Tuesday, March 31, 2015

REVIEW: 'Community' - Dean Pelton Comes Out & Chang Becomes a Revolutionary Actor in 'Queer Studies & Advanced Waxing'

Yahoo Screen's Community - Episode 6.04 "Queer Studies & Advanced Waxing"

The school board invites the Dean to become a member as long as he promotes his "homosexuality." Chang auditions for "The Karate Kid," with Annie's help, and endures abusive treatment from the director. Abed tries to save baby birds nesting on the Greendale internet router with Elroy's help.

Because of its transition from NBC to Yahoo, Community hasn't needed to abide by the strict regulations of a broadcast network. It's still the same show. But each episode this season has been able to add a few extra minutes to its total running time. On NBC, the episodes needed to be between 20 and 24 minutes in order to fit in commercials for the half-hour time period. On Yahoo, it doesn't make a difference how long each episode runs. That has given the show the ability to truly flesh out all of the jokes and plot beats of each episode. The teasers and tags that open and end each episode are slightly longer this season - which has made them much funnier as a result. The buildup to the entire gang yelling "WiFi, WiFi, WiFi" at the Dean in the teaser of this episode works so well because it's allowed the time to breathe and fully establish itself before it reaches its comedic payoff and the opening credits start to roll.

However, timing and episode length is still really important. So much of comedy and television is pacing. Community is stretching things out this season to fully realize all of the story and plot beats. And yet, it is also always at risk of going too far and elongating stories that would have worked much better if they were a tad shorter. So much of this episode is funny. It also has a running time close to 31 minutes - making it the longest episode of the season so far. Sometimes the stories feel a little too padded. The creative team enjoyed the various bits of the episode too much that they couldn't cut away everything because it was simply too funny. That's a tad problematic because by doing that the show could just as easily loss the core plot thread of why this is happening in the first place.

Chang suffering abuse from a director in a theater staging of The Karate Kid is probably the best Chang-related story the show has done in quite some time. Jason Mantzoukas is having a lot of fun as the director who's purposefully being hard on Chang. There were so many great comedic moments - pouring his drink over Chang's head, telling his tears to go back into his eyes, Chang being the worst actor he's ever directed which includes both Wahlburgs, etc. There was a lot of stuff thrown at Chang but the core part of the story seemed like it was Mantzoukas doing lots of outlandish stuff while Ken Jeong plays the minimally spoken but deeply personal reactions to it. That wasn't the story though - even though all the comedic beats would suggest it was. Instead this whole thing is trying to be told from Annie's point-of-view and of her not knowing what to do about all this torture. None of it is directed her way but it makes her sick to see the way Chang is being treated. It does hurt her when the director says he needs Chang to be a great actor for the character while anyone could play her part. And yet, the lesson of the story is that there is no lesson for Annie. That seems lackluster and weird. For so much time to be spent in telling this story, it needed a better payoff in the end. Yes, it was rewarding that the gang willingly wanted to support something that Chang was doing - and there reactions to the play were stellar throughout. I still was expecting more in the end.

The same can also be said of the main story featuring Dean Pelton trying to address one of the bigger lingering questions about his character. The school board members want to easily label him as a gay man. Parade him around so they can be seen as tolerate and not as narcissistic bullies. To Dean Pelton, this move would give him a lot more power which is incredibly enticing especially when Jeff says that he should do it. And yet, all that power corrupts him too. He can't stand to be with the arm candy prop they hired to pose as his long-time boyfriend. Every decision he makes is put under a more intense microscope. His actions have meaning now that he is in the public eye as the Gay Dean. That leads to a terrific use of the phrase "Gay Dean" set to the song "Jolene" which gets used a couple of times and is hilarious every time. However, the Dean's actions force him to act in a way that is not truly himself.

It's important to note that the Dean didn't want the weight of this power because calling himself gay is simply a disservice to all that he is. Sure, Jeff is curious about what the other parts of his personality are. But they are better off being kept a mystery to the audience. As soon as we start to understand or label Dean Pelton, the less interesting he gets as a character. The attempt to do so here highlights that quite well in describing the Dean as one than just this one thing. That is empowering. And then, when it comes to the resolution of the story, something just feels off because the Dean is able to just blame all of this on his desire to be a politician. Yes, him telling the truth should earn him more respect in the public eye. But him being forced out of the school board as a result of that second press conference does feel more realistic - even though it means the character will be the same as he was at the start of the episode. Change isn't always a bad thing. In fact, I really encourage it as long as it doesn't come at a cost to a character's personality. Perhaps that should be embraced a little bit more this season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Queer Studies & Advanced Waxing" was written by Matt Lawton and directed by Jim Rash & Nat Faxon.
  • Jeff and Frankie are slowly becoming a team who Dean Pelton calls upon whenever any kind of administrative decision must be made. Or in this case a personal decision that effects the school and the administration.
  • Abed and Elroy trying to protect a nest of baby birds was a pleasant story that had a few good moments but not much substance. I laughed so hard at Abed comparing the birds to his innocence though.
  • Britta just gets to be a supportive friend for Annie in this episode which is a nice shakeup from what she's usually been doing this season.
  • Jeff and the Dean's silent back-and-forth trying to figure out if Frankie is saying that she is gay was phenomenal.
  • Should we be reading anything into Jeff and Annie's "milady" and "milord" at the end. To me, it came across as someone trying to pick up their sad and disappointed friend. And yet, I do hear there's still a theory floating around that Jeff and Annie are secretly having an affair that is being deliberately kept from the rest of the characters and the audience. I don't think that speculation has much weight - but I'm still open to the possibility that it could occur.