Community typically strikes a nice balance between it’s riffs on the sitcom form, reference humor and heartfelt endings, usually in that order. With that in mind, this week’s episode, “The Psychology of Letting Go” surprisingly mixes that order all up to an extent where the episode works more as a fairly emotional story about loss and letting go than it does as a comedy. That’s not to say the episode isn’t funny, but it’s just so darn poignant, even more so than normal Community episodes.
The A story premise is pretty goofy (Pierce’s mother goes to die in the garage to be found by Troy, but Pierce won’t bury her or even admit she’s dead because of the religion he is practicing), but is handled with more subtly than might be expected. After the insanity that was the 2009 holiday season, everyone in the group is willing to let Pierce believe whatever he wants to believe. They are his friends, so if he wants to think that his mother’s essence is inside a shiny lava lamp, he can. Shirley and company are questioning, but not pushy.
Meanwhile, after a routine check-up, Jeff has a crisis of faith of his own when he’s prescribed some cholesterol medicine. He’s worked his entire life to have the perfect body and perfect bill of health, but it’s all for it — or so he thinks. For Jeff, having to take cholesterol medicine is the first and perhaps biggest step towards death, and his whole world comes crashing down. What’s the point, we’re all going to get high cholesterol and die anyway?
Again, while Jeff’s reaction seems a little childish, I think it absolutely works for the character. If there has been one consistent love of Jeff’s life, it’s been himself and his body. He’s already lost his job and is now trapped in a school full of misfit friends that are forcing him to be a better person, and now he has to deal with learning that working as hard as you can on your body doesn’t always equate to perfect, live-forever health? What a tough break for Mr. Winger.
These two threads intertwine when Jeff decides it’s time to wreck Pierce’s beliefs just as his have been and ugly, angry Jeff rears his head once more with a fairly awful plan that involves seeing a body at the morgue. It’s kind of awful, and thankfully, before it’s all said and done, Jeff sees the error in his ways (thanks to a funny, but heartfelt message from the grave from Pierce’s mom) and doesn’t break Pierce’s heart. It’s all kind of gushy and goofy, but for whatever reason, the writing and the performances come together to create a fine storyline.
With that in mind, I’m not sure this episode signals any sort of big step forward for the series as a whole, but I think it does mean something. To make an episode that’s really emotionally interesting throughout and not just wrap things up with an emotional pay-off like most episodes do (not that there’s anything usually wrong with that), the Community writers have at least proven they can tell slightly varied versions of their typical stories without sacrificing the humor. And that’s pretty damn great, if you ask me.
- How fantastic was Abed’s role this week? I know it means taking him out of the main stories, but I would actually love to see it to become a running gag that Abed does all sorts of insane stuff in the background and away from the group.
- The Britta and Annie story was just okay, if only because we’ve seen the series play these beats before. I like the two of them acting together, particularly in the post-Jeff era so it’s probable that we had to see this story before getting to some funnier ones.
- I did, however, love Shirley’s bitterness towards the two of them for not being asked to participate in their oil spill fundraiser.
- Raise your hand if you also freaking love Professor Ian Duncan. I’m oh so glad Dan Harmon and company realized that John Oliver is a weapon that needs to be deployed more often. And more importantly, putting him in an antagonistic relationship with Chang creates a new dynamic that prohibits Chang’s shtick from becoming too annoying or stale.