When a series is as lowly-rated as Community is, the internet-fueled hype about its greatness is a good thing. But as with anything, that hype comes with a price: expectations. When you’ve been anointed as the next Arrested Development by the internet commenter hive-mind, it’s a blessing and a curse.
After tonight’s “Celebrity Pharmacology,” I imagine it might be something of a curse.
I think I can say without much hesitation that this is my least favorite episode of the season. Of course, the previous 12 episodes have ranged from flipping fantastic to all-timers, so being the worst episode of the bunch still places it among good company. But even though I backhandedly criticized the internet commenters who believe this is the best program out there, I’m right there with them. Community was #2 on my Top 25 of 2010, I wrote a massive term paper about it and generally adore the program. So I’ll fully admit that my disappointment while watching this episode isn’t justified. I’m grading on too high of a scale and sometimes, especially at this point in the season, series have to depress a bit, churn out a solid, but not great episode and just move on. For me that’s what “Celebrity Pharmacology” is.
The biggest problem I had with this episode is that it was just a bit too broad. I don’t need every Community joke to be a passing meta reference that only a pop culture carnivore like myself can enjoy, but instead of starting with a rote sitcom plot and flipping it on its head intelligently, the group’s presentation of an anti-drug play to a group of at-risk teens unraveled more or less like a typical sitcom episode. A smart, funny typical sitcom, but one nonetheless.
And unfortunately, this is what tends to happen when Pierce is at the center of the A plot. I mean no disrespect to Chevy Chase because he’s a comedy legend and all that, but I can’t imagine that it’s not at least a small coincidence that through the first 12 episodes, he was often sidelined in a wheelchair that kept him from really getting involved in the good plots. Pierce is an interesting character who tends to quickly flip from miserably annoying to miserably sympathetic like he does here and it’s nice to see him and Annie get their own A story for the first time ever, but he still works better as part of funny runners like the endangered teen bits in “Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples” or when he’s bouncing off the more jaded, sarcastic likes of Jeff and Britta. Annie’s a bit too sincere to create a comfortable comic pacing with Pierce and that’s not really the fault of either Chase or Alison Brie. It just is.
With that said, it’s no surprise that the actual production of the play (d)evolved like it did. Pierce slowly took over creative control because he cunningly loaned an increasingly poor Annie some money and it was broadly uncomfortable/funny. Cue Pierce being an ass, Annie pouting and slightly lying to the group and them finding out about it in a moment of rage. None of this is particularly bad, but there wasn’t enough between Annie and Pierce to begin with to make their supposed connection here worth much. In the end, Pierce just looks more miserable and Annie looks more naive. That’s not the worst thing in the world, but it doesn’t reach the kind of character moment highs Community tends to hit on a weekly basis.
Thankfully though, this episode featured a number of great sight-gags — the Dean also wearing a bee costume, the giant toilet, giving the at-risk teens baseballs, Jeff and Britta as the cool cats both looking miserable — and rock-solid moments to keep it afloat despite the weak center. I appreciated that the series isn’t shying away from the Chang and Shirley plot-line and Chang’s makeshift save of the play is most certainly his best moment of the season and even with my issues overall, it was great to see Pierce turn the kids onto drugs just so Chang’s inherent miserableness turned them off of them. I’m not sure exactly where things are headed with Chang, but he continues to bounce around from generally normal like last week to bat-shit crazy like he was in his final conversation with Shirley. I kind of like that, particularly if means he’ll continue to just morph around in the background.
And I can’t forget to mention my favorite moment of the episode, which saw Jeff continue to send creepy texts as Britta to Britta’s nephew while Abed just looked at him with such disappointment, to which Jeff continued to say “Screw you, Abed.” Small, but hilarious. I feel like we need a strong Jeff-Abed episode as soon as possible because the last two episodes have done a really great job of reminding us that despite their vast differences, the two of them are shockingly close. Not as close as Troy (who had little to do this week, unfortunately) and Abed, but still damn close.
It’s moments like that which keep me from complaining too much. I know that Pierce won’t be the center of too many episodes and he’ll just go back to being his inappropriate, but hilarious self in small doses and even if he was randomly given the A plots for the next five episodes, I know the Community team could stuff the rest of those efforts with hilarious bits like “Screw you, Abed” and all things would be good. Not every episode can be “Mixology Certification” or the zombie episode, and that’s okay.