Fans of Community often say they like the show because it has heart. This is shorthand for the fact that every once in a while something decidedly non-funny happens at Greendale and it’s up to the study group to put down the paintball guns and help a poor soul in genuine need. Because at its core, this is a show about outsiders – the
misunderstood, the marginalized, and the different – supporting each other and trying to make something of themselves. This week, however, Community steps up its game and throws not one but THREE of its characters through the emotional ringer.
Firstly, Dean Pelton. School board trustees/doofuses Richie and Carl need him to become their token gay after their decision to replace the annual pride parade with a school board parade (Worst. Parade. EVER.) somehow didn’t go over with the LGBT community. This puts the Dean in a precarious situation because he doesn’t quite identify as gay and coming out publicly would essentially be a lie.
Meanwhile, Chang is auditioning for a (non-Asian) role in a stage production of The Karate Kid and, along with Annie, actually wins a part (the Asian role). But when their director, the always awesome Jason Mantzoukas, begins viciously berating Chang for under-performing, Annie becomes concerned for her friend’s fragile sanity.
And lastly there’s Abed. When the school’s wi-fi goes down he discovers a nest of baby birds warming themselves on the router. Elroy suggests simply moving the nest but Abed becomes weirdly protective and argues that disturbing the chicks might cause the momma bird to abandon them.
But of course, Abed’s behaviour isn’t weird at all because we know his own mother left him at a very young age. Therefore, it stands to reason some lonely chicks left to fend for themselves might cut through his wiring and stir some very organic feelings of sympathy. Speaking of sympathy, and I can’t believe I’m saying it, I felt even WORSE for Chang as he stood there pathetically, Mantzoukas screaming he can see the physical quotation marks on either side of his performance. Feeling bad for Chang isn’t easy considering his past misdeeds, but this season appears to be framing him as someone worth pitying as opposed to the villain/object of ridicule he’s been in the past.
This reframing seems to extend to the Dean as well, evidenced by the fact that “Queer Studies” concerns itself with an aspect of his character only touched upon previously. The Dean’s ambiguous sexuality has been a long-running Community gag reminiscent of how The Simpsons address Mr. Smithers. The residents of Springfield will never come out and ask, but they know his deal. Dean Pelton is treated similarly by the study group. Curious as they are for specifics (so far we’ve got airport Ramadas, Dalmatians, and puppetry), they’re decent human beings and accept that the Dean’s sexuality is private. That’s why the idea of him “coming out” (for political gain, nonetheless) is especially jarring to watch and only becomes more uncomfortable as he breaks down under the growing pile of lies.
Though comedic, the episode is littered with enough small moments of sincerity to sustain the heart Community earned with episodes like “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” and “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” – which still reigns unchallenged in my mind as the perfect balance of tragic hilarity. Dean Pelton being congratulated by a gay student for coming out, Abed losing two of the baby birds he was caring for, and Chang thanking Annie for sticking up for him all remind us that this is a show that knows when to tickle the funny bone and when to tug the heartstrings.
Community’s first three episodes of the season, while great, were noticeably light in terms of character growth so taking three of Greendale’s most eccentric residents and
dropping them into dramatic storylines is a pretty good sign the show hasn’t forgotten what it’s all about – people who are different but are still people all the same.
Justin Rawana will be recapping Community season 6 in a week-by-week format here. He has also recently reviewed Harmontown.
Community is airing new episodes every Tuesday on Yahoo Screen.