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Community Recap “Economics of Marine Biology”

By on March 22, 2013

"Pop ... uh ..." Luke Youngblood as Magnitude. (Image © NBC)

In terms of story structure, this episode is one of the season’s more successful, with every character getting their own chance for a full arc, even if it ultimately services a flimsy punchline, like Abed’s crusade to save the (non-existent) Delta Cube frat.

Shirley and Troy are paired this week, something the show’s never done as often as it should. Every regular viewer knows how talented Donald Glover is, and his line deliveries in this episode elevate some iffy material to greatness (especially his exhausted “…it’s been quite the week”), but less attention is paid to Yvette-Nicole Brown. They have an easy chemistry that helps make their cartoony subplot feel real. Troy and Shirley both enroll in a Physical Education class. Troy expects to dominate, and Shirley is fearful that he will ignore her because P.E. is about “the survival of the fittest.” As it turns out, the class is a Physical Education Education class (”it started out as a typo, but it’s grown into one of Greendale’s most successful programs”) where students learn how to become gym teachers. Shirley’s parenting experience makes her a natural, but Troy’s restless, spazzy nature makes the class a struggle, a nice reversal.

The story culminates in a parody of stirring training montages, set to a fake song (one of two original tunes in this episode, the other being the fake “Let’s” potato chip jingle in the end tag), where the two team up to teach Kevin/Chang to jump rope and properly use a drinking fountain. That sequence makes the episode feel out of joint with the rest of the season—it’s a prime example of how we should have seen Chang struggling to fit in at the school before last week.

The main plot centers on the Dean’s attempt to reel in a “whale,” a lazy student from a rich family who is, in the Dean’s words, “the perfect mix of low intellect, high lack of ambition, and limitless parental support” (see also: Hawthorne, Pierce). That whale comes in the form of stoner dude-bro Archie, who demands, in his chillaxing way, that Annie and the Dean cater to his every cannabis-fueled wish. Archie’s not a particularly funny or intriguing character, which sucks much of the energy out of the story.

It’s interesting and, yes, silly as hell, that it’s Archie’s theft of Magnitude’s catchphrase that makes Annie and the Dean both realize just how low they’ve sunk. Magnitude seems more entrenched in the Season Two peak of the series than any of the other tertiary characters, probably because his running gag reached its peak in that year’s finale with Troy’s panicked “pop what?” So while Magnitude is a welcome reminder of better times it’s not a well we can go to very often without becoming as stale as the catchphrases the character is meant to mock.

The Dean denies Archie the catchphrase (but not before he gets one evil, slow-motion “poooooooppp pooooopppp”), but Archie decides to go to Greendale anyway because nobody’s ever stands up to him, and he appreciates that. You can practically finish that speech for him, and it’s yet another example of Community not knowing how else to end a plot this season, and falling back on decades-old sitcom cliches. More intriguing is the possibility that Archie might be (along with faking-it-all-along Chang) a City College sleeper agent now embedded in Greendale (Homeland parody!), building to another big showdown like the paintball war at the end of Season Two.

The most interesting thing to spin off of the main storyline is the Jeff/Pierce pairing. Annie and Dean Pelton want to keep Pierce away from the effusive welcome for Archie, because Pierce is so naturally jealous. Jeff takes the bullet, taking Pierce up on his long-standing offer to hang out Pierce’s old man world for a day. Pierce takes him to a true man’s man barber shop. Jeff, naturally, lets down his guard when he gets a taste of the luxury afforded by letting someone else shave you while you enjoy a snifter of Brandy. But then, Pierce discovers a text from Annie on Jeff’s phone that makes it clear that Jeff didn’t want to be there with him after all. The story wraps up so quickly that the twist seems forced. In an already busy episode, it seems perfectly acceptable for Jeff to be pleasantly surprised he’s enjoying Pierce’s company without needing a big speech to spell that out to him. But since we’ve desperately needed a scene like that with Jeff and Pierce for the past four seasons, I’ll allow it.

It’s the Abed plot that’s the most frustrating—there is unlimited potential in Abed creating his own fraternity with his own rules and rituals, and all we ever see of it is a pantsing of Dean Pelton. Here’s hoping that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of the Delta Cubes. Community’s never done an all-out parody of Animal House or its derivations before, and that might be a truly excellent way to say goodbye in this year’s finale.

Season 4, Episode 7
“Economics of Marine Biology”: B-

One Comment

  1. Allan Ferguson

    March 22, 2013 at 11:48 pm

    I agree with most decent folks that Community is misfiring this season, although it isn’t clear always what’s missing or what made it better before. This episode I thought about how Community — like any good sitcom, in fact — was able to invest us in silly or trivial conflicts and make them seem consequential. Not so much lately, but I’m with you that Shirley and Troy’s PEE class was the most successful part of the episode.

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