The Greendale gang return after a three month hiatus (aka #thedarkesttimelineisover) slightly more ‘normal’ than when we last encountered them in the Glee spoof/Christmas episode “Regional Holiday Music.” I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that part of enjoying “Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts” was in having Annie, Abed, Britta, Dean Pelton (all the more ridiculous now that Jim Rash has won an Oscar) and so on back on my television, and although this was by no means a particularly memorable or innovative episode, it certainly drew laughs and contributed to the momentum of the group continuing to test the waters outside the safety of the study room.
This is Shirley’s episode, a reminder of her unique position as the only mother and divorcee juggling ambition and her degree, not to mention considerable college related hijinks. Pierce, no longer working for Hawthorne Wipes, is looking for entrepreneurial opportunities—unsurprisingly, his portable butt-rest ends with “call all the ambulances”—and agrees to support Shirley’s dream of starting her small baking business in the cafeteria at Greendale. As they begin to discuss logistics, Shirley’s ex-husband turned boyfriend proposes and Shirley’s energies are consumed by wedding planning. News of her engagement throws the study group: Annie, a budding and eager Bridezilla-to-be, fruitlessly attempts to assist in the planning as Abed and Troy put themselves through a ‘normal’ising detox to de-nerdify and assimilate. Predictably, Britta and Jeff rally against marriage and all that it ‘represents,’ leading to Britta discovering her talent for wedding planning (and spiralling) and Jeff failing to produce an encouraging, impassioned speech (and spiralling).
The proposal itself—usually an anticipated, significant event in the progression of a fictional couple—barely registers (although Andre’s method was joyful and to the point), but what comes across loud and clear is Shirley’s unwillingness to move backwards, to let her ambitions go to appease Andre and to step up as the family’s source of income. As Shirley takes further action towards what she wants, the rest of the gang are again dealing with their arrested development. Britta and Jeff are stuck in their (formerly?) firmly set views on marriage, turning to binge drinking as Britta’s heretofore unknown wedding planning skills arise and she starts to believe she is subconsciously a pro-patriarchy misogynist while Jeff’s daddy issues rear their ugly head. I like that they’re impulsive, messy and occasionally ridiculously destructive, to themselves and others. Thankfully Shirley pulled them in line before they could do real damage, interrupting their drunken near-marriage, what a disaster that would have been!
Shirley’s marriage was the emotion of the episode, but Troy and Abed vowing to attempt normalcy and connect with someone outside the study group was a great meta moment: they, like Community, are creative and funny when they’re allowed to be, when people aren’t trying to limit their possibilities and shoehorn them into more ‘appealing’ palatable packages rather than just appreciating what they uniquely bring to the table. They become boring, fake, just another guy embarrassing himself doing the Electic Slide; Community’s ‘heart’ is different to full on love-fests like Parks and Recreation: this world cares—differently, passionately and recklessly—about individuality, the right to fight for vastly different perspectives, to create messy tangles of—often unhealthy, co-dependent (ahem “Troy and Abed in the Morning!”)—relationships and about boundless creativity.
Community is often accused of being weird and cold, and although I’ve never found it cold its focus on structure and cultural referencing makes it a less comforting experience than, say, Parks and Recreation (that show again), but Community knows its strength lies in pushing the zaniness to the extreme, and utilising the all-round brilliant cast. This season might be its last (although NBC’s pathetic schedule, the better-than-expected ratings for this episode, small but vocal fan base and some well-timed touching tears are helping sway the tide), and I can only hope it continues to embrace the natural conclusion of the Abed/Troy storyline: weird is fun, just go with it.
A small selection of the more quotable one-liners.
Troy: “Pierce, why do you look like a wealthy murderer?”
Annie: “The “Webster’s Dictionary defines” intro is The Jim Belushi of speech openings: it accomplishes nothing, but everyone keeps on using it, and no one knows why.”
Pierce’s Racist Device: “Shall I notify authorities?”
Abed: “It’s cool that Andre and Shirley are going to get married again. There’s a whole generation of viewers who didn’t get to see the original.”
Pierce: “I had to shelve the trouser bench anyway. There are still parts of the prototype that need to be extracted. Maybe you’re misunderstanding. I mean, from my butt.”
Dean Pelton: “That’s me! Where did I get all that money I’m holding?”
And the requisite Jeff/Britta argument:
Jeff: “What about babies?”
Britta: “What about them?”
Jeff: “How many?”
Britta: “Pick a number, dick. Like it’s up to me.”