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Community Watch: Straight Up

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NBC

I’ve already seen grumblings in some TV blog comments that last night’s episode of Community, “Mixology Certification,” was not funny enough. I suspect that I may have liked the episode for more or less the same reason that other fans didn’t: that is, I agree that it was lighter on the jokes and absurdity than recent episodes, but to me that was a plus. The result was a good-hearted, wistful episode that bolstered my theory that good comedies are not always the ones that make you laugh the most.

Community is still thoroughly an ensemble show, but between this and outings like the Halloween episode, it clearly recognizes that it has something special in Donald Glover and has beefed up Troy’s role this season. “Mixology” took his 21st birthday, and the show’s unusual circumstance of pairing younger characters socially with older ones, to take a look at how getting older is not only exciting but terrifying, and a little sad.

With Troy’s first legal drink, alcohol becomes a metaphor for decisions: deciding what your drink is, what kind of adult you will be, a whole cascading set of decisions each of which narrows down your potential future. And his story was nicely paralleled with Annie, who unlike the childlike Troy has been making decisions about her adult life ruthlessly—to the point that, as she finds out in adopting a fake persona to go with her fake ID, it becomes oppressive. Talking about herself in the third person, it’s as if she talks herself into the realization that she’s been using her responsibility and plan-making as a kind of escape. And in the very sweet goodnight scene between Troy and Annie, Community showed a memory of the pilot—in which Annie seemed to be sweet on her former high-school quarterback—and showed how their characters have evolved over time.

Now sweet, sad, melancholy are not going to be everyone’s bag. But as I’ve said before—and I know this puts me at odds with many if not most Community fans—though I love its surreality and densely packed humor, I sometimes feel that its elaborate comic setups get their payoffs at the expense of making the characters seem less than 100% real or three-dimensional. Where some Community episodes empty the entire contents of the bar into an umbrella-bedecked glass—and I’m sure next week’s Claymation Christmas episode will throw a candy cane in as well—”Mixology” was more of a simple chaser. For me, it hit the spot nicely.

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