by Thom Yee
6×03: “Basic Crisis Room Decorum”
One thing I’ve noticed about many of the truly great television comedies is how much more I enjoyed them earlier in their runs. The first couple of seasons may not be what a lot of shows are best remembered for, but what they usually represent is an earnest attempt on the part of their writers to stick to some sort of recognizable reality. While we’re not necessarily here to discuss shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Community, like that show, has gone from relatively grounded and clever to a show that will often sacrifice everyone’s sanity for increasingly cheap laugh. It’s a progression that’s worked well for both shows in some ways, even if it’s cost Community the ability to pick up new viewers as it’s progressed, but sometimes I really miss watching a show about people and places that could actually exist in real life.
By this point in Community, we’re all more than in on the joke that Greendale is a terrible school. That much was clear from the very first line of the very first episode when the Dean messed up his speech to the “remedial teens, twentysomething dropouts, middle-aged divorcees, and old people” of Greendale by losing the part of his speech that was supposed to tell them they were more than just those things. It’s always been there, but after the first few seasons, the loser side of the community college has been amplified to preposterous extremes, all of which culminated with the conclusion of last season and its largely invisible proclamation that Greendale was saved. We all know Greendale is a loser college because it employs people like Ben Chang and Jeff Winger, we all know Greendale is a loser college because it teaches classes like Who Was the Boss? and When Is It Okay to Shake a Baby?, and we all know that Greendale is a loser college because its most illustrious alumni (minus Luis Guzman) all had to come back because they didn’t learn anything the first time around. And now we all know Greendale is a loser college because it almost gave a degree to a dog. That may be an unusual premise, but it’s still disappointing to see the show return to that loser well so hard with the beginning of season six.
“Basic Crisis Room Decorum” begins with Annie calling an emergency meeting after she’s tipped off that Greendale’s rival, City College, will be airing a smear ad on how Greendale gave a four-year degree to a dog. The two sides of the crisis come down to Jeff’s natural instinct to discredit City College’s story vs. Annie’s belief that they should be committed to the truth and that if they engage in such lawyerly behaviour, they’re no better than that which they hope to overcome. By episode’s end, it’s all resolved to a satisfactory degree (relative to Greendale), but what’s more interesting is some of the character explorations that naturally arose, even if unintentionally.
Annie’s arguably the strongest character left on the show in that she’s overcome most of her illusions about her career path and her relationships, and by now she can be pretty forceful, even if that means exploiting her own advantages (as in this episode’s “I’m a female student being overpowered by a male teacher!”). In a lot of ways, her story is the most complete of our original characters, which is why Frankie could end up being such an important addition to the show. Just like Annie, she’s a self-assured woman who’s not all that dependent on anyone, but unlike Annie, she’s no longer in her young twenties. The way the two got along, acted in concert, and then found themselves in opposition suggests that Frankie, particularly with her complete lack of faith in hope, may just be the cautionary tale that Annie needs to guide her along a better path. On the other hand, Frankie may just be there to mirror Jeff; she really did sound just like him with her speech on hope.
More than anyone else, even more than Abed, I actively worry about Britta. We found out last episode that while she always has the option of ripping the emergency cord that is her parents giving her money, she’s still stubborn enough to brush up against homelessness, even as she’s become less and less independent with each passing moment. The way she lit up when listening to that Natalie is Freezing song, a parody that was so, so perfectly evocative of 90s girl music, was jarring, and I’ve never felt a smile that bright from her probably in the entire series. The scene wound up being played for laughs pretty quickly in the same way Britta is always a joke, but it was such a perfectly captured moment for musical nostalgia and escapism that I couldn’t help but feel for her. It probably also helps that she’s extremely pretty and seems like the kind of girl that needs to be rescued, a potent combination that’s hard to resist for a certain type of heterosexual male — me.
Along the exact opposite lines, I love how completely unconcerned Elroy is with everything. At this point we still don’t know for sure if he’s enrolled at the school or if the Dean just lets him park his camper in the parking lot. He’s almost completely out of it in a way that sometimes evokes memories of Pierce, only rather than being racist, he just doesn’t care about anything that’s happening.
All of the above might feel like a relatively serious discussion, but that doesn’t mean the episode wasn’t funny. In particular, and I couldn’t tell you exactly why, I found the secondary and tertiary shots of Britta running around post-self-soiling endlessly funny. Similarly, finding out the voiceover actor in Greendale’s initial ad was supposed to sound like James Spader also tickled me just right. Finally, Elroy’s lowered eyebrow after hearing that Frankie doesn’t own a television was spot on. They’re not at all laugh-out-loud moments, but I still laughed out loud.
Look, as long as Community continues on the path it’s set itself on so far this season, I’m never going to tell you that it’s a waste of time or a bad show. What I will tell you, though, is that as long as it continues on this path, most of the intrigue and respect and laughs I once found in one of my favourite TV shows of all time will continue to reduce and distil from a formerly profound respect down to a presently reserved, knowing smirk. Which is still better than most shows, because I never smile if I can help it.
Community “Basic Crisis Room Decorum” final score: 7
Items of Note:
- Condolences to Joel McHale for missing out on the Late Late Show gig (and having to continue with this one).
- I can’t imagine Jeff ever smiling like in the picture on the Dean’s night stand, no matter where it was going to end up.
- Do colleges ever run smear campaigns?
- Dave! Again!
- Oh Chang, Chinamen can’t Star in pornos. Y’know, because of their small… hands.
- Elroy: “There are things at… at stake here. I… I get that now.”
- Frankie: “My life results tripled the year I gave up hope.”
- Where was the ad going to run? Don’t they usually have to book ahead of time, even for broadcast on public television?
- Last time they spent weeks and went way over budget on their ad (Documentary Filmmaking Redux), this time it takes all of a couple of hours at most? Or maybe they really are learning their lessons at Greendale.