I had a friend who, several years ago, decried Community as "too 'T.G.I.F.'"
For those of you too young to remember (or those of you whose parents only let you watch PBS while growing up), "T.G.I.F." was a Friday night programming block on ABC that featured such thought-provoking, high-brow comedy as Perfect Strangers, Full House and whatever show Urkel* was on.
I knew my friend meant it as a put-down about the way Community liked to have episodes end in a pat moral lesson, but I thought Community was a bit like "T.G.I.F." in the good way. In the same way that the "T.G.I.F." line-up had its mysterious foreign cousins, appearances by Stefan Urquelle, and other improbable nonsense that left my pre-teen self feeling like the world was ultimately a good place, so did Community leave me feeling like the adult world was ultimately a good place... even if it did have the occasional vicious paintball warlord in it.
"Herstory of Dance," however, was like "T.G.I.F." in the bad way: sloppy content, unearned morals and featuring a guest appearance that ends in a celebrity performing their most famous song, while everyone dances around.
Community's strength is in its richly detailed characters, and its attention to the details of those characters - its multi-season callbacks, its running visual gags, its totally correct placement of a Charlie St. Cloud poster in Annie's room.
But "Herstory of Dance" dispensed with that; most of all, by having Britta confuse Sophie B. Hawkins and Susan B. Anthony. This slip-up that wasn't treated like a brain-fart (like when you ask someone to pass the butter, but accidentally end up asking them to pass the Brian Williams), but rather a genuine screw-up that Britta's ego would be invested in covering up.
Look, Britta is many things, many terrible things (I should know. I am many of those same terrible things). But someone who legitimately mixes up Sophie B. Hawkins and Susan B. Anthony is not one of those things. Britta is not only a committed feminist, but someone who clearly attended Lilith Fair 67 times. What's next, she thinks president Ani DiFranco presided over the U.S. during the Civil War?
Making that the episode's jumping-off point set the tone for the rest of the lazily-written episode. Why do Annie and Shirley want to set Abed up on a date? I don't know! Because plot momentum? Why would Jeff respect Britta more for delivering on the promise of getting a singer that no one cared about, and who had no real reason to be there, except to prove the point that Britta is capable of sometimes not screwing up every single thing? The stakes were beyond low, they were sub-atomic and it was no fun to see any of the risks pan out because of that.
Abed's actual interactions with his dates (as well as guest star Brie Larson) were among the episode's high points, and the writers still know how to set up a gag - there were no shortage of excellent Community quotes, and I thought Pierce's extended email bit in the library was hilarious.
But this episode didn't have soul. It felt like a show simply going through the motions and running out the clock. I've enjoyed parts of Community Season 4 more than a lot of viewers, but if this episode signals where the rest of this season is heading, I'll have to declare a dean-strosity...wait...a monster-dean-o-sity...ah, I'll just have to declare it a total mess.
*I know that Urkel was on Family Matters. I'm not a monster!
What did you think of Abed's love interest? Do you think Jeff's new-found respect for Britta will last? What's your favorite Sophie B. Hawkins song?
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