Though I still believe we should give Community's current creative team more time to find their legs, "Economics of Marine Biology" does mark the halfway point of the season (though it's worth noting that it was actually the sixth episode produced, whereas last week's was the eighth, so the order has one more week to straighten itself out). By now, it's pretty clear to me that in this fourth season, we're going to get the simplified version of Community and I'm quite fine with that. The show is better off moving on from concept episodes and gimmicks that are only going to recall comparisons to previous regimes. Overall, the jokes aren't as funny, the characters aren't quite as complex, and the structure is still too loose... but that doesn't mean "Economics of Marine Biology" didn't look and feel like an episode of Community.
Lost amid the conversations about what the show is or isn't, Jim Rash has delivered some good performances as Dean Pelton this season, regularly taking basic or broad material and making it seem much better. This episode gave the Dean his first real solid storyline of the season and it was enjoyable to see the character at the center of an episode that allowed Rash to play the Dean's combination of enthusiasm for Greendale and his constant fear that it's not going to be good enough. Much like with last week's episode, we saw that he's really concerned about Greendale's financial stability. That thread is ever-present, but combined with a new appearance from the dunce board members, I'm wondering if we're moving toward a larger story about Greendale's solvency, likely involving City College. I guess that's fine.
Like most of this season's stories not involving Nazis or Annie pretending to be Jeff's wife, the Dean's wooing of rich slacker Archie was entertaining enough. The story progressed logically as the Dean and Annie shredded the last remnants of their integrity while trying to keep Archie on campus, and a few individual moments—Leonard stirring up the pool of foam, Dean's line about the "Half Pipes and Hash Pipes" course taught by Shaun White—made me laugh quite a bit. Yet, the story also never really suggested that Dean or Annie were totally losing control of Archie's visit, outside of the somewhat weird beat with Archie taking "Pop Pop" from Magnitude. I love Magnitude as much, if not more, than the next Community fan, and I enjoyed his all-night workshop to find a new catchphrase, but that element didn't work for me. And in a related issue, the Dean's speech wrapping it all up felt way too easy in the way that most critics of the show suggest all Winger speech resolutions are. Rash did his best, but the whole thing just didn't quite come together.
The Dean's centrality here meant that most everyone else was carted off into B-, C-, and, in Abed's case, D-stories, all of which were good, but undercooked. I'm not necessarily worried about how "funny" the show is, so my biggest problem with this season has been the story structure and balance and this was another episode where there was just a little too much going on. It wasn't as overheated and manic as a few others, and at least three of the four stories stemmed from one larger premise, but the show always strains to make episodes with this many threads work. Always.
My favorite of the side stories was definitely Jeff and Pierce's journey to the barbershop. This episode was intended to follow the Thanskgiving one, but I actually like the way the extra time accidentally emphasized just how long Pierce has been trying to get Jeff alone to talk a little bit about the Winger holiday experience. Obscured by the show's creative highs in Seasons 2 and 3 was the weird, oftentimes affecting relationship between these two characters (that's what happens when Pierce becomes a full-blown villain). Unsurprisingly, the scenes at the barber shop felt very much like a flashback to Season 1, but Jeff's maturation made his realization about his treatment of Pierce land better. Joel McHale's been doing a great job all season and despite the show's troubles, he and the writers deserve credit for making New Jeff work. It's not a grand departure, but there's a level of kindness to New Jeff that's actually really appealing. And hey, Chevy Chase is really good in the moments where he's asked to bring humility and humanity to Pierce. I know that Chevy is on his way out and we won't get many more scenes like this between Pierce and Jeff and that kind of bums me out.
Shirley and Troy's time in P.E.E. also felt quite retro. We haven't seen much class time this year, and it's always welcome in my book. The story presented a simple, but effective, inversion of expectations, if only because Yvette Nicole Brown got to show off Shirley's parenting spark. And Donald Glover remains ever-committed to making really lame jokes work. The montage with Shirley teaching Troy to teach Chang various sports, scored by one of the episode's two random original songs (the other being the very entertaining tag about the Let's chips), worked a heck of a letter better than it should have. The basketball bit was pretty wonderful. Even though the story didn't have much meat to it, it produced a few good moments.
And Abed's completely random runner with the frat? Silly and underdeveloped, but I still loved it. Delta Cubes will never die!
Though Community continues to be a work-in-progress, I'm satisfied if the show turns in enjoyable (albeit weightless) efforts like this one as the creative team figures things out. And even if the writers decide to just ride out the season with this version of the show, I think episodes like this one show that the cast is good enough to make it work.
– Which new Magnitude catchphrases as your favorite? I definitely enjoyed "All Burns Out," both because it's an image to Star Burns and because it doesn't make any sense whatsoever.
– Very little Britta this week, but Gillian Jacobs really sold the disgusting nature of that Pringles rip-off in the tag. And I guess Troy and Britta are still a thing. I appreciate that the show is basically ignoring their relationship while keeping it going.
– Despite the shrinking budget, it's nice to know that Community can still find small moments for the likes of Magnitude, Neil, Garrett, Vickie and Leonard.
What'd you think of the episode?