Sunday, November 13, 2011

Community, Season 3 Episode 7 – "Studies in Modern Movement"

How many times a year are we lucky enough to get a sitcom episode as effortlessly, thoroughly enjoyable as "Studies in Modern Movement?" It didn't fit into the high concept mold the show has become known for, and when I'm thinking back on Community as a withered old man I don't know that it will pop into mind as quickly as paintball or Dungeons & Dragons or My Dinner with Andre, but what it was was damn funny, warm, comforting television; sort of an actually good version of what the masses believe unoriginal laugh track shitcoms to be.

But for how remarkably easy it went down, if you step back and observe the mechanics of "Modern Movement" from a distance, it's actually a pretty impressive work of pacing and structure, squeezing four separate subplots into its 21-22 minutes, all of them revolving around the same event and all except Britta and Shirley's tying into the endgame. Even when it seems like the show is taking it easy from a viewer's perspective, the writers clearly aren't taking a damn thing easy.

First off, the episode's primary plot belonging to its youngest trio and arguable holy trinity of Troy, Abed, and Annie was every bit as likable as you'd hope such a story to be. It wasn't necessarily as jam-packed with punchlines as Community is at its very sharpest – though it didn't lack for laughs, as the presence of Donald Glover can make anything up to and including your best friend's funeral hilarious – but between the Dreamatorium, blanket fort, and puppet shows, it was just pure goodhearted fun.

(Sidebar: Though I don't imagine we'll be spending all that much time at the apartment – the show is about Greendale – in an alternate reality every bit as fanciful as Troy and Abed's puppet show where Community is going to see its fifth season, this episode also did a good job indicating a post-graduation direction the show could take, by morphing from a college comedy to basically being Friends. Granted, that increases the risk of Schwimmer fatigue.)

It was also great to see Annie confront her differences with Troy and Abed head-on and the three all adjust to meet each other in the middle. Unlike similar stories such as Liz and Tracy finally leveling with each other last season on 30 Rock, I expect Community has the commitment to narrative and character to make this development count. Annie's loosey goosey routine near episode's start also felt like a nicely subtle callback to her just blowing everything off in "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design" almost exactly a year ago.

Speaking of Community nostalgia, Jeff's story felt like a nice callback to classic season one-era "jerkass Jeff learns a lesson" stories, albeit one taking place off campus, which season one never did. The story was a little slow in liftoff, but I must have watched the brilliant "Kiss from a Rose" montage five times, which, granted, is way less than I've watched the "Somewhere Out There" sequence from "Environmental Science." (Man, season one all over the place!) It also paid off about as perfectly as I could imagine with "HE TWEETED IIIITTT!!" and Moon Dean. Comedic escalation, baby: It's an art and a science.

I'd also be remiss not to mention the blink-your-ears-and-you-miss-it reveal that Jeff is seeing a therapist. Just a throwaway line to keep the plot rolling? Something that will come up again and be paid off later? Perhaps the result of his mental break back in "Biology 101?" With Dan Harmon, who knows?

The Britta / Shirley and Pierce stories were slighter, but they were also quick and funny and didn't linger a second longer than needed (Britta and Shirley's lasted barely two minutes all put together). I liked how the superiority hot potato got tossed between Britta and Shirley until the exact moment that Jesus began singing about drinking human blood, and how it ultimately brought the two together in an alliance against general insanity. And as for Pierce, well, Chevy Chase was, is, and always will be a master physical comedian, so he sold the hell out of it. (But my favorite Pierce physical comedy bit will probably always be him tripping over the drum set way back in season one.)

I love Community's high concept episodes more or less literally as much as anyone, but "Studies In Modern Movement" is a testament to just kicking back and delivering a chill, relaxing 22 minutes, and doing it right. Depending on what the next fifteen episodes bring, I wouldn't be shocked if it ultimately lands in my top five for the season. Although, this being Community, I wouldn't be shocked if it winds up way down the list either.

Funniest Moment: The funniest (and most quotable) line was Troy's "Just because we're awesome doesn't mean we're not adults!", but the moment where I really lost it was when it faded from Jeff and the Dean singing "Kiss from a Rose" to Pierce making a snow angel in toxic paint.

Final Grade: A

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