by Za’chary Westbrook
“Celebrity Pharmacology 212” 3 out of 5
New viewers are a tricky thing for a show. Figuring out exactly which information to reveal when can be a tightrope walk. Too much it clutter, too little is vague. Of course, some shows can deliver a dynamite intro that leads into nothing or, worse, the same thing on repeat. And there are shows with awkward beginnings that turn into something amazing once you, the viewer, get your bearings. Community had a brilliant open, balancing just enough zany to prepare us for what was coming with a solid base of relatability; which is exactly what a new audience needs.
Tonight’s episode felt very much like that. Not an episode 1, but still very geared towards new viewers; which may be very savvy on the writers’ parts. If you’re going to get new viewers, the beginning of a season or season break seems the most likely. Of course, last week’s episode was steeped in internal references to get veteran viewers back into the post-break flow, which was great; but I imagine it would be confusing as smeg for a new viewer. Hence, I assume, tonight.
The episode opens awesomely with Troy and Abed in bee costumes. Anyone who’s seen the show was more surprised by how joyless this moment was than the fact that it was happening. Enter Pierce as ganja and we’re off. The group has been roped into doing an anti-drug play by civic-minded Annie. Of course, no one is exactly happy with the script, least of all Pierce who tries to weasel his way into a more active part.
This leads him to follow Annie, who is collecting cans from garbage bins for the extra cash. This leads us to Annie’s apartment, which could not be a better symbol for the character if the door was in her forehead. Actually, that’d be worse. You know what I mean, though. It’s pastel and tidy and full of girlish joy, so long as you ignore the bars on the window and the flashing light from the dildo store downstairs. The fact that Annie lives in a bad neighborhood has come up in passing a few times, but this is our first real look at it. We saw the hallway in ‘Mixology’, but the room itself is a testament to Annie’s commitment to being good in a bad world.
Yes, I just devoted a paragraph to a set. Anyway, Pierce is moved by Annie’s predicament in a way that is usually left for the end of the episode (as in hugging Jeff at the STD fair or making up with Shirley after the pantsing). He writes her a check to help her cover rent and then retreats to a dark room to watch an outtake of his Dad’s old Hawthorne wipes ad. Of course, instead of being the Gerber Baby that he’d claimed to be, he was in fact crashing the set. It’s a moment that explains absolutely everything Pierce does in the episode. Which is rare. To so tightly explain a set of motives that actually create conflicting action is talent, people.
So, Pierce uses the check to muscle Annie into basically letting him do whatever for the Junior High drug-awareness play. This, kind of surprisingly, makes the kids start chanting for drugs when Pierce eventually gets flushed. With the whole thing backfiring, Annie fires Pierce and the group turns on Annie for selling out her principles. Well, more for making them do a stupid play for her principles, which she then sold out.
The day is saved by Chang throwing on the drugs costume, running out onto the stage solo and just letting loose. The kids now hate drugs, apologies go around and there’s even a group hug for Chang. Without question, Chang is the biggest challenge the writers have, right now. On the one hand, we hardly missed him while Ken Jeong was filming Hangover 2: Electric Bugaloo. On the other, he has to be fairly regular while the whole Shirley’s baby thing is in the air. The trouble is that he is so unabashedly insane that he makes everyone look sane. There’s no neurology underlying his madness (I hope), no deep-seeded pain driving him to this; he’s just that gonzo.
What makes Community work is that balance between crazy neuroses and the personal reveals (case in point: the great crying group hug at the end of the April Fools’ episode). Chang has no reveal (I hope), so he pulls the show into crazy. Tonight, however, we see the character working as part of the group. He’s so extreme that he can yank everyone else back into balance with a thirty second monologue of horror.
Jeff’s sub-plot, trying to get Brita to flirt-text, but accidentally starts something with her chubby nephew (I guarantee that kid is coming back), felt like something out of Friends and I’m hoping this was a set-up for a grander gag later because, otherwise, worst sub-plot of the season. It was too inconsequential for the audience and the characters.
All-in-all, it was a decent episode and a great one for people new to the show to get inside the minds of Annie and Pierce. And the Dean was in top form; absolute genius. It was lackluster, but that’s okay, especially with a holiday episode on the horizon and last week’s Annie/Jeff unresolved, Shirley’s baby thing and now the suggestion of Brita liking some guy. I’m stoked for the Valentine’s episode and happy for low-key build-up.
BEST LINE: “How come he gets a front stinger?”