Community’s third season kicked off with a big musical number complete with lyrics all about how the show was going to be more “calm and normal” and “be appealing to all mankind.” It’s a big joke on the fact that the show has struggled to be anything other than a critical darling as it fails to connect with a larger audience. It’s exceedingly funny, but it’s also odd and sly in the way that Community manages to be so effectively, lightly poking fun at other shows like Glee without coming off as mean spirited. Community’s going to be its own show, and if that show just happens to involve Senor Chang dancing around in a money suit and the eminently creepy Greendale Human Being spinning around above the heads of the dancing main cast, then so be it. Perhaps that’s why “Biology 101” ended up being a bit of a let down, because the rest of the episode ends up being Community by numbers, a slightly listless affair that feels like it actually has been configured to try and appeal to the broadest audience possible rather than those who have come to love the show over the past two years.
The main fault lies in the fact that the premiere hangs its hat on the old chestnut of a dilemma that threatens to fracture the group, a plot line that has been hit upon enough that it was parodied beautifully in last season’s “Paradigms of Human Memory.” That episode essentially came down on the group being so tight knit that they’d be able to withstand any storm, so when “Biology 101” goes back to that well it’s hard for a long time viewer to really get invested in the storyline. It also doesn’t help that last season’s cliffhanger, Pierce deciding to leave the group even after being invited back to it, was essentially just shrugged aside. There’s a nice bit at the end where Pierce actually does seem to have become a better person, but it doesn’t deliver on the story that last season left hanging.
And while I’m being tough on the episode, I do have to mention that this is a funny half hour of TV, you’ll see when we get to the other thoughts section that I wrote down a lot of quotes over my two viewings, but just pretty funny doesn’t quite cut it for a show like Community anymore. Not when it can deliver episodes like “Cooperative Calligraphy” or “Mixology Certification” that have moving and profound things to say about life and family and certainly not when it can deliver episodes filled with wall to wall hilarity like “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design.”
“Biology 101” has a lot of ground to cover, and I think that’s part of why it doesn’t quite cohere, it has a storyline involving the Dean trying to shape up and actually exert some real control over Greendale this year along with the revelation that Chang’s homeless and living in the school’s air vents all while it’s showing Jeff being slowly driven insane by his exclusion from the group. Asides from the Jeff plotline the other two don’t really wrap up, instead they’re seemingly setting the third season up for story potential down the line as the Dean is beaten down by John Goodman’s Vice Dean of the Greendale Air Conditioning Annex and Chang is installed as the new security guard for all of Greendale. Both storylines have their high points, and Rash is particularly good here as he gets to hit both outlandish and heartbroken notes, but neither feels much like much more than setup and they don’t add much resonance to the A storyline.
There’s also a weird little 2001: A Space Odyssey parody thrown into the middle of this episode that’s funny, but feels slightly obligatory simply because that’s what Community’s known for at this point. It does fill in the ways that Jeff and Pierce are compared throughout the episode and it is well executed, but it left me feeling like something the show just threw at the wall rather than like it was an essential part of the show. In a similarly meta, but more thoroughly integrated plotline, Abed attempts to find a new favorite television show when he finds out that his beloved Cougar Town won’t be returning until mid-season. Britta first turns him on to Cougarton Abbey, the British show Cougar Town was based on, but when it ends after six episodes with the deaths of all the main characters Abed shuts down, only to be revived by the thinly veiled Doctor Who homage, Inspector Spacetime. There isn’t much plot here, it’s mostly focused on Abed liking TV and Britta being good at ruining things, but it’s funny stuff that fits nicely on the edges of the show.
A lot of “Biology 101” feels like storylines that would fit better on the edges of a strong main plot, but I felt roughly the same way about the premiere of the second season. Community isn’t the most intensely plotted show around, but it does have a commitment to consistency that others might not so its premieres always have the added weight of re-establishing the characters and their situations each year. That burdens this premiere, but the joke writing itself was as solid as ever, and the only comedy ensemble on TV that comes close to giving this one a challenge is over on Parks & Recreation, so while it may not have been a great episode, it was still a whole lot of fun to be back in this world and spending time at that magic table that holds up your books.
- Jim Rash joins the main credits this year and good for him, his Dean has sometimes straddled the lines of too ridiculous/potentially offensive, but he’s always been great with what he’s been given.
- Let the quotery commence!
- “We have plenty of linens, we mainly want the things.”
- “Mean, lean, Deaning machine.”
- “I named him Annie’s Boobs, after Annie’s boobs.”
- “What’s wrong?” “Cougar Town’s been moved to midseason. That’s never a good sign.”
- “Sean Penn called, he said to dial it back.”
- “Spray your solutions all over me.”
- “Monkey knockout gas, now that’s the kind of grounded, sensible thinking I want to see this year.”
- “Shut up Leonard, I heard about your prescription socks.”
- “You are the opposite of Batman.”
- “You and your phony attitude and your fruit loops cologne.”
- “Can it Boobs!”
- “It is a scary, lonely, Chang filled world out there.”
- “Oh, interesting, so this is the year we all die.”
- “Dean you seem different, are you in a play right now?”
- “Homie don’t Dean this.”
- “Six seasons and a movie.”
- “I know who Sean Penn is. I seen Milk.”
- “Why don’t you just go start a ruiner’s club, oh wait, because you’d probably ruin it.” “Well, then I’d be doing a good job because it’s a ruiner’s club.” “You just ruined my analogy.”
- “I’ve become agitated, I apologize. We’ll continue this discourse at a later date.”