutely any episode of Cougar Town. Seriously, who is watching that show?
The greatest of Community episodes is one that lets the quirks take over and run wild. That was “Modern Warfare” and “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons”. Even when the show comes down to real feelings, it’s the mad quirks making it work (see: the bottle episode). Tonight was an exploration of what happens when those quirks get reined in and people get down to real feelings. Abed’s attempt at “real” conversation gets him an earful of Jeff’s insecurities and childhood trauma. We all have insecurities and Jeff’s calling a phone sex line claiming to be morbidly obese is pretty damn plausible. But that’s why we have quirks. We know that most of our insecurities are irrational, so we embrace somewhat irrational behaviors as a coping mechanism.
Just laying it out there not only makes us vulnerable, it makes us actually crazy. I think the point of tonight’s episode is that, while it’s great to be open and honest about yourself, there are some things about you that absolutely no one ever needs to hear. Again, kind of like this episode.
I think the dark horse here, though, is Britta. That no one really likes her has been a running gag since the beginning, but the bit in the diner felt like the writers seeding an important idea for later. So, be on the look out for Britta getting real about her unlikability, isolation, feelings of rejection and compulsion to care about everything all the time.