I’ll just go ahead and put this out there: “Competitive Wine Tasting” is probably my least favorite episode of Community‘s second season and quite possibly my least favorite episode OF ALL TIME. Of course, it’s still better than a lot of television out there and if I were giving it a grade, it would still get a B-, but this ultimately fails because it has too many good ideas that it doesn’t really do anything with. In short, this episode is overstuffed, but undercooked.
While I often enjoy it when the cast of characters is separated into their own fun stories, I much prefer the version of the series where the whole group gets together to do something, or at least swirls around the outside of one major event. “Wine Tasting” has just a bit of that, but only insomuch that it requires all the characters to be in a room for a few riffs and reaction shots. For the most part, this episode is divided into three wholly interesting, but completely underdeveloped stories: One involves Pierce deciding to get married to a Chinese woman from he and Jeff’s wine tasting class and Jeff’s subsequent investigation; One involves Troy and Britta taking an acting class and Troy making up terrible stories in hopes of hooking up with Britta and the final one sees Abed take a Who’s The Boss class and butt heads with the professor.
If for some reason you haven’t the episode and you’re reading that series of threads, you’re probably thinking, “Hmm, that all sounds good” and you know what, I totally agree with you. I would watch an episode of Community built around one of those stories, or maybe even just two of them, but smashing all three of them together in 21 minutes just doesn’t really work. Even in their truncated versions, all these stories have their high points and are certainly far from bad, but the potential is so obvious that discarding it ultimately means disappointment. If anything, I walked away from this episode disappointed that the writers wasted all three of these good ideas on this episode and presumably can’t really return to them in the same way. Of course, it’s very possible that all these ideas were major plots for an entire episode that the writers didn’t feel like they could really sustain for more. That’s why they produce television and I do not.
But again, I don’t want to sound too negative because really the only complaint I have is how short and underdeveloped everything appears to be. With season spending so much time breaking Pierce down, I’m totally ready for episodes that build him up and try to make him a bit more sympathetic. This episode’s plot, wherein he quickly decides to get married but Jeff ultimately discovers his bride-to-be is just using him to take over the Chinese moist towelette market, is one that I find to be very appealing. I want to see more Pierce, especially less-awful Pierce who actually makes Jeff look like a fool.
Despite Jeff “officially” doing the right thing by protecting Pierce, I like the episode allows Pierce to point out Jeff’s reasons for doing so (i.e. he was jealous that the woman had initially turned him down). The series wants us to recognize that Jeff and Pierce are cut from the same cloth and so it makes sense that Pierce would smartly see through Jeff’s motives and ultimately, be sad about it. The Pierce in this episode is more self-aware than we’ve seen him throughout most of this season and although I think the series could have done a better job of transitioning between his drug-addled phase and this version of the character, I really, really liked the way Chevy played that final moment. Pierce is alone, he’s been through the ringer lately and so of course he wants the attention of an attractive woman. This episode doesn’t come close to apologizing or proving the worth of the whole Evil Pierce arc, but it nicely points out that sometimes it really sucks to be him, even when the group is trying to help.
The B and C stories were even more undercooked, which is just really unfortunate. The series has been hinting at a possible Troy-Britta pairing for a good while now and it was nice for just the two of them to share time together for really the first time since their dance class days (which gets a nice shout-out here). As usual with Britta stories, I liked how the episode makes clear what her flaws are and how they’re going to impact this story. But instead of making her out to be a massive fool, like she has been in recent episodes, I appreciated that Abed quickly tried to cut Troy’s plan to bed Britta off early. Everyone, even Abed, knows that Britta loves headcase men and as soon as Troy makes up the story about his uncle touching his butt,* there’s really a quick-moving clock ticking down to when Britta is going to try to kiss him. Much like how Britta’s history always permeates in her stories, this thread did a fine job of reminding us about Troy’s desire to get more ladies this season. Again, it’s a small nod and the story is still not as good as it could be, but I like the little beat there.
*Based on our previous knowledge of Troy’s odd affinity for butts and “butt stuff,” are we sure that he is, in fact, making this story up? I’d imagine his affinity for “butt stuff” just spurred him to then make up a story about said stuff. Butts are always on his mind.
Finally, Abed and Who’s The Boss. This plot has been out there in the media for a while now and perhaps it’s just that or the fact that I’m a television studies graduate student and would absolutely take this class, but I was mostly disappointed with the thread. I did enjoy the slight commentary on the value (or lack thereof) of heavily analyzing television and it makes total sense that Abed would be so knowledgeable that he could break things down into a specific scientific formula that answers the age-old question of who is the boss, but there was literally not one beat in the story that surprised at all. There were just three short scenes and ultimately it’s a harmless runner, but the TV studies student/nerd in me would have preferred at least two more scenes. But again, I’m not sure what the real value would have been in that, outside of my personal desires.
I imagine this is the last “normal” episode before the final three episodes, all of which should be bigger and perhaps more “unique” or whatever and in a season of 24 episodes, you have to have 4-5 episodes like this. I’m fine with that, even if I do believe all three of these stories could have sustained more on their own. Oh well.