Saturday, 24 September 2011

Review: COMMUNITY, 3.1 - "Biology 101"

Saturday, 24 September 2011
written by Garrett Donovan & Neil Goldman; directed by Anthony Russo
starring Joel McHale, Chevy Chase, Gillian Jacobs, Alison Brie, Danny Pudi,
Donald Glover, Yvette Nicole Brown, Jim Rash, Ken Jeong & John Goodman

Now in its third year (more by good fortune than good ratings), Community returned with a plot-heavy episode setting up some of the changes we can expect this season, while finding a way to quickly resolve Pierce's (Chevy Chase) decision to quit the study group last semester. And, rather than waste time answering that question in-depth, Pierce simply reappeared with a cheerful "I'm back!" on the very first day, having changed his mind over the summer.

Comedies like Community are notoriously difficult to review, as they could easily regress to a list of things a reviewer found funny/unfunny, but suffice to say I thought "Biology 101" was a very entertaining and hugely welcome return. It effortlessly breezed through the show's small changes in a tongue-in-cheek way, with Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) almost becoming the voice of show creator Dan Harmon at times (mentioning how students/viewers can expect more of the same, but done with less money), so perhaps his prosperous nemesis Vice Dean Laybourne (Roseanne's John Godman) can be seen as the NBC network?

Goodman and his sonorous voice made a good impression as an antagonist for the Dean, and the introduction of an ex-con biology teacher called Professor Kane (The Wire's Michael Kenneth Williams) was also appreciated—although one has to wonder if the joke of having "Omar" playing an intimidating educator is going to be all that amusing after awhile. For now, MKW had an amusing scene while being rudely interrupted by Jeff's (Joel McHale) phone during a highfaluting speech in class, and I'm hopeful for more.

One problem surrounding the divisive character of Chang (Ken Jeong) looks to have been solved by making him a security guard, as it never worked that Greendale's former Spanish teacher would become a student last season. I'm not wholly convinced Chang has much more to offer, but the writers obviously love Jeong's high-energy histrionics, and it's true he can be relied on for a quick OTT reaction or silly quip. I'm hopeful that he'll be used better this year, now he's back as an authority figure, that could potentially open up another angle with the college's workforce. I'm sure Chang will be used in the power-play between Dean Pelton and Laybourne, too.

As usual, the episode managed to cram in plenty of amusing pop-culture jokes and geeky references. Most notably an outstanding parody of 2001: A Space Odyssey after Jeff was knocked out by gas, imagining the Kubrick classic's mysterious denouement with him as spaceman Dave Bowman, and the wooden study room table replacing the iconic Monolith. A little dumber was a parody of Downton Abbey, re-imagined to be the British antecedent of Abed's (Danny Pudi) beloved Cougar Town, which Abed became addicted to, until Cougarton Abbey's six episodes were exhausted, leading him onto a shoestring-budgeted Doctor Who clone called Inspector Spacetime. (Atrocious attempts at English accents throughout, as per usual.)

It was a "getting the gang back together" episode, at heart, featuring a fair amount of exposition, but it all slipped by very enjoyable because Community has such a flair for creativity. You never quite know what you're doing to get with this show every week, which is all part of the joy. Stop-motion animation? An extended Dungeons & Dragons riff? A paintball epic inspired by action movies? A clever parody of a little-known '80s arthouse movie? The sky's the limit! You just know it'll be diverse, energetic, geek-friendly, and cause just as many belly laughs as wry smiles. I'm so glad this show and these characters are back to brighten my week.

22 September 2011 / NBC