The third episode of the Yahoo hosted sixth season of Dan Harmon’s quirky cult show Community continues a trend seemingly put forward by the first two. “Basic Crisis Room Decorum” sees the show at both its most straightforward and its weirdest. The first couple of episodes are clearly designed to be more grounded than some of Community’s past moments. This is probably a good decision. The inevitable high-concept episodes will feel much more interesting if they’re contrasted with more grounded early episodes, and if we have a better grasp at the roles the season’s new characters play. Once upon a time the show used to use classes the group was attending to ground and connect the characters. This season is wisely leaning into the Save Greendale Committee as its source of drama. So while all this keeps the show fairly rooted and conventional by Community’s standards there are also a handful of very weird moments and subplots that feel more like Dan Harmon unchained. This blend could be really interesting going forward, and seeing the start of a less restricted Dan Harmon is exciting. Whenever he really cuts loose it tends to create some of the show’s best episodes.
One character seems like she might have changed this season. Britta has always been the show’s most shifting character. She alone seems to evolve without actual character arcs; there just seems to be a shift in the way she’s scripted from some seasons to others. At first she was the group’s moral compass. Season one sees her fairly calm and confident espousing her political reviews and cutting through Jeff Winger’s bullshit. She was kind hearted, if occasionally too moral for her own good. Going into the second season Dan Harmon’s approach to the character shifted drastically. Britta’s moral and politics became a punchline. She was frequently incoherent and overly angry about unnecessary things. “Britta’s the worst” became a common punchline. This shift, while initially off-putting to some, served the show’s humorous intent better than the previous Britta. It also led to some fantastic jokes and kind moments. It seems to me that Dan Harmon’s self-effacing take on his own sloppy ill-researched political rants slipped into the character, which was fine. She was still endearing and funny. Now quite a few seasons later it seems like Britta’s character has shifted again. Maybe three episodes in is too early to effectively gauge how deep-tissue this change is, but certainly there are key moments that point to another variation of the character emerging. Britta is still a joke, but so far she seems to be a broader, wackier one. She’s failed everything she’s attempted this episode and really hasn’t had a single dignified moment. Gillian Jacobs is doing a lot more physical comedy with the character too. In this episode alone, Britta drunkenly craps her pants, drives a man away from her with her singing voice, and naps on a couch. Hopefully these changes resolve themselves into character development.
The episode is a pretty good one. One of the solidly serviceable episodes of Community. The episode follows the Save Greendale Community trying to deal with an impending attack ad City College is airing. City College is attacking Greendale by pointing out that a dog attended the school successfully at some point. The whole group gets involved, including Chang, who leaves quickly to shoot a porno on City College grounds. The fact that Chang has been relegated to this backgrounded and ignored character who just spouts gibberish while the group resists acknowledging him is pretty funny. Overall it’s a witty episode.
The repeated gag where everyone thinks Franky most resembles a different member of the group is funny. I just hope we actually get a firmer grip on her character before much longer. The fact that Keith David is so haphazardly subsumed into the group is pretty funny too. He just finds Britta clean pants to wear when he stumbles across her running around. Then he takes the first available opportunity to leave the group’s Crisis Room. He only goes back to avoid Britta’s singing (her terrible singing voice being a long-established joke). I’m lukewarm on the character driven portions of the episode though. Annie’s idealism and consequent struggle with Jeff’s cynicism feels like territory that hasn’t just been explored but inhabited. There are architectural feats built in the land. We don’t really need another look at it. It’s not badly executed, just not great. Franky’s involvement does add an interesting wrinkle, but it’s not really enough to make it seem fresh. Maybe that’s just the sad truth of a show in its sixth season trying to do simple character stuff. Which makes sense until you remember the new exploration of Britta last episode or the new characters the show could be exploring.
My favourite joke in the whole episode might be the running plot line with the Dean. It seems that at some point the Dean has mistaken a cellphone number from Tokyo for Jeff’s. The teenage boy he’s texted in Tokyo leads him on, insisting that they share their love secretly by text and never reveal it in real life. He makes the Dean give a confused Jeff cans of pickles. This is all pretty surreal and funny, but the culmination of the plot thread is really where you can feel Harmon cutting loose a little. The kid texting the Dean has an emotional crisis unrelated to his joke and desperately reveals his charade to the Dean, looking for a friend to talk to. The Dean is never convinced the kid isn’t Jeff, which drives the kid to eventually become leader of the Yakuza. Its so weird and unnecessary I can’t help but love it.
The episode is solid, if not great. The extra room for slightly longer and quiet jokes is growing on me, as are the new cast members. It’s still funny, and despite some aesthetic changes it’s still Community. Here’s hoping it can explore some fresher things this season.