Tuned In

Community Watch: Pierce's Progress

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Spoilers for last night’s Community follow:

Consider this not so much a review of last night’s Community as a decision to defer judgment. As for the chief running storylines, they were… fine. For the first time in a while, Britta carried a strong comic story, with her comedy-of-PC-errors “lesbian” date at the Valentine’s dance. Troy and Abed’s decision to compete amicable for the affections of a hot librarian was as sweet as you would expect a Troy and Abed story to be. I wasn’t as convinced, though, by Jeff’s epiphany through his soccer date, which felt like a forced way of getting him to give an emotional speech about a point—that he’s grown genuinely attached to the study group—that the show has made pretty well already.

My greater concern is about how the episode dealt with a longer story arc: Pierce and his erratic behavior. But considering how “Early 21st-Century Romanticism” left things, I’m going to wait and see how the next episode or so resolve the issue.

On the one hand, I’m glad to see the show deal with Pierce’s drug problem straight on. (Also, an almost-painfully-apt Andy Dick as the Ty-D-Bol Man of prescription painkillers was funny—as was Pierce’s lengthy prepared statement on what he believes is Britta’s coming out.) The show has been hinting at a lot of turmoil in his character over the course of the season, from his mother’s death to his almost villainously obnoxious behavior in the last couple of seasons.

Bringing the situation to crisis (with his apparent overdose) is a gutsy move, but it doesn’t—yet—equal giving Pierce’s character a satisfactory fleshing-out. For starters: just what portion of his behavior are we meant to attribute to the drugs? On the one hand, they seem to bliss him out; on the other, they seem to make him aggressive—here, suddenly, to the point of snarling.

Note: This may be an entirely medically accurate depiction. I am not a pharmacologist. But it does complicate the picture of delineating his character. His behavior lately may have been more off-putting than usual, but it’s not actually out of character, nor is it new. The fact is, as early as the first season of Community, Pierce was drawn as so unrelievedly egocentric and abrasive that it wasn’t entirely clear why the group continued to hang out with him.

I applaud the show for fleshing out his backstory, but this new twist complicates the issue, leaving us to wonder how much of what we’ve seen comes out of Pierce and how much comes out of a bottle. Put another way: giving a character reasons for acting a certain way is not automatically the same as making that character psychologically convincing.

Anyway, I don’t mean this to slam the story so much as to give my concerns and questions, which I can’t expect to answer until (I assume) the next episode and perhaps future ones continue Pierce’s story. How do you diagnose him?