S3E11: Welcome back, old friend.
Community has generally come out of hiatuses with some of its lower-concept episodes—the pilot, the introduction/dismissal of Buddy (which, although predating its high-concept run, was arguably the first truly meta piece of work Community gave us), the Jeff vs. Britta battle of spite kicking off Season 2. And although the high-concepts are the show’s claims to glory, this is always a pretty good idea. Before we start gallivanting off into paintball games and zombie attacks, we need to take some time to remember why these people are worth sticking with through these ridiculous adventures. This week’s “Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts” does just that. In spades.
The various smaller storylines revolve around one central event: Shirley’s wedding. At the beginning of the episode, Shirley’s ex-husband/boyfriend Andre (Malcolm-Jamal Warner) proposes to her, and quite musically I might add. Everyone is thrilled, save for Britta. The proposal comes just in time to overshadow Shirley’s plans to start a sandwich business with Pierce—a conflict that represents a character arc that has been following Shirley for a while now.
Back in a deleted scene from the Season 2 finale, Shirley admitted to Britta that now that she was reunited with Andre, she was considering giving up her plight for higher education and her own food-oriented business, much to Britta’s disapproval. I was disappointed that the show decided to remove this scene, because it highlighted a conflict in Shirley that had seemingly gone ignored otherwise. Her decision to get back together with Andre has infringed on her development as the character we met at the beginning of Community: the woman who admitted proudly in front of her entire accounting/seize-the-day class, “Now it’s time to get what’s mine.” Throughout Seasons 2 and 3, this abandonment of her original journey has gone primary unaddressed. But thankfully, “Urban Matrimony” tackles the issue head on.
"I've loved you since there was a Cold War and only one Damon Wayans." - Andre
Britta convinces Shirley to allow her to plan the wedding (cue literally two full minutes of laughter on Shirley’s part) so that Shirley can have some free time to pursue getting her business off the ground with Pierce, who is passionately invested in this new project. He has secretly been fired from Hawthorne Wipes by the board of directors (they were waiting for Pierce’s father to die before giving him the boot). Shirley concedes, and the two make great headway in convincing Dean Pelton to allow them to open a sandwich stand in the Greendale cafeteria.
However, this business meeting makes Shirley late to her own wedding rehearsal (the whole engagement lasts about a day), which drives Andre furious. He lambasts her for her choosing business over him, and even spouts out some sexist commentary about how once they’re married, he’ll be the breadwinner and she’ll be the stay-at-home mom, just like they used to be.
This seems like a point of no return for Shirley and Andre—his behavior is pretty obscene. But that’s the thing about Shirley episodes: like their focal character, they’re loving, and forgiving, and although maybe a little bit in denial, generally good inside. Shirley and Andre make up quickly, with Andre vowing to be more open-minded and understanding. If you’re a Britta (guilty as charged) this may seem a little hack. But if you’re more of a Shirley, you’ll appreciate the good-natured turn for a sometimes dark and cynical series.
And even though Shirley’s and Pierce’s business does not take off—the Dean sold the cafeteria space to Subway out of spite over not being invited to Shirley’s wedding—it is understood that Shirley will continue her entrepreneurial endeavors. Let’s hope we do see more of that. I want Shirley to have it all.
"Shut up, Leonard! Those teenage girls you play ping-pong with are doing it ironically!" - Jeff
All the while, Britta finds she has an unexpected knack for wedding planning. And she couldn’t be more miserable about this. Britta hates the very idea of marriage, weddings, plans, conformity—you know the drill. But her bitter acceptance of her true nature as a “traditional” woman, destined for a stable marriage and a “conventional” family, drives her to drink.
She’s not alone in her drunken stupor. Jeff, plagued with the task of making the wedding speech, turns to alcohol. You’d think master speaker Jeff would have no problem with this, but there’s a key to his talents: B.S. Jeff can speak freely and convincingly about anything that means nothing to him. But as a child of a very messy divorce, the idea of marriage haunts and weakens Jeff.
In one of the episode’s funniest moments, the drunken pair of marriage-hating narcissists takes the altar at the wedding, pledging vows to one another in front of a minister and their friends, purely out of intoxicated sorrow, desperation and their unequivocal need for attention—stopped just in time by a furious Shirley. Above all, this is a great “welcome back” move for Community. There’s nothing like a good explosion of the Jeff/Britta psyche to remind us how complicated and valuable (not to mention just plain funny) these characters are.
“Troy and Abed being normal.” – Troy and Abed (not sung)
As one would expect, the key to the episode lies in the hands of everybody’s favorite duo: Troy and Abed. As ordered by Shirley, Troy and Abed have to promise not to be weird at the wedding. In order to ensure this, they spend an entire day in the Dreamatorium (that is the happiest half-a-sentence I have ever written) getting all of the weird out of their systems. When they emerge, Troy and Abed are what Troy and Abed consider to be “normal people.” Wearing normal clothing, making normal small-talk, and engaging in normal wedding activities, like dancing and recommending hors d'oeuvres to fighting fiancées. And believe it or not (if you’re a fan, you probably do), every single second of each of their performances is unabashed comic brilliance.
They eventually snap out of it after prolonged normalcy—Troy spots Annie’s Boobs crawling around the vents, reminding him instantly of who he really is. All it takes for him to win Abed back is to put a bowl on his head and pretend they’re playing Inspector Spacetime. They accept that they like who they are far better than they do their normal counterparts, and go on being the greatest members of human society in the history of the planet Earth.
The episode ends with Pierce yelling at his father’s grave, proclaiming himself the first Hawthorne to open a sandwich business (he has not yet heard the Subway news). The scene is cut off quite abruptly, which provokes a little discomfort and a lot of laughter…eventually.
It is so good to have you back, Community, and in such perfect form. While this episode is not likely to be in your Top 10 of the series’ best, it is an adept welcome back for the show we’ve missed and worried about since its hiatus was instituted. And if this spoilerific but way awesome trailer is any indication, there are nothing but even better things on the way, for the next six seasons and a movie.
Do you think this is a good way to get back into the swing of things? Would you like to see Shirley really make her dream of a cooking business come true? How about a drunk Winger/Perry wedding? Let us know in the comments section, or on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter. And rejoice! Greendale is back!