COMMUNITY Gets Political as the Supporting Characters Take Over the Show – Season 6 Episode 4 Review “Queer Studies and Advanced Waxing”
Spoilers wax on throughout.
Television is an ensemble medium. Out of a need to tell weekly stories for years on end, good TV shows give themselves a deep bench of characters to pull from so that if need be the writers can make this week an Apu episode or a Fat Neil episode. Sometimes shows flourish under this injection of second tier energy (your Chris Traeger plotlines on Parks and Recreation). Othertimes they fizzle out from a character not being all that interesting (your Hermes episodes on Futurama).
Although Senor Chang has been around since the show’s second episode and Dean Craig Pelton was in the very first moments of the pilot, neither of them has a great many episode plots to their name. As the two most cartoonish characters on a show that frequently features school-wide paintball episodes and flashbacks to episodes we’ve never seen, shouldering a plotline on either one of them can be a risky endeavor (particularly Chang, whose track record has been the craziest, most unpredictable element of the show for the last five seasons). But much like in the stock market or the art of trying to go viral by injuring yourself on the Internet, where there is high risk there is high reward.
In the Dean’s “coming out” storyline, Community takes some time to do what it so rarely does: get political. Dan Harmon and his writers room frequently take pot shots at entire genres and occasionally take aim at the habits and fears we all have, but rarely if ever has society been placed in the crosshairs. Everything from the attitudes of the School Board Guys to the headlines dotting the magazines in the “Gay Dean” montage were spot on. Satire is a new outfit for Community to wear, but it’s one that suits its body type surprisingly well.
Jim Rash is on point as usual in this episode he co-directed with frequent collaborator Nat Faxon. He takes the bizarre sexual molten core of the Dean (“If sexuality is a magic show and being gay is pulling a rabbit out of a hat, I’m one of those never-ending scarf things”) and puts a distinctly human skin on it. As he becomes an icon to the gay community to which he doesn’t belong and doesn’t feel up to representing, there’s real anguish and pain in his story, even as he’s fending off the pretend advances of his surrogate life partner Domingo. His ultimate revelation that he is political more than anything else didn’t work for me on the first go, but really sat with me the second time through. The Dean’s storylines always revolve around making Greendale more prestigious to live up to his own selfish political ambitions. It is his ultimate pursuit. In his week-to-week role as a motivator of plot that assigns the people of Study Room F their tasks for the episode, it is always something bizarre that Greendale is up to or a crisis that must be averted if Greendale is going to be the shining beacon of mediocrity the Dean needs it to be. He is politician first. And if Jeff Winger is correct, maybe we’re all politicians moreso than we like to believe.
Elsewhere in the episode, Chang and Annie find themselves in a Whiplash parody plot. Much like the fables “Pulp Fiction episode” of yesteryear, this episode uses the skin of the Karate Kid to sneak in another, more clever and more interesting movie parody. Opposite a belligerent Jason Mantzoukas in the J.K. Simmons role (Mantzoukas is a favorite of mine from The League and the How Did This Get Made? podcast and is here playing the “Jason Mantzoukas role”), Ben Chang finds his greatest challenge yet: acting in a stage version of The Karate Kid. Much like the Dean plotline, this episode combines the things that have always defined Chang—his inner torment, his lack of place in the universe, and his deep love of throwing racial hang-ups back in people’s faces that has been with him since his very first monologue.
Of the two storylines this week, this Chang B-Plot is the one meant to deliver more comedy than pathos, but I am impressed how much the episode seeks to humanize Chang. For a man that once tried to blow up Greendale with a keytar solo while dressed as Napoleon, I found myself really feeling for Chang as he deals with an onslaught of insults from a man in a v-neck t-shirt. As I have jibed at frequently, Community has hardly known what to do with Chang after he was outed as a Spanish fraud that taught using basic phrases he learned from Sesame Street but there could be a real future in Benjamin Franklin Chang the actor. If the rest of his plotlines revolved around his acting success and the depths that he must mine to achieve real greatness that would be bully. Hell, that could be fantastic. If actor Ken Jeong is to be believed, he is never going to leave Community so long as there is a Community to never leave, and this could be the future the character has been looking for all the years where he served as an interim security guard or (sigh) lost his memory. Though there isn’t a great amount of competition in this category, I would like to nominate this episode as the greatest Chang plotline of all time (my absolute love of the “Chang sees ghosts” storyline be damned). You’re looking very good, Community Season Six. You’re looking very good indeed.
This is the beauty of a sitcom in its later seasons. Every character gets their moment in the sun. the episode’s third standout was definitely Elroy. Keith David had some beautiful line readings this week in his new role as Greendale’s IT Lady (“Terabytes? Those bastards finally did it!”). His ability to make me laugh simply with a proper removal of his glasses is magnificent. As much as I love Jeff, Annie, Abed, and (especially) Britta, it’s great to let the supporting players into the spotlight every now and again. And, if this episode is any indication, it should be very, very often.
Episode Grade: A- (started this review at a B+ but talked myself up throughout)
Best Line: “Mean? You just did a baby bird murder monologue.”
Moment of Brilliance: I have to give this one to Jason Mantzoukas, whose every line delivery was pure, rage-filled gold.
–Gay Dean! Gay Dean! Gay Dean! Gaaaay Deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaan!
–I believe firmly the mystery of Frankie’s sexuality will be unraveled slowly by whether or not she has sex with Jeff by the end of the season.
–Maybe Britta’s bar will be one of the new hotspots for the Greendale crew. I think it could be fun to see Britta in the Sam Malone role a few times.
–God bless you, School Board Guys. You are my favorite.