On the surface, “Early 21st Century Romanticism” doesn’t feel like a complex or ambitious episode. And for the most part, it’s not really. But even though this appears to be a season one-esque episode that is fairly low-key in its approach and execution, there is actually a lot going on. Not only episodes of the series have to be super high-concept or straight-forward like “Celebrity Pharmacology,” and this one has like four different versions of Community within it.
Britta and Troy and Abed’s stories are fairly straightforward, grounded threads that could have fit right alongside any of the great season one episodes. But Jeff off and away from the group with Duncan, Chang and a whole lot of other randoms Chang invited to Jeff’s apartment for a party is a bit more somber and contemplative like some of this season’s earlier efforts. And finally, Pierce’s drug-induced insanity is a completely absurd and creepy thing that the series never usually dives into, which is perhaps why it was the least successful thread of the episode. Added all together, “Early 21st Century Romanticism” is an episode that doesn’t rank near the series’ or the season’s top efforts, but it’s a fun, quality effort that has a lot to offer.
Let’s start with the bad first: Poor Pierce. I’m ambivalent towards Andy Dick as a human being, but his performance as the little drug fairy Pierce sees during his pain killer-induced hysteria and haze is actually pretty good. The problem is that watching Pierce talk to him — and thus no one, in the eyes of everyone else — just doesn’t work tonally with the rest of this episode or really any episode of that this series has done. I know zombie attacks and going into Abed’s claymation world are “out there” sort of things, but they still seemed to be grounded in a sense of truth as far as the characters are concerned. Sure, Pierce being too addicted to pain killers is a legitimate and realistic development, but the execution of it in this episode just didn’t really work for me at all. Every time the episode kicked over to Pierce, the episode’s momentum screeched to a halt.
However, despite my reluctance towards Pierce’s development in this episode, I’m actually very optimistic for how this will play out in future episodes. The season has slyly — well, not so much in the last two episodes — been destroying Pierce as a person this season. Things started off horribly with his mother’s death, the issues with the cult, the broken legs and now his recent behavior and a presumed drug problem. That’s actually a pretty dark path for a character on a major broadcast sitcom and I have to imagine that it’s going to pay off in a really interesting way. It’s not as if Pierce is going to be seeing Andy Dick for six more episodes, everyone, particularly Annie, have noticed that there is something seriously wrong with him and this group of people care too much about everyone not to do something about it.
Speaking of that, I found Jeff’s story to be a smidgen boring, but in a good way. He’s a little tense because of some suppressed loneliness on Valentine’s Day and that leads to a hilarious argument about the validity of the Barenaked Ladies* and ultimately, Jeff declaring a fight with the rest of the group. This leads to some soccer viewing with Duncan and Chang and then a party thrown by Chang. But instead of blowing up at Chang or really anyone else at the party, Jeff finds himself having a good time, even with the likes of Starburns and Leonard. We’d expect old Jeff to kick everyone out and certainly not feel sympathy for Chang when he mentions that he needs a place to stay, but on some level, Jeff can relate to their loneliness and desire to just hang out. And even though he’s suddenly connecting to the weirdos at Greendale, the party still isn’t good enough because Jeff clearly misses the rest of the group.
*I love how the series can always find a moment for Britta to make an ass out of herself and referring to the ladies as BNL was just one of those classic instances. She’s so self-righteous and just tries so hard to be cool and edgy.
There’s always a danger with Jeff and how quickly the series wants to make him a better person, but I think this episode is a nice step for him. I actually thought the end of “Asian Population Studies” was a bit underhanded in terms of his development because it didn’t feel like Jeff would be as evil as he presumed to be in that moment with Rich, so I was fairly satisfied to see him send a loving text to everyone to let them know that he cares. Sure, it’s mushy and kind of Modern Family-like, but it felt really honest and natural for the circumstances for a lonely man on Valentine’s Day. He might go back on his words in the next episode, but I was willing to buy that the text was earned in the space of this episode.
As for the Greendale-specific stories, I have little to complain about. It feels like Britta hasn’t had much to do this season outside of the premiere and the Mean Girls episode and although that’s certainly not true, I welcome her back to the A-story with open arms, especially if it involves her trying so hard to be politically correct and open by having a cool lesbian friend that actually isn’t a lesbian at all. Just like the BNL joke, Britta’s main plot struck the write chord in making her look extremely stupid and naive even though she tries to present herself as wise and controversial. Moreover, the pay-off with an observing Annie almost giving in to the crowd’s chant for her to kiss Britta after she’s just kissed the non-lesbian lesbian was just fantastic. Oh Annie Edison and your confused sexuality, I love you so.
And Troy and Abed, what can I say, it was awesome. We all know that a lesser series would have had them fight over the librarian character, if even just at the last-minute when she makes the choice, but Dan Harmon and his team are smarter than that. But of course we knew that and we knew that the two of them would never disrupt their bromance for a possible romance. Plus, their story had so many great little lines and gags that had me in fits like Troy’s briefcase of tacos, Abed’s chant of “Go go go go” as Troy dances and finally, Abed’s deadpan response to Troy’s anger over the librarian’s “Abed is weird” comment: “I am weird.” For all his obvious ticks, Abed is perhaps the most self-aware of the whole group and it’s nice to be reminded of that.
Again, this wasn’t the most successful episode, but I found “Early 21st Century Romanticism” to be a fully enjoyable little episode that I’ll probably enjoy more on subsequent viewings.