In a season defined by behind-the-scenes production turnover and a resulting (and continuing) rediscovery of the show's characters and voice, there's been one constant on Community: really solid performances. The praise for Dan Harmon's writing has pretty regularly dominated the cultural conversation about the show, obscuring the fact that it boasts one of the strongest ensemble casts in recent TV history. The good news is that now that the writing isn't as strong (and as much as I'd love to just ignore that fact, it's impossible to do so; the writing isn't as good without Harmon's last-minute, drunken re-writes), it's much easier to notice what the actors bring to their roles. While they can't always make up for staid writing (see: Alison Brie's strained showing in "Conventions of Space and Time"), every episode this season has had at least one very nice performance.
"Herstory of Dance" has to be one of the most innocuous episodes in the history of Community. There wasn't a whole lot that made me angry, the way other episodes this season have. It thankfully didn't involve Nazis, nor did it prominently feature Troy and Britta fight-yelling (fyelling?) in a fountain. But it also continued this season's trend of being generally "not not funny," and lacked some of the emotional punch we felt during the Thanksgiving episode. It was Community by-the-numbers, for beginners.
Yet, trapped amidst some very basic "just fine" stories that wouldn't have been too out of place in the latter half of Season 1, there was a nice, almost moving performance from Danny Pudi. Pudi enjoyed some pretty complex stories last season, and I'd argue that he made some of the lesser material better, just as he did here. "Herstory of Dance" certainly wasn't on-par with the dramatic turns he's offered in episodes like "Virtual Systems Analysis," but there's no way that a formualic story about two dates at once and the best choice hidden in plain sight should've worked as well as it did. Pudi really embodied Abed's excitement over the hijinks, and he ramped it up even more once Abed recognized that he actually liked Coat Check Rachel better. The moment with Abed awkwardly taking the microphone from Sophie B. Hawkins, even though he hates that trope, worked, as did the final little moment between him and Rachel.
At the beginning of the season, the writers seemed interested in driving Abed further off the deep end—yet "Herstory of Dance," at least initially, made more of an effort to make him "normal." He's gone through these sorts of normalizing periods before, but I'm hoping that Coat Check Rachel actually brings him out of that. Not because I don't want to see a more complex Abed, but because I don't think the writing staff as it's constructed now knows how to write sad, complex Abed. So screw it, make him a little happier and give him a woman. Frankly, after some of the horrible things he's gone through over the last few years, he deserves it. And I felt like Pudi sold Abed's desire to truly try something new very well.
Elsewhere, there wasn't much meat on the bones, but the episode was still mostly enjoyable. Though we know that Chevy Chase is now gone and was probably already checked out by the time these episodes were filmed, he's been kind of great this season. I enjoyed the hateful, spiteful, villainous Pierce in Season 2, though the character was pretty aimless in Season 3. But this year? Pierce has mostly been a dense old coot with more of a heart than we've seen in a very long time—and Chevy Chase knows how to hit those simple emotional beats tremendously well.
As a result, the (obvious) revelation that Pierce helped bring Sophie B. Hawkins to Greendale to give Britta a win was not as lightweight as it probably deserved to be. The story was so sparsely developed—Britta said the wrong name, turned into the skid of the lie, and just waited for it to blow up in her face, like always—that I kept waiting for something else to happen. But that's not the show anymore, and Pierce giving Jeff a little shit about trolling Britta at all times, especially when she did truly help him with his father, was far from the worst ending the show could have provided for a story about dueling dances. The text message apology/congratulations (capology? angratulations? I'm making lots of portmanteau suggestions this week) from Jeff to Britta made me smile.
Still, I'll say again that it's very fascinating the way so much of this season's story focuses have reverted to Season 1. This was another episode predominantly about some combination of Jeff, Pierce, and Britta with wacky Abed hijinks. Troy, Annie, and Shirley had so very little to do that it was embarrassing. At least Troy got to wear a mustache and randomly balance a lot of cups stacked on top of one another in the background of a shot. I'm not necessarily upset with the emphasis on Jeff, Pierce, and Britta because I think Pierce and Britta could both use a few wins now and again and if that's going to happen, Jeff is forced to reconsider his acerbic remarks in their direction. I thought for a moment that the end of this episode was heading toward some sort of weird Jeff-Britta reconciliation and a truly terrible love triangle involving them and Troy, but I'm glad to be wrong. If this season continues to be amiable enough and at least forces Jeff to really respect the two people in the group he's abused the most, that's fine enough. And fine enough is okay!
– I couldn't put my finger on who was playing Coat Check Girl Rachel, and it took me most of NBC's Thursday-night comedy lineup to figure it out. But Brie Larson! We like Brie Larson.
– Awake references are always, always appreciated.
– Pierce trying to get his email on that one computer because the post office was about to close was one of the season's better jokes to date.
– I had no idea who Sophie B. Hawkins was before or during this episode. Barely recognized the songs. But I appreciate how committed the show was to the silliness of the bit.
– Here's a look at next week's puppet episode:
What'd you think of "Herstory of Dance"?