Community Recap: “Herstory of Dance”
I can’t very well review anything today without addressing the passing of film critic Roger Ebert. Throughout my childhood, first with his partner Gene Siskel and then, after Gene’s death, with Richard Roeper and his online columns, Ebert proved to me that movies weren’t just cheap entertainment, that any movie—even the cheesiest Hollywood blockbuster, could and should be held to a standard of emotional and intellectual depth as well as entertainment. Roger Ebert was one of the first people who showed me that my own analytical sensibilities were something that I could foster rather than stifle—that there was a place in the world for people who cared that much about make-believe. To me, he wasn’t just some crank ripping popcorn flicks, he was a f**king rockstar.
So, with that general air of nostalgia going into this episode, I’m very glad that I don’t have to spend tonight ripping apart what is, even with all its post-Harmon flaws, one of my favorite television shows. This episode, though far from perfect, made me smile more than any other this season, primarily because it reminded us that Abed is indeed human. The robotization of Abed is something we can pin squarely on Dan Harmon. When Harmon launched the series he clearly identified with Jeff Winger, but as the series developed Abed became a distorted mirror of Harmon’s own sense of dissociation from the world around him with his single-minded obsessions and poor reading of situations.
This put Abed, and in turn the wonderfully versatile Danny Pudi, in a box. Season One Abed was able to express his emotions, even in a reserved way, much more than the Abed of the seasons that followed. So to hear Abed actually say that he was sad in tonight’s episode was a welcome change from the often one-note approach we’ve seen, especially in the hands of the new creative staff this season. And Abed’s storyline was clever—growing organically out of well-established character traits. We know that Annie and Shirley are busy-bodies, and we’ve seen the competitive side of both before, so it makes sense that they would see a Sadie Hawkins Dance (announced by a Dean Pelton dressed in full “black and white TV” makeup, his best outfit in a long time) as an opportunity to fix up Abed—making the dual assumptions that Abed wants to be fixed up and that either of them know best.
Abed agrees to choose between the two because he sees it as a plan to pull a classic sitcom switcheroo, going on both dates at the same time. He enlists the services of Rachel, a coat-check girl who figures out what he’s up to right away. She’s a perfectly drawn She’s All That type, the bookish, smart girl who gets overlooked for the other girls that the hero is courting, but is really perfect for him all along. The fact that Abed doesn’t realize it makes the homage work as an actual story rather than just a passing reference. Congratulations, Community Season Four, you’ve finally done it! The only thing that would have made it any better was to have a scene where Rachel takes off her glasses and Abed can finally see her true beauty. Because, as we all know from teen movies, girls in glasses are the most disgusting thing on the planet.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t as sold on the underlying premise of the Britta story, in which she protests the sexism inherent in the entire idea of a Sadie Hawkins dance by throwing a competing Sophie B. Hawkins dance. Of course, Britta meant to throw a Susan B. Anthony dance, in honor of the famous suffragette, but she, per usual, Britta’d it, mixing up the names in spite of the fact that she has a cat named Susan B. Anthony. I didn’t find the pun particularly funny, and it’s a thin strand to build an episode around, but there we are.
It didn’t require a peek at IMDB to figure out that Sophie B. Hawkins would indeed show up and that Pierce would be behind it (after all, when you need a 90’s celebrity to randomly show up, he’s your man). Between the New Radicals song a few weeks back and “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover” (inferior, though it may be, to “As I Lay Me Down”), there’s a lot of 90’s throwback that seems like a studio note aimed squarely at the Gen-X demographic, which, I guess, is me, so I should stop complaining.
There were nice touches all around the edges of this episode. I even liked Chang as the DJ. I enjoyed Troy’s desperation to find some hijinks in Britta’s plan, only to consistently find that hijinks just don’t exist in Britta’s world. There’s some goofy dancing, maybe, and clueless defiance, but no hijinks. And there was a shockingly sensitive turn from Chevy Chase, who I am officially nominating for the Most Improved award. He’s really turned in some good performances this season, and it’s nice to see a Pierce plot that sees him trying to help one of the group that Jeff is excluding rather than plotting against Jeff to try to show him up.
Unfortunately, this season’s continuing decision to give every character a complete arc in every single episode means that we just get a sketch of Abed and Rachel’s wackiness. The entire episode could have been made up of her assisting him in his scheme, and I would have loved it. Had we had her introduction a little earlier on, that could have happened. In fact, that probably could have happened if we weren’t saddled with an A-story that I really didn’t connect with.
Still, this episode was an encouraging sign at the middle point of a weird season and a bummer of a day.
Season 4, Episode 8
“Herstory of Dance”: B+