COMMUNITY: QUEER STUDIES AND ADVANCED WAXING
Review by Slewo
In Community, a Dean-centric episode is always welcome in my book. As much as we’ve learned about the character of the Dean over these last 6 years: his love for his job, his love for people in Dalmatian costumes, and his “relationship” with Jeff, there have always been as many mysteries as there have been answers. Thankfully, this episode among other stories decides to explore just what it is that makes him tick, by having him at the receiving end at the offer to join the school board, if he acts as the token gay member of the school board. The Dean has never seemed in the series to be a malicious person, he just wants to be liked by everyone while keeping his job, and if that means he has to compromise his remaining shreds of dignity and ethics by evicting adorable baby birds, he damned well will do so. The concept of dignity and compromise rears its head a lot in the episode’s major plots.
Dean plot occupies the majority of the episode and to the credit of everyone involved; it doesn’t flinch for even a second at just how flip-floppy the Dean is. While Pelton has always been shown to be caring to his friends, he’s first and foremost a political creature. He craves affirmation; he wants to be a part of the old boys club and every other club, and as the episode makes clear being 2/7ths of who he is by pretending to simply be gay is a dissatisfactory way to live for him. To Jim Rash’s credit, he’s always been able to keep the Dean from being a parody, or an uncomfortable prop, and he does once again go further into preventing the Dean from being pigeon holed as he is here. That being said, having the Dean define himself not as a gay man or any other niche he occupies, but as a politician was a nice swerve. While it’s not that surprising, we at least get a big laugh, and of course the reminder that whatever the Dean may be, in the end he’s a whore for approval.
The second plot of the episode focuses on Senor Chang’s struggles with acting when he goes for what he sees as the leading role in the Karate Kid stage play as Daniel LaRusso, and is instead cast as Mr. Miyagi alongside Annie. While it’s unusual to see Chang get the focus given how far into the background he tends to be nowadays, it’s good to see him at the forefront of a story again and it allows Ken Jeong more dimensions to play with Chang, as opposed to the usual jump to have him be villainous and crazy. The story’s focus on making Chang vulnerable isn’t new; we all know how fragile he is, but a post-season 3 attempt at doing so is extremely rare. The most Chang has been used for nowadays is quick comic relief, and showing how unhinged the worst of Greendale can be.
That being said, the story goes a long way toward making Chang sympathetic in this episode: partly by focusing on his social awkwardness in a more realistic way during his attempts to get his lines correct with Annie in and out of the play, and by introducing someone far more hateful of the human race than he is. Jason Mantzoukas guest stars as Matt Lundergard, the perfectionist director of the stage production of Karate Kid, and does his very best J.K. Simmons-in-Whiplash impression as he does his very best to humiliate Chang in order to improve his performance. While the story is ostensibly a broad parody of Whiplash, it also helps build up the repressed human side of Chang as he’s truly weak for the first time in a long time, and helps build up a relationship with Annie we’ve barely seen since the first season. All in all, we got more about Chang than we did coming in watching him fumble as opposed to coiling in wait to strike.
The wrap-up at the end is classic Community. While it is admittedly very touchy-feely, that’s what the show has always come down to: very different people coming together as an artificial family unit and circling the wagon. That being said, while I did have some issues with the last episode or so, this one has shown Community has still got it. The new characters in particular are being broken in very quickly and with little time lost on navel-gazing on the past thankfully. If we have more episodes like this, the future of Community is definitely going to be bright.
4 out of 5 Baby Birds