This week’s Community was a doozy, delivering a perfect blow to the documentary-style format that has become ubiquitous in prime time (especially on NBC, Community’s own network). I’ve grown a little weary of this style myself, and in fact didn’t give Parks and Recreation a chance when it first came out because I was just so tired of this weird, awkward format. Like, why are these people being filmed all the time? Does it ever air? And Abed’s right: it’s easier to tell a story when you can just cut to characters telling you exactly what they’re thinking. Even in elementary school composition, you were taught “Show, don’t tell.”
Anyway! Pierce is in the hospital, pretending to be dying, which was done much better by Gene Hackman in The Royal Tennenbaums, but in this case I’ll let it slide because it led to some interesting development in the characters I actually care about. This episode was sadly lacking in Abed, because he obeys Pierce’s request to film the events at the hospital. But we do get some great bits from the rest of the study group, and I’m pretty sure we see Joel McHale really act for the first time.
Pierce uses the guise of parting gifts to mentally torture each member of the gang, whom he’s still angry at for”¦leaving him out of things, I guess? Shirley’s given a CD, supposedly of the group talking smack about her behind her back. Britta gets a large check and is told to fill in the charity of her choice on the “to” line, and she ends up agonizing over whether to write the check out to herself so she can take care of her supposed money woes. (Note to writers: if 10Gs can pay off all of Britta’s credit card debt, overdue bills, and several months of back rent, then she’s really not in that bad of shape.)
Annie gets a tiara from Pierce, who says it’s because she’s his favorite. She’s catching on to Pierce’s game, so she demands to know the catch. (“Are they”¦holocaust diamonds?!”) Pierce tells Jeff that he’s found his absentee father, and Jeff doesn’t believe him until Pierce makes good on his pledge to get LeVar Burton to show up. (Best quote from good sport Mr. Burton: “So, are you more familiar with me from Star Trek, or Reading Rainbow?”) While Troy freezes in the face of his idol, Jeff’s veneer cracks in a way much more profound than the usual “Oh hey, I might just care about this crazy little band of misfits!” He’s confused, he’s angry, and while dealing with stireed up emotions that have probably been repressed for years, he lashes out at everyone (not just Britta).
While Jeff continues to unravel, the rest of the gang starts to resolve their issues. Britta ends up giving the money to charity (although, considering she said she was worried about nonprofits and their overhead, it may not have been the best move to pick the Red Cross, amirite?), and LeVar Burton helps her realize that she only considered taking the money because she’s so bad at financial management. Shirley listens to the CD, in which the group refuses to respond to Pierce’s baiting to talk about Shirley, and admits the fact that she uses guilt as a weapon against her friends.
Troy”¦well, Troy never loosens up around LeVar, but his sad singing in the bathroom did reveal that Donald Glover has a great singing voice! (And I thought he couldn’t get any cuter.) Annie decides that Pierce was teaching her not to be so obsessed with achievement, although he exposits to the camera that she is, simply, his favorite. Having wrapped up the simpler conflicts, we focus on Jeff, who threatens Pierce with a beating if it turns out his father isn’t actually coming. That’s when we learn that what we’d been dreading is actually true; Pierce was bluffing.
Jeff nervously waits outside for his father, and when the car pulls up you can tell he still believes it might be him. The look on his face while the moment drags on a bit is painful to watch. However, Pierce can’t wiggle his way out of this one, and when Jeff delivers on his promise to beat up Pierce, it feels a bit like catharsis. Not only for Jeff, but for the viewers who’ve been waiting for Pierce to be punished for his assholery. It’s nice to know that amid all the meta-humor and wacky plots, Community can still make us feel something.
In the end, Pierce kind of evened out. I don’t think my esteem of him is worse than it was before, but he didn’t redeem himself either. I guess I just feel like the writers need to figure out what to do with Pierce. If he’s a bad guy, then make him a bad guy. I maintain that there is such thing as a likeable villain. The gold standard as far as I’m concerned is Dr. Cox from Scrubs. He’s enough of a jerk to be a foil for the protagonists, but his motivations are understandable enough that he’s not fully evil. He acts within his own type of moral structure, and once in a blue moon we’re thrown a little bone that shows he’s a real person under his tough exterior. And the best part? He’s funny. Right now, Pierce is just incomprehensible and really frustrating. Here’s hoping they find a place for Pierce, whatever it may be.