Community "Economics of Marine Biology" Review: Delta Cubes Will Never Die!

Community S04E07: "Economics of Marine Biology"

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.



STUDY NOTES

– 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?

Comments (62)
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Better than last weeks. Maybe the writers have found their groove. Just edge Chang out of the main stream story, and I will perk up a little. Too much Chang equals less everyone else!!
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I didn't mind this episode I agree it may have been one of the season best so far but I disagree when you say you like that their ignoring Troy and Britta's relationship. Last season had this amazing build up and character development towards them bonding and connecting. This season they either don't even mention it or show it at all for episodes at a time and when they do they make them fight non-stop, is it that hard to just make them sit next to each other and hold hands during the study room scenes? It doesn't have to be in your face, just nice and subtle.
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Ah, I finally got around to watching this episode. I remember the days when I'd watch Community when it aired, or immediately afterwards... anyway...

I guess I kinda disagree with Cory's article in that I actually liked the PEE idea for most of the episode, but hated its conclusion. The end of it, with Shirley and Troy learning their lessons and teaching Chang, was awful to me. It ruined what I thought was a pretty funny concept until that point.

The Chevy - Jeff plot could have worked better but something about it felt off. I guess I can say that for the whole season though. Maybe it's that it wasn't funny. Also, and I guess this is half-sarcastic because the show has always tried to teach lessons -- mostly through Jeff -- but Jeff's learning way too many "lessons" this year. Actually, it's probably less about how frequent it is and more about how forced it seems.

Is it just me, or did Abed's Delta Cubes frat story do NOTHING? I guess it's just an introduction to a future episode, but it was just so pointless and felt like a way to have Abed do... something... after the writers realized he didn't fit into any of the other plots. Too bad that something did nothing.

The only two things I kiiiind of liked about the Archie-Dean-Annie plot were 1) the Dean wasn't dressed up and playing some weird caricature, and 2), the bit with Magnitude losing his catchphrase and having stayed up all night to come up with a new one. I agree, though, that the Dean's final speech and having Archie do a complete 180 wasn't a good ending.
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Again they have great ideas and they either intentionally fail them. Or they just don't know what they are doing. Which makes me wonder why the cast hasn't said anything about it. I mean they are really the only thing holding viewers at this point.

In my opinion the show should have went like this. Ax out the PE class, because that was just dumb. I am not sure if they were trying to mimic how great Shirley was in the Foosball episode. But it was just dumb. Who would take a learn to be a PE teaching class. (I say this knowing people throughout my University education that specifically went to school for that {and I am still waiting for an adequate answer} )

They should have reversed the main plot of the episode or at least paired the two. It should have been Abed making the Fraternity with Troy by his side. Pull pranks on the and the "Whale" while the Dean and Annie were trying to recruit him. The pranks getting more and more elaborate as only Abed could do and the Dean and Annie becoming more and more neurotic and desperate as it happens. And then the culmination being that the Whale appreciated the pranks and that is what makes him come to Greendale.

I mean seriously, this can't be that hard. I used to think the writers watched the previous season and just lacked the intelligence to create something similar. But now I am starting to think they didn't watch a thing and just read the synopsis on wikipedia and thought that was good enough.
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I thought this was one of the better episodes of the season. The opening was certainly one of the best. The Let's Potato Chip thing cracked me up. The name has been used for years on TV as a Lay's rip off. I'm pretty sure the Community cast even talked about it in the commentary for an earlier season. I liked the Jeff/Pierce story line, too. It was nice to see them together and too see Pierce not angry. And seeing more of Jim Rash is always a treat.
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I've harped on throughout this season about Community episodes narrative structure and here I get the first episode of the year that has real plots and subplots and thus feels more like a Community of old...but the episode was really flat with very little interest, stakes or humour. There were small positives in the Jeff and Pierce, and Shirley and Troy stuff but not enough. Still I hope the writers follow this kind of plan moving forward as SURELY the comedy component will come good if many of the other elements are in place.
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This season has gone soft, which would be OK if the goal is just to stay on-air, but morals are getting too cheesy than typical winger-speech which actually works humorous than preachy. And it's not the Community sense for moral lesson, this is not Grey's Anatomy, deep ironic words doesn't work in that sense
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Release the whores!
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Does anyone know the song thats played when the Dean says release the whores? Its the first party song. Me and my wife are both trying to find it with no luck
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Freaks Come Out at Night by GOODFELLAZ

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/freaks-come-out-at-night-ep/id413421731
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I liked the episode. Not too gimmicky (when they've tried to go there, they've failed this season). Enough simple laughs from characters being themselves (except for Jeff of course).

Like Cory said, it felt like a Season 1 episode - which means that if the writers have built on this episode, the rest of the season could still be great.
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urg another episode with way too much going on. I think this episode would have been good if there was an A and B story like I could easily see them doing 1 with the W.H.A.L.E. plot and pierce/Jeff then another one with the PEE class and Abed creating a frat (but have a different reason why he would be against the dean.)
I did really Shirley and Troys storyline and I wish that they showed more of it. The whole whale thing i found pretty "meh" but the dean was fun to watch tho (I did like the part with the Dean trying to get Jeff to hang out with Pierce by batting his eyes like Annie does)
Sadly though I'm starting to lose hope this season, sure there has been some entertaining episodes but its really starting to get outweighed by mediocre/overly busy episodes. However Im still looking forward to the Freaky Friday episode that Jim Rash wrote and also the puppet one cuz frankly I always enjoy Community's concept episodes.
Also I swear Ive seen Let's potato chips in other TV shows (Like P&R or 30Rock)
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Ive seen Let's chips in New Girl's S1's thanksgiving(?) episode, and also in an episode of the Middle, but i think theres more examples.
First time Ive ever seen Springles tho
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UGH! DIDNT LAUGH ONCE! Miss you Harmon!!!
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Hasn't the Let's bag been a stock prop for several seasons? I feel like we saw it before. That was why the direct reference to it worked for me.
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Yeah, it's been a recurring prop. The reference was okay, the jokes weren't. That end tag was just awful.
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New Girl (Fox, Tuesdays 9/8 Central).
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Yes?
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No?
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Arrested Development? (Netflix, May 2013)
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I like New Girl, but uh, this comment wins. Hehe.

I'm just hoping six years of not writing anything particularly funny hasn't ruined Mitch Hurwitz's clever humor.
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That was awful. Not one of the stories worked. Hell, not even a single joke worked in this episode. And the Animal House and Lays commercial spoofs? Just atrocious. I'd go so far as to say that this was my least favorite episode so far, and considering how much I hated episode 1 and 3, that's saying a lot.
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Both the Greendale Frat and Let's bits were awful. Only after the disgusting Troy-Britta fountain bit, I'd say this episode's Let's bits were the second worst thing Community has ever done.
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Yes, I'd still say the fountain scene was the worst, but this was close.
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That's too harsh for me, but I get it. It's just an emptier version of the show.
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Thank you!

Dude, I want to shake your hand and buy you a REAL bag of Lays chips.
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This was the first episode this season where I felt some hope that the show would become at least slightly as great as it once was. If it continues with episodes similar to this one, I will continue to watch!
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Community naggers should admit to themselves that there is no great difference between Dan's third season and the current one. Overblown, over the top, and not hilarious. Community concept episodes worked in season two when they were occasional. During season three they were blown out of the proportions of what made Community so great in the first two seasons.
Bearing that in mind, I really don't see or feel anything changed when compared to season three.
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I'm in partial agreement with you. The first two seasons were awesome (except for maybe one or two episodes in the second) while the third was very hit-or-miss. I wouldn't call it an overall horrible season though -- they had about 5 episodes or so that were really great, and another couple I'd say were pretty good... then a bunch that kinda sucked. This season hasn't been much different than the suckier episodes of the third season.
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You're all over the place. First of all Season 2 was at least as dense with concept episodes as Season 3, the back half of the season was littered with them. Now assuming your point that concept episodes are what makes the show weak then how do you equate Seasons 3 & 4 when Season 4 has been light on concept episodes? How can you say nothing's changed when the whole style of the show has been different in Season 4?

Personally I had more issues with some episodes of Season 3 than I did the previous seasons but then there were plenty of fantastic episodes that balanced it out. Season 2 is still my favourite season.
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I didn't like season three all that much, but that's probably too critical.
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Go forward in time and post that after season 4 puts out something even close to season 3's Remedial Chaos Theory or the lesser Pillows and Blankets, or Regional Holiday Music, because, so far, that hasn't happened. Are some of the better episodes of this season as good as some of the lesser episodes from last season? Sure, but the long tail of the quality distribution for each season is on the opposite side of the line that demarcates "good".
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"Are some of the better episodes of this season as good as some of the lesser episodes from last season?" No, not even close. Episodes 4 and 6 were decent, I'll admit, but not even close to even the weakest episodes of the Dan Harmon seasons.
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That's taking it too far. The first half of the first season was just as mediocre as the 4th season.
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No way, the fourth season episodes have easily been the seven worst episodes of the series.
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I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. I'll admit, some of the episodes early into season 3 were weaker than the average Harmon episode, but that was nothing compared to what is happening with the show now IMO. I probably would have given up on the show if it were any other show besides Community, and they didn't have two random decent episodes making me somewhat hopeful it would have more episodes like that than the rest of the garbage episodes.
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I actually thought this episode was pretty good. I wish they wouldn't try to squeeze in so many different things into one episode though. Abed's frat stuff would have been great in it's own episode, as the main story.

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There is going to be a fan-driven Inspector Spacetime panel at Wondercon Anaheim next Saturday. What the FUDGE??? The snake is eating its own tail, ladies and gentlemen!
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Let's preface with the amusement that was Chevy's Pierce talking about having never played golf since the actor really made his first impact after leaving SNL by being a golf expert in Caddyshack, I loved that bit, subtle and fun.

Yeah, there's no question this episode was meant to come before the previous, the "Welcome Archie" glitter banner confirmed that, what a disappointing way for NBC to kill a running gag.

Fully agree that this felt and looked like a Community episode, and that Dean Pelton was a working watchable character for once to the show's benefit.

I felt the Magnitude bit worked, but it definitely walked the razor's edge as a gag so I can see why it didn't for you. The instant kiss-assery at Archie is what I felt seemed forced. Couldn't agree more that the wrap-up to this storyline was too easy though, I don't think it was Rash's fault but the writing that just felt too much too fast.

Jeff and Pierce's barbershop story was great, Pierce got to be a real person and Jeff got to have a little "dad" time and grow up a touch. It sure is weird to see Jeff clean-shaven, adds 5 years to his look, which is the point of the stubble I suppose.

PEE (a joke that went without a joke, actual restraint from the writers!) was enjoyable but the resolution was, like the A plot, a tad unfulfilling for being so forced.

Abed's frat was an interesting idea that I don't think worked at all, it was an idea that simply had no room to work and so it went with dumb cliches and no real story, that was a disappointment. Had it tied into the A plot at least it'd have had justification for existing though it'd have felt just as forced. And the worst part is that this could have worked with a little more work. But it was a background element so it didn't hamper my enjoyment too much.

- Magnitude's best alt catch phrase was "cactus!" but yours is a good pick too.

- Britta also was in a relationship the show ignored for a while with Jeff, maybe she's a stealth monogamist.

- One note I'd like to add is the dopiness of the idea that Let's would have ads, up until that part of the gag I was totally with them, but does Laura Schudders have ads? No. Does any other knockoff chip have ads? No. They're giving the Dean crap for bringing in this cheap off-brand chip and then treating it like it's not a cheap knock-off, that was a joke going in too many directions at once.

- Oh yeah, and how come this community college isn't paid for with community tax dollars?

Overall, this was the most "Community" episode so far, I laughed a bit and had fun with the premise, but it also still had the season 4 "diet soda" feel, something wasn't quite right and it nagged the whole time. And yet once again, an episode that has no gimmick and just stays in school works where the majority of this season doesn't.
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Loved the episode thought it was great, the Jeff and Pierce stuff was good, it`s a shame Chevy had to be all Pierce behind the scenes and now he`s gone!!!! I think the Delta Cubes should have been called the Delta Burkes. Then again I`m 43 and maybe it`s kind of an older reference. Only Pierce would have gotten the joke I guess.
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Not a bad reference, Designing Women wasn't that long ago after all. Oh god it was 27 years ago. :-(
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Could somebody tell me the name of the actor who played Archie? I can't find it on imdb. He looks really familiar and it been bugging me.
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Zack Pearlman
I think he looks like Glen from Accepted. Different actor, similar look.
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Thanks! Now I know why he looks familiar, I saw him on MTV's version of The Inbetweeners.
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Abed was completely useless in this episode.
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I liked this episode. First one all year to feel like a solid, full effort. And giving Pierce an actual character moment was a rare treat, given how dreadfully they've used him this season so far.
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What's with the networks and the random order of episodes? I felt like it was an ok episode and I liked the intervention of Magnitude. Lowest part: Abed and the delta cubes. It was a bit pointless. And Pringles are awesome.
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I agree with your points. I find Pringles burn out faster than Lays, the processed nature of Pringles (they're essentially mashed potatoes in chip form) builds up a greasy feeling and leave a weird starchiness on the tongue where regular potato chips don't - of course, that might be helpful to curb binging. ;-)
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Why doesn't this site have an "Archer" review column? Would it be crazy to have coverage of a really good half hour comedy that airs on Thursdays instead of network fodder that has always been one foot out the door and now is just counting the days. (Reminds me of "Chuck" and the strange obsession with that piece of crap.) "Community" started with "Archer" has never been as good/funny as "Archer" yet has always gotten coverage. "Archer" is going to be around long after "Community" is a footnote on disintegration of a show by the network. Makes no sense.
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(1) This site not covering Archer has nothing to do with Community.
(2) Archer sucks.
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I started late with Archer, so I'm only about 5 episodes into season 2. So far it hasn't been nearly as good as Community seasons 1 and 2. But it's probably better than Community season 4.
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Why do they keep airing episodes in random order? The Archie banner was used *in a gag* last week.
No wonder the show has bad ratings, seeing how NBC treats the damn thing.
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I hope that the Delta Cubes get a whole episode to themselves.
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I liked it.
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"And it was ridiculously dull." Yup, seems like this quote can be used for many shows this week.
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The Frat Delta Cubes should have been the main plot and Archie the subplot. Then there was Jeff and Pierce but also the P.E.E. thing. Four different stories was too much but I mainly enjoyed this ep. We were due for some POP POP so glad Magnitude was back. I hope they get back with a strong Troy and Abed angle since with Britta and Troy things are really separate. Ultimately to have an ep. mostly all at Greendale is so key since there's been so many outside tangents it gets ridiculous. More stuff at Greendale I say since we saw most all of our side characters. Before Community is all over I'd love a complete Dean Pelton ep. where he's the main plot. Never can get enough of him.
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While i agree about Jim Rash, i have to say that so far this season i am actually enjoying Shirley more. I think the last season she was kinda put in the background and this season she seems a bit more pivotal
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This was definitely one of the better episodes this season. I enjoyed the "tender" moment between Jeff and Pierce just because it rarely happens. The P.E.E. scenes were a lot funnier than I expected.
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I agree, way too busy an episode. When the storylines split, there has to be a natural way to weave them back together--a tough job to do in 22 minutes. Also, in these case the writers need to stick to one storyline with the others supporting it. As much as I enjoyed the PEE (hey, "pee," I just got that!) bit, it had nothing to do with the Archie thing, and the whole episode ended up feeling very ADHD. Still loving what the actors are doing, though, especially Jim Rash, Alison Brie, and Donald Glover.
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Delta Cubes! Delta Cubes! Delta Cubes!
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I enjoy how you find something good in most of these new episodes. Only thing I enjoyed about this one was that Jim Rash for once didn't have to wear a silly costume (besides the silly costume of the "normal" dean :D )
Even Pierces complete political incorrectness was toned down to a level where Jeff could accept it but thereby it got boring to listen to his banters.
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