Sunday, November 6, 2011

Community, Season 3 Episode 6 – "Advanced Gay"

You know what I love? I love that, in the wake of paintball, spaceships, claymation, alternate timelines, Dungeons & Dragons, and My Dinner With Andre, "Advanced Gay" is now a "normal" episode of Community. I'm sure there are live-action sitcoms that match current era Community in weirdness and surreality, but I can't think of any where the baseline for normalcy shifted so dramatically from where it stood in the pilot. If you were to plop this episode with its black Hitlers and spaceman paninis back in the first half of season one, it would be stupefyingly bizarre. Now, two years later, it's positively down to earth.

It also happens to be damn funny; maybe not quite on the elite level of "Remedial Chaos Theory," but up there with "Biology 101." Everyone outside of Troy, Pierce, and to a lesser extent Jeff kind of got the short shrift (although everyone got funny moments, from Abed mimicking Troy to Annie asserting that the gay bash will love Jeff wearing nothing to Chang leaving the party not alone to Britta being the worst), but with the first two in particular it did strong, legitimate character work that explored them as three-dimensional beings while never losing sight of the comedy.

First let's unpack the main Pierce / gay bash A-plot, the episode's more self-contained half. Larry Cedar deserves massive props for the sheer snooty racist zeal with which he tears into the role of Cornelius Hawthorne for the five or six minutes we spent with the nonagenarian prior to his actually fairly timely demise. It can't be easy to make dialogue like "These are your friends, Pierce? Minorities? Jewesses?" actually be funny rather than simply repulsive, but Cedar pulled it off, all while wearing a ridiculous ivory hairpiece.

The actual gay bash itself was one of those things where the comedy existed more in scattershot punchlines (the Dean's obliviousness to Tron perhaps being the greatest) than in a truly clever or original concept, but as a way to explore Pierce as a character I found it effective. Our Pierce may be a little racist, a little sexist, and a little homophobic (although it was more his general manipulativeness that got him temporarily ejected from the group at the end of last season) but his quick taking to the gay party lifestyle interestingly hints at a man who, had he not been raised by Cornelius, could have turned out much more modern and open-minded. So Edible.

And the final funeral sequence – perhaps the lightest, most irreverent handling of the death of a main character's parent I've seen on any live action show ever – struck a careful balance of being pretty dark ("Dude just told his dead dad to suck it.") without ever really plunging into nastiness or misery, a tightrope act I can admire the difficulty of. And although Jeff was undeniably a supporting player this week, the episode's end did a good job bringing it back around to him and making it more clear than ever that Jeff's dad must appear before season's end.

But I think I still might have enjoyed Troy's B-plot more, if only because of how much I love Donald Glover and John Goodman as actors. Granted, lines like "Now come with me to the second floor. Somebody pooped in the sink." and black Hitler don't hurt either. And there's also my simple admiration for watching a sitcom have the guts and the patience to lay pipe (PLUMBING PUN MASTERSTROKE) for longform serialized storytelling. It's only in the last decade plus a few years that TV dramas slowly taught themselves that such a thing was possible; for comedies it remains quite cutting edge to this day.

I never regarded the first season's "English as a Second Language" (the episode that introduced Troy's prodigious plumbing talents) as particularly great or important in the grand scheme of things, but if this story with Troy and the Air Conditioning Repair School Annex pays off in a suitably grand way at season's end it will retroactively become wildly impressive for its insanely distant foreshadowing. Who knows? Maybe this season is heading toward some epic multi-part finale where air conditioning, Vice Dean Laybourne, Professor Kane, Jeff's dad, Troy's gifts, Evil Troy and Evil Abed and paintball all collide in some sort of comedy apocalypse. A Community nut can but dream.

Funniest Moment: Gillian Jacobs' look of panicked horror when Shirley asks Britta, "You can excuse racism?"

Final Grade: A-

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