community-ep-7-duncan-beta-male-2

“Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality” is not an all-voiceover, art concept take on Her. It’s something even cooler and harder to pull off. It’s a consistently funny, unshowy, heartfelt episode of Community.

The Players:

  • Director: Tristram Shapeero
  • Writer: Dan Guterman
  • Cast: Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alison Bree, Ken Jeong, Jim Rash, Jonathan Banks, John Oliver

Episode Title: “Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality”

Duncan goes to Jeff for advice about how to hook up with Britta, and Jeff reluctantly suggests inviting her to an activist function. However, the plan backfires when the rest of the study group decides to tag along. Only Abed gets out of it, working on his Kick-Puncher cosplay for a premiere screening that night. Unfortunately, kick-punching through the halls isn’t as fun solo. So he finds Hickey working late at night on his Jim the Duck cartoons. Abed accidentally ruins them so Hickey handcuffs him to a filing cabinet, determined to make him miss his movie, which he does. Abed is able to get under Hickey’s skin, throwing his motives into question and lambasting the blandness of his sketches. The two come to a peace when, after Hickey releases him, Abed brings him his script for Police Justice, asking if Hickey, a former cop, would help him give it substance. Back at the benefit, Britta gets singled out for praise by her activist friends at the benefit, making Jeff attracted to her. Duncan’s strategy is to swoop in when she gets hurt, which happens fairly quickly as her sell-out friends reject her. But Duncan drives Britta home instead, and goes back to the theater to hang out with Jeff.Chang, being Chang, stumbles into a live audience and improvs a show, only to be told by a janitor that the people in the room were ghosts. Or maybe, as a picture on the wall of the study room implies, Chang is a ghost.

The Good:

  • Fight The Power: Community has a proud rep for juggling high concepts and barely grounded humor, but respect to the episode for staying simple. The A plot is mostly in one place, at one time, dealing with one issue, although it’s complicated. What happens to Britta Perry, proud owner of an iPod Nano, is kind of devastating. Gillian Jacobs nails that visible self-esteem drop. When the show is working in top gear, Britta’s a deeply important force of good, for the rest of the study group’s development.
  • Police Justice: At first, the 12-round sparring match between Abed and Hickey seemed like a lesser B plot, but the verbal jabs were impressive. They took both characters to uncomfortable places, and ended with Abed reaching out with the offer to improve his cop-based script. He put himself on the block rather than holding aloof. Clone Troy would be proud.
  • King of the Scotch: The episode keeps it together on John Oliver’s squirmy sense of decency. Duncan is such a transparent dweeb it only gets funnier when you know exactly what he’s about to do. What moves do he have tucked in his British kerchief? Meanwhile, Jeff finds Britta attractive again just as long as other people seem to like her. It’s the expected plotline, and it’s funny. The bondage between the two of them isn’t, which gives the emotional payoff of the episode weight.

The So-So:

  • Room 237: Even though Community isn’t as great as it was in the early seasons, it gets a 10/10 for revitalizing Chang. His performance for a room full of ghosts – or was the janitor a ghost, or is he a ghost? – was hilarious. It allowed Ken Jeong to be both sly and panicked, building to a crescendo of broken nerves. The writers are able to walk him back by Annie telling him that he’s ‘not allowed’ in the group if he’s visibly insane. It was a great one man show. But given how smartly Chang’s storyline was executed, The Shining ending felt disappointingly like an afterthought. It wasn’t a strong button for the episode.

The Bad:

  • Annie the Duck: Funniest line of the night, no question, is when Annie demurs about not having really been involved in the episode’s doings, she says, “We’ve had our share of focus recently.” Shirley, aside, “Speak for yourself.” The episode would’ve been too cluttered had there been more for them, but we are overdue for stronger Shirley screentime. Fix it, show.

Overall:

Community is getting much better at the everyday business of Community. “Beta Male Sexuality” is not a high-stakes or high concept episode, yet it develops characters, making us care that extra bit more for them all, and it’s funny in the moment. That is, perhaps, returning showrunner Dan Harmon’s most unlikely contribution to the tone of the fifth season: The ability and the willingness to just bro-out, man.

Rating: 8/10

Community airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on NBC.

How excited for that revised Police Justice script are you? Let us know what you thought in the comments.