I imagine that “Mixology Certification” is the most divisive episode of Community‘s second season. It’s set outside of the safe Greendale walls, features little pop culture referencing and for the most part, isn’t funny in the same kind of way all the “great” episodes of Community are. Instead, it features a fairly boiler-plate sitcom plot and really doesn’t even play that plot in a traditional sitcom way and in more like a semi-serious dramedy kind of way that is just really compelling to watch unspool. But because the episode is so successful in its undertaking of this different kind of approach, it more or less proves that Community can do any sort of story with relative ease.
“Certification” is really not all that funny. Instead it does a lot of work in showing us how all the members of the study group have grown to rely on one another for their happiness. When Troy shockingly discovers that it’s actually his 21st birthday instead of his 20th (because his mom lied to him about having two 10th birthdays after he was held back), the group goes out to a bar. Troy is super ready for the “cool” people in the group, Jeff and Britta, to show him what it’s like to be an adult with taste and sophistication and everyone else is generally excited as well aside from a fearful and 19-year old Annie, but when things quickly take a turn for the worse, Troy’s left holding the ball for everyone else loneliness and moderate sadness.
Because, as this episode shows, the study group has it kind of good within the walls of Greendale. We only get to see them within that ecosystem, so it seems like Jeff and Britta are the coolest people in the world, that Abed is quirky, but pretty awesome, that Shirley is unbelievably nice and that Annie is high-strung, but in a cute way. Pierce, well, he’s more or less the same in any place, but he still fits in with the wild world of this fictitious community college. But once you take Leonard, Starburns and all that insanity away and put them out in the real world, there’s flailing and drowning and a whole lot of confusion.
For Shirley, stepping outside of Greendale means facing her past, which based on the jaunt to the bar seen here, wasn’t too good. She clearly had a major drinking problem that either came after her divorce or helped push it along and that whole side of her doesn’t really fit into the fairy god mother kind of facade she puts on. For Abed, stepping outside of Greendale means having to deal with a massive world that doesn’t “get” him or how he relates to the world. Hell, Abed can barely slip into the group dynamic in such a way that makes everyone understand him and so when he’s thrown out into the wild with no back-up, he’s more alone and isolated than ever. Even when he knows he’s being hit on by a man, he lets it happen just so he can talk about Farscape.
And for Annie, the outside world isn’t so much the challenge, but herself. When she puts on a major persona to go along with her fake id that quickly becomes this weird and great bit of performance art, she realizes that being driven, uptight and overly concerned about her future is exhausting. It’s a moment of self-awareness that Annie sometimes lacks, but just like Shirley and Abed’s stories, Annie’s little tale here is just as sad as it is funny.
But even with those three (and Pierce, who is basically sidelined for the entire episode) in depressing situations, Troy still should be fine because he’s hanging out with the two coolest people around in Jeff and Britta. He’s completely ready to “be a man” as Jeff tells him, which includes knowing about “cool” drinks, places to go, things to eat, etc., but before long, Troy realizes that Jeff and Britta aren’t really that cool at all and they probably aren’t the best people to take advice from.
Which brings me to perhaps my favorite part about this season that this episode again hits home: Troy has become the emotional center of the group. Amid Abed’s wackiness and the Jeff/Britta/Annie love triangle, he was kind of lost at times in season one, but the writers have done a great job of making him something of a heroic, maturing center. He can still be extremely goofy and zany with Abed like with the blanket fort, but he led the group in “Basic Rocket Science,” was the hero in “Epidemiology” and has slowly moved more to the forefront of the group. And it makes sense that he becomes something of the makeshift center because Abed is too zany, Shirley and Pierce are too old, Annie’s too high-strung and Jeff and Britta are too often caught up in their own egos that they do really stupid things. In reality, Troy is the most obviously normal guy in the group, but he’s young enough that he could be really shaped by the people he spends time with at Greendale. And this episode goes a long way in showing him that while he might think Jeff is the coolest person on earth, he’s not, because even though it was his idea to take Troy out in the first place, he quickly devolved into the usual nonsense with Britta — which is something Troy would never do. He’s a great, loyal friend, just a solid freaking guy and good for him for chewing Jeff and Britta out for not living up to his fair expectations of them.
Like usual, I could gush about this episode for dozens more paragraphs, but I’ll leave it here. Just another fine episode, and one that suggests Community can do just about anything.