S2:E10 Community’s getting ballsy, but not in the way you might think. This episode, they’ve benched most of their trademarks and attempted change things up a bit. Abed’s constant film and pop culture references are thrown to the wayside and instead the show gives us – dare I say it – something a little more meaningful. While at first I wasn’t so happy with this bold move, it grows on you as the episode progresses. The turn towards seriousness actually is quite a testament to the show’s ensemble.They've managed to make us care about these people without us even noticing. When they finally wind down and come to their conclusions and life lessons brought about by the drunken antics of Troy’s 21st birthday party, it’s not even annoying that they aren’t all sticking to their usual knee-slapping antics. That’s when you know you’ve done your characters right. Bravo, Dan Harmon.
Despite winning me over by the episode’s close, the cold open, which is almost always something zany and jaw-dropping, was a little lackluster this time around. It’s Troy’s birthday, but he’s a Jehovah’s Witness so his cake just says “Hello During a Random Dessert.” Pierce complains that he didn’t get a birthday party, but they all play on his old age just telling him he’s forgetful. It was cute, and even though this episode was a change of pace, I’ve come to expect more from the start.
Annie’s prepared a list of birthday facts for Troy (typical bookworm activity), including a list of people born on that day and his Chinese sign – a horse. But he corrects her, he’s actually a snake. After a little confusion, Troy explains that he was born in 1989, which makes him 20 because you “everyone turns 10 twice because 5th grade is really hard for everyone.” This means he’s actually turning 21, and he quickly blows over the damage his mother did by lying to him about his age, but who cares. Let’s drink. They leave Pierce in the library digging through cake in his blow-powered wheel chair while Jeff takes Troy out to “bathe in manhood.” Britta and Jeff take up sides on the Douche and Hipster sides of the bar scene, arguing about which super cool bar to take Troy to. Annie’s upset because these plans will exclude her, but Britta the badass has her covered with a fairly good fake in a matter of minutes. (Note to underage kids, real life doesn’t work that way.) Annie, being the studious egghead she is, feels she needs to prepare for her fake Texas I.D. Oh, no does this mean she’s going to do that awful southern accent all night? Yes. Yes it does.
Dad (Jeff) calls Mom (Britta) to find a suitable replacement because their inoffensive bar choice is actually closed. Jeff decides on a new location – The Ballroom (both fancy and ironically gross, score) – but Shirley starts to panic because it wasn’t part of the plan. This becomes one of the side plots when they finally reach the ballroom, where Shirley is apparently a regular. Troy hopes to get his picture up on the wall, but as Shirley spends the entire night finding pictures of her shit-faced mug all over the bar (including one of her clutching 10 beers like Gollum and the Ring), we start to get hints of where this whole drinking escapade is going once it becomes lesson time in the episode’s third act.
On the way to the bar, Jeff continues to play the dad role, sharing his wisdom about moving on to the next chapter of life and joking with Troy about getting to drive his car now that he’s a man. (This is thankfully broken up by Abed’s attempt at laughing along with Jeff and Troy, which he immediately realizes isn’t working. Nope, stick to awkard facial expressions, Abed). The lessons continue at the bar where Britta and Jeff are teaching Troy the ways of the (drunken) force, poo pooing his idea for his first drink to be a 7 and 7 because his uncle, who just DIED, used to love 7 and 7s. Despite the fact that I completely agree that 7 and 7 is a lady drink, even I can see past the drink itself and get to the fact that Troy wants to order it for a reason that’s actually kind of sweet. Of course Jeff and Britta are too wrapped up in their super cool alcohol culture to notice and they dive into an argument over what “grownups” drink. All the while they’re mixing their cool kid know-how with parental stylings, using phrases like “follow your heart” when helping Troy decide how he should celebrate his 21st birthday (which he isn’t even supposed to be celebrating because he’s a Jehovah’s Witness).
This whole time, Annie’s been panicking about her fake ID, despite being let in without so much as a glance at her ID because she’s a hot girl. (Britta the bar-hopping know-it-all, however got the oh-so embarrassing ID double-check scan. Ouch; I guess she doesn’t know everything after all.) Annie’s got the thick southern accent in full effect, and works up her courage to finally order a real drink – a root beer – and then an even more real drink – a screwdriver. As she gets more and more tipsy, she starts opening up to the bartender, first making up stories about her life in Texas as a drifter who grew up on a trout farm (yes, because your school girl style doesn’t give you away at all, Annie; and what the hell is a trout farm?) and eventually working up to talk about her “friend” Annie who plans everything out in her life and doesn’t even know who she is.
As everyone’s learning all about the wonders of alcohol, Abed’s been making friends – or friend. While killing it at Asteroids, he meets a fellow nerd-culture enthusiast as Shirley comes by, still ripping pictures of herself off the walls. The guy buys him a drink but soon Abed is trapped with mega nerd at the bar. The predatory nerd gets up the courage to ask Abed to move their conversation somewhere more private, and being the android that he is, Abed completely misses the point. His nerdy companion is forced to be blunt, asking him if he wants to have gay sex with him and berating him for not picking up on it sooner. Abed says he did, but he wanted to keep talking about Farscape. And here comes the sassy drink in the face.
Pierce somehow makes his way to the bar, where the bouncer ID’s the ancient man in a freaking wheel chair – seriously? Pierce gets stuck in the vestibule, unable to control his crazy, fancy chair, but too proud to let the bouncer help him. And that’s where he’ll stay for the rest of the episode until Britta, Troy and Jeff find one of Shirley’s embarrassing pictures which drives her out of the bar. Troy immediately feels awful about upsetting Shirley and heads to the bar to get his obligatory first drink. As the bartender mixes it, he looks around, seeing the adverse effects alcohol’s had on all of his friends. He leaves his 7 and 7 at the bar and takes the authority role just as it turns midnight, carrying his drunkards out of the dive bar.
He’s not even upset that he didn’t get super drunk for his totally sweet 21st birthday (woooo), he’s just happy to be driving Jeff’s car. As Jeff and Britta drunkenly argue about their respective douche bars, they find that they’ve been talking about the same bar the entire time and of course Troy is pissed. He finally truly realizes that they aren’t any wiser than he is, they’re just as naïve and stupid as he is but about different things. I always knew Troy wasn’t completely empty headed, and it’s nice to get moments when he actually gets it.
Troy drops Annie off at her crappy apartment and that’s when things get real. Under the harsh fluorescent light in the hall, Troy comes to the conclusion that alcohol just makes people sad and Annie agrees – she was just drinking to get over her problems with herself. She doesn’t even know who she is. Troy gives her a pep talk, touching on all her qualities and saying how great she is. She drunkenly hugs him and goes into her apartment. As he comes back to the car, Jeff and Britta are drunkenly making out like horny teenagers as Abed sits by awkwardly. They mercifully stop just as Troy (new Dad) returns. Suddenly Troy assumes the fatherly role and apologizing for getting angry about the bars and finishing up by yelling at Abed for being a tattle tale (he tattled about Jeff and Britta making out, but it may as well have been “She’s touching me!!!!”).
The tag wasn’t anything to marvel over, it hit about the same note as the lackluster cold open, but it couldn’t have been easy to find something to end such a heavy episode with. Normally, I’d be annoyed about a sitcom trying to teach me something about life, but Community has such a humble, but authoritative way of teaching us as viewers that I can’t help but appreciate.