Summary: Another low-key, season one-esque episode doesn’t reach terribly high, but throws in enough character development in line with what we’ve seen that it’s still relevant. And Sophie B. Hawkins, for everyone born before 1987.
If you have not seen this episode yet and don’t wish to be spoiled, don’t continue reading.
Community started with Jeff and Britta. It seems weird to say that now, given the direction in which the show has gone, but the entire reason the group came together was because Jeff wanted to hook up with the hot blonde in Spanish. They both spent the first year of the show trying to stay on the outskirts of the wackyness, fiercly convincing themselves that they were the “smart” and “normal” ones stuck in this ragtag group of misfits. Both of them became frayed around the edges as it went on, and both were exposed as the broken sitcom characters they truly were (though it admittedly took longer for Jeff to come to terms.) In spite of the pairings the show has put forth since then, Jeff and Britta have remained something special and unique, even if it’s strictly platonic.
“Herstory of Dance” isn’t a great episode of Community by a long shot—funnier than the worst of the season, but not very imaginative or any smarter than an average sitcom—but it’s a rare Britta-centric episode, and like last week it harkens back to those early days of the show. The last Britta episode we got was probably “Origins of Vampire Mythology,” which was a funny little affair, but gave the best moments to nearly everyone but Britta. This week, Gillian Jacobs still doesn’t get a lot of funny bits herself, but we get a fairly subversive look at how the well-intentioned butt monkey might be affected by being treated as the butt monkey. Britta didn’t flourish as a character until people started treating her like crap—and the beauty of her character is that she keeps pushing harder instead of letting her feelings get hurt—but there’s only so much a person can take. The Sophie B. Hawkins dance plot isn’t as funny or clever as the show would like to pretend it is, but it serves its function at getting Britta in over her head.
The basis is similar to season one’s “Science of Illusion,” which also featured Britta getting in over her head to prove herself to the group (in that case, because of an April Fool’s prank.) That was the first time we got a glimpse of the “real” Britta, which has (for better or worse) gotten more stretched and cartoony ever since. “Herstory of Dance” functions as something of a sequel, with Jeff (and even Pierce!) acknowledging that Britta, even as the weird, tries-too-hard idiot she can be, the biggest, most earnest heart of the group. She got Jeff to call his father in “Paranormal Parentage” and got them to meet in “Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations,” as Pierce points out. It’s kind of a big deal, and while Jeff and Britta have certainly shared moments, their respective barriers have never allowed them to admit that they care about each other. Jeff’s text was a little hamfisted and sappy, even by Community standards, but it’s a meaningful progression for both of them.
Pierce was a surprise too, as he has been these past couple of episodes, actually. It’s a bit perplexing that this was the season Chevy Chase chose to leave; Pierce has been written much more akin to how he appeared in season one, with relevance and surprise bits of wisdom, and much less villainy and antagonism. The guy is still bigoted and stupid, but there’s an undeniable wisdom that everyone gets with age, and as such he can often see things that his younger counterparts don’t. There’s a need for Chase is phased out of the weirder or action-packed stories, but these little bouts of insight are exactly when the Pierce character clicks. While the last couple of seasons are certainly superior to this season overall, season 4 has done particularly well at giving Chase meaningful material and redeeming Pierce.
Abed got the spotlight in the B-plot, meanwhile, but it’s a mixed bag. “Abed gets a girlfriend” seems more like a plot specifically thrown in by the network (even if it isn’t) moreso than anything organic, but it’s not without the possibility for good results. Season 4 has continued Abed’s growth to be more empathetic better than expected, so it’s not without precedence that he take the next step with another person. The weird thing about this subplot is that it spends so much time reassuring everyone that they’re all aware that these stale tropes are being played up on purpose, but referencing that doesn’t negate the fact that these are still stale tropes playing out exactly as expected. Which is okay, but the problem with this level of self-awareness is that this awareness becomes a crutch, an excuse to tell stale stories—“it’s okay to use the trope because we point out that this is a trope!” That’s a staple of Community, obviously, but it usually offsets it by inverting the tropes in some way.
This subplot writes itself into a bit of a corner, though, because it crafts a trope-y story that ought to be played out differently in Community fashion, but it wouldn’t be satisfying if it ended in any way other than Abed getting the girl. Abed finding love is sweet and nice and all that, but it’s so predictable that the storyline becomes exactly what it was parodying. But then, that’s kind of the point, right? The problem with the meta-ness being so intregal to a story, instead of merely an observation, is that it sucks out some of the entertaining aspects of it. We know what will happen, Abed reaffirms what will happen, and then what everyone expected to happen happens. Episodes built on Abed’s TV machinations have worked in the past, but it’s hard to tell if it works here. If anything, it’s not very funny or surprising, but it is sweet and cute, and good next step for an increasingly Troy-less Abed. His maybe-new-girlfriend, played by with maximum charm by Brie Larson, is quite fun, and if she becomes a permanent player things could be interesting. Wendy Holm as Kat was delightfully funny, too, taking the Zoey Deschanel-eque “uber-quirky” girl to the utmost inhuman extreme without it feeling overused. So this wasn’t anything close to a failure of a story, but it’s not the best example of the show using tropes to its benefit.
Again, this isn’t anywhere close to a great episode of the show. But it’s certainly entertaining and unquestionably heartfelt. The show doesn’t resonate like it used to, and if this does become the final season, it won’t have gone out with a bang. But these episodes certainly do well enough with keeping the characters in line while letting them grow a bit. And it’s sad that season 4’s grading curve is “well enough,” but it’s been consistent in these past few weeks, better than the rocky beginning of the season. It might not have the fireworks it once did, but it’s far, far from a full-scalle Brittastrophe.
Odds & Ends
- The tag: Next week’s puppet versions of the characters whistling “Daybreak.” Puppets. Whistling. Daybreak.
- With Jeff, Britta, Pierce and Abed as this episode’s centerpieces, this is like a full-fledged season one homage.
- Dean’s costume is one of the best this season, as was Jeff’s immediate “What the hell is wrong with you?” reaction.
- I thought it would be overkill, but I actually quite like this American Inspector Spacetime thread.
- Surprisingly, this is yet another case where Ken Jeong and the Changnesia material was well-utilized and very funny. It’s kind of shocking how well this storyline has worked thus far.
- Yvette Nichole Brown’s hair looked totally gorgeous this week.
- Community is the only show on TV right now that would reference Awake. And not as a joke about it being cancelled.
- Dean references the times when the show had lots of dances (aka seasons 1-2) as “Greendale’s Golden Age.” I’m going to assume the writers are being humble.
- “I need to get to my e-mail, the post office is closing.”