This Week’s ‘Community’ Recap: “Economics of Marine Biology”

Co-written by Ben Branstetter.

Nathan: I came in with a new attitude this week, Ben. I decided a weekly column that had me bottoming out in a hate-spiral wouldn’t be much fun to read.

Ben: Oh, yeah?

Nathan: So I come in anew. Happy, positive-about-Community Nate. This week we had the Dean lead a charge to get the elusive Community College “whale”–an extremely wealthy, extremely stupid kid who will never graduate and keep giving the school money indefinitely. We find out that Pierce is the only current whale at the school, so Jeff has to keep him occupied to avoid whale-envy. Also, Abed starts a fraternity and something about Shirley and Troy taking physical education education. Full episode! What’d you think?

Ben: Let’s get that Shirley and Troy thing out of the way as it seemed a lot like a throwaway plot tagged with an otherwise fantastic episode. Troy and Shirley compete to earn a spot as a coach for Greendale’s predictably incompetent P.E. department (last seen when Troy tried to save the football team in season one). It features a lot of Troy being upset and Shirley using her parental experience to mock anger, making me feel it was merely a tactic to get two characters (who rarely get screen time together) to utilize their funniest facial expressions and tones. It did give us the miraculous wordplay of “no one deserves to be mocked for being mock locked in a mock locker.” Go ahead, Nate. I dare you to be positive about this flat use of two great comedic actors.

Nathan: Oh, I can’t. That subplot was terrible, though I did smile at Troy crying as he lost control of his “mocker room” (We’ve said it before and we’ve said it again, give us 22 minutes of Donald Glover crying and we watch that TV show). But you’re right, elsewhere, really strong episode!

This new iteration of Community hits its groove when it doesn’t concern itself with “character development” or “plot” or “emotional depth” or “relationships” and instead does the one thing these new writers have proven they can do–write a joke. I thought this episode had some of the best jokes of the season, including several from (who knew it was possible?!) Pierce. His opening crack about Italians being good at shaving because they develop nimble fingers from pleasing women, complete with disgusting hand gesture, had me cracking up against my will. Am I just so delirious from this show or was that Pierce’s best episode in a long time?

Ben: I would argue no but I also felt this episode offered a bit more than good jokes. There’s a continuity to the storylines which the show has been lacking, from faking who you are to please others to undeterred father issues. Archie, “The Whale” of the main plot comes to a realization at the end that people attempt to please him wherever he goes because his father is rich, much like Pierce is so immensely tied in to his own father’s wealth. And Archie does bear some behavioral similarities to Pierce: Was I the only one reminded of Pierce purchasing Troy and Abed’s handshake (in season two’s “Applied Anthropology And Culinary Arts”) as The Whale is given Magnitude’s signature “pop pop”?

As Jeff and Pierce bond over a good shave, a glass of wine, and gay jokes, Jeff realizes that perhaps “the only reason Pierce can be so unpleasant is because we expect him to be.” Archie is similarly going out of his way to be about as bro as he can be because Dean Pelton plays to who he thinks he is (“have you heard of our halfpipes and hashpipes course taught by Professor Shaun White?”). The show hasn’t done a parallel plot maneuver this well in some time.

Nathan: Eesh, I don’t know about that, but this episode was more structurally competent than anything we’ve seen this season, and I’m glad they didn’t feel the need to hit us over the head with the Pierce/Archie connection at the end. (No Jeff speech this week!) And I have to give them bonus points for not relying on their two crutches this whole season–Abed and Chang, both of whom had only passing involvement in the episode. Though it must be said that the Chang montage, showing Troy and Shirley teaching him, well, something, was really the only unforgivable part of the episode.

My favorite part of the whole thing this week was, surprisingly, Abed starting a new fraternity, the Delta Cubes. The entire subplot was maybe three minutes of screen time. The jokes weren’t necessarily funny or anything. But watching Abed get completely consumed with the idea of a fraternity, abandon both plots to go make it happen, and then have Dean Pelton instantly play along with it…that’s why I love Community. And I think that little subplot is one of the first times this season that I thought the writers got to the heart of what Community is about. Greendale is a place where the stupid little funny ideas we get in our head come true. And it took the writers until this week to realize that the Dean isn’t funny because he cross-dresses (which FINALLY they laid off that joke), but rather the Dean is funny because he is willing to instantly go along with any of these alternate realities the characters create. Abed wanted a fraternity and he got a fraternity, with all the hijinx that come with it. They’re getting it, Ben! I think they’re starting to get it!

Between that wonderful little subplot, the appearance of Magnitude (my favorite character on television) and a pantheon Pierce episode, I’m giving this my highest marks of the year: a solid A-. See? Positive Nate is here to stay! Until next week probably! But here now, at least!

Ben: You’ve actually gone so positive you’re outranking me. The Abed storyline lacked any real depth for me, and the Chang montage also fell flat–fake montages have been done better not just by other shows (the Aspen episode of South Park comes to mind) but by this show as well. But the strength of the A and B plots (not to mention the unexpected resurgence of Jeff’s daddy issues) raised this episode well above the calibre of season four thus far. If only it wasn’t a ship with several dead bodies knocking against the hull. A respectable B+ from me.

That’s all for Nathan and I. Tune in next week for “Herstory of Dance”, in which Abed must choose between a Manic Pixie Dream Girl and a conservative shut-in. Abed with a love life? For shameTC Mark

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