Episode Nine – “Grifting 101”
Parody is more than Community’s bread and butter. It has become the show’s defining characteristic. Casual TV watchers often know Community as “that show that’s different every week”. Fans know what they mean. One week it’s a Western, the next an 8-bit video game. One season they’re astronauts, the next they’re hard-nosed detectives. The parody episodes range from the good to excellent. The best ones, however, have a few key things in common: they hit all the genre clichés, add a Greendale twist, and have some sort of emotional resonance.
“A Fistful of Paintballs”, (Season 2, episode 23) my favorite of the bunch, does all these things. It hits all the beats of a classic Spaghetti Western (the quick draw, the showdown, etc.), it’s unmistakably Greendale (paintball), and has emotional resonance (the vote to kick Pierce out of the group).
“Grifting 101” has great moments but falls short of greatness for some late missteps I’ll get into in a moment. Though I must say, it’s superb use of The IT Crowd’s Matt Berry made it a close fight.
I’ve written before about Community’s knack for getting the most from their guest stars, and after watching tonight’s episode, Berry is the clear front runner for guest star of the season. The fact that he’s given such a large part is sort of unfair (Steve Guttenberg only had three scenes last week) but his bombastic performance as Professor DeSalvo was so entertaining I don’t think anyone outside of Nathan frickin’ Lane could have made it any funnier.
Against Jeff’s advice, the gang enrolls in DeSalvo’s ‘Grifting 101’. Their enthusiasm quickly turns to disappointment however when DeSalvo refuses to teach them anything but charges hundreds of dollars for “grifting suitcases” that they spend all period passing to one another. Surprise, surprise, the class is a grift. Jeff smugly refuses to intervene at first, but a skirmish with DeSalvo (never steal a man’s scotch!) quickly changes his mind and the gang decides to grift the grifter and teach him a lesson about messing with Greendale.
DeSalvo makes short work of the gang, who have no idea how to grift (they actually sit and watch The Sting for ideas) but his downfall is assured when he teams up with Britta to stage an accident and con Greendale to pay out fifty grand in hush money. Britta double-crosses DeSalvo with the classic “con within a con” move, returns the money to Greendale, and sends him packing. Day saved.
While the episode satisfies two of my three criteria for a great parody, the emotional punch never comes. It’s especially unfortunate because the setup was there. The cold open established that Britta gets a lot of flack from her friends for never having money, yet the fact that she chose THEM over a fat wad of cash is entirely glossed over. Poor Britta. Even when she does good she can’t get any respect. She’s starting to become the Meg Griffin of the gang, and that’s not a good thing.
But “Grifting 101” still scores high marks for humor, creativity, and Matt Berry (you seriously need to watch The IT Crowd). It probably won’t be anyone’s favorite episode of the season, but maybe that speaks to how good the season has been instead of how “Grifting 101” falls short.
Justin Rawana is recapping Community season 6 in a week-by-week format.
Read all recaps of Community Season 6 episodes: 8 here, 7 here, 6 here, 5 here, 4 here, 3 here, 2 here and episode 1 here.
Community airs every Tuesday on Yahoo Screen. The IT Crowd is available on Netflix (US/Canada/UK)