‘Community’ Recap: Custody Law & Eastern European Diplomacy

S2E18: I think my excitement about Community’s renewal may have overshadowed the show itself, (there were a few seconds of happy dancing that I really wish my co-workers could un-see) but as usual the show delivered a great episode with a few unexpected twists that can only be described as awesomely hilarious. Another thing I love about this show is that even when they don’t rely on these crazy themes (or “gimmicks” as some more negative folks might call them) like paintball warfare or Dungeons and Dragons battles or secret trampoline gardens, they always churn out something entertaining, hilarious, smart and completely unexpected.

“Why is everyone in this school obsessed with race?” –Jeff

“Hah. White people problems.” –Britta

Another thing I love about this show is that they never tiptoe around racism. I just cringed because that sounds so offensive, but wait, I do have a point here. They’ve got two extremely racist characters, Pierce and Chang, and they are not afraid to use them; but what’s great about having those characters around is watching the way the rest of the group responds. From Shirley’s polite objections, to Britta’s haughty, yet misinformed reactions to Jeff’s equally haughty, yet even more hollow complaints, to Annie’s attempt to be so culturally aware that she wraps back around to racism, the chain reactions throughout the group are what makes it work.

But beyond that, the bit that I loved from this week’s cold open was the “bargaining system” they set up with Pierce. I’ve been growing tired of how awful he’s become in the past few episodes, but it seems like the writers are finally starting to put all that bad to humorous use which is great because his character has become so rotten, that if they don’t start bringing it back to funny I think he’s in danger of becoming too awful.

“If it’s mine I’ll be a lovable uncle. Okay, a creepy uncle. Final offer.” –Chang

Anyway, this episode mostly centered around Shirley’s baby daddy drama. Now that her Halloween tryst is out in the open (something else we can thank rotten Pierce for), she’s not sure whose baby she’s having, but she and returning guest star Malcolm Jamal-Warner decide they’ll raise the baby as a family no matter who the father is. Aww, such love. But there’s one, glaring Changry problem…it’s, well, Chang. He wants to be a part of the child’s life, but Shirley wants him out. She even draws up a contract to get him to resign all rights because, well, he’s Chang. He’s crazy, and not in the lovable Abed sort of way.

“Don’t saw the floor, don’t saw anything. I’m tired of confiscating saws.” –Jeff

Of course, Chang won’t sign and Jeff sees an opportunity to finally get Chang to get a job and get off of his super expensive leather couch. It’s almost adorable how childlike Chang is; he tries to fix Jeff’s table, but of course ends up screwing it up and he tries desperately to prove to Shirley that he can be a good father. Apparently being a good father means dressing like the dad from Leave It To Beaver, smoking a pipe and kidnapping some lady named LaShonda’s kids because he’s too racist to know that they aren’t Shirley’s. This was where the plot got kind of great. The whole turning over a new leaf with Jeff behind him all the way for his own selfish reasons bit was set up and expected as long as you’re familiar with the characters, but the last act descends into insanity and gets just a little bit real – but not too real. Don’t worry.

When Chang picks up not-Shirley’s kids from school and Jeff forces him to apologize to Shirley and quickly takes the kids back “home” Chang calls in a kidnapping charge and Jeff lands in the slammer. Whoops. Of course, Shirley clears everything up and ends up convincing the kids’ mother to press charges against Chang who’s dragged away like a madman on death row. Even though this whole bit was by most accounts intense and pretty dark, the Community element came out and made it madcap and brutally hilarious. Chang calling the bald police officer “Officer Baby” certainly didn’t hurt.

I also appreciate that Shirley isn’t so right all the time. Yes, she’s ultra-religious and serves as a semi-matriarch for the group when it’s convenient, but she can be just as selfish and screwed up as the rest of them. It’s this extra dimension to these “zany” character that is a crucial element that separates Community from other, more generic sitcoms. These characters are all insane, but they’re also grounded in more humane struggles – they just play them out in more extreme ways than most of us would, but that’s why they’re so entertaining.

“How about if we promise to go easier on you if you promise not to tell us any details about the guys you’re dating unless they’ve committed genocide.” –Troy

“Or if they’re left-handed, I wanna know about that. I’m making a chart.” –Abed

Oh hey, guess what? Britta’s ruining something, AGAIN. Everyone’s favorite downer has the hots for Troy and Abed’s new video game buddy and after she’s “ruined” their other friends, including Jeff “nipple play” Winger, they forbid her to hook up with Luca. Of course, as Jeff points out, telling her not to hook up with Luca was a guarantee she would and though she promised that she wouldn’t screw this one up she really couldn’t help it. Why? Oh, simply because Luca is a WAR CRIMINAL. Genius. Of course, Britta would get all googley-eyed for a dude who not only committed genocide, but talks about how much he misses killing those “dirty people” while he’s trying to HOOK UP with a hot girl.

Britta, being the extreme person she is and being totally aware that she’s constantly a downer tries desperately to keep Troy and Abed from finding out the terrible truth from her, eventually framing Luca for stealing their beloved Kickpuncher Blu-ray. But of course, Abed has a security camera so he can get footage for the documentary he’s making about his life (of course he’s making a documentary about his life, OF COURSE) and they catch her stealing before they find out that Luca’s past is pretty terrifying. This whole storyline was great because not only does it redeem Britta a bit because she really tries desperately to not be a buzz kill – aww – but the scene where Luca uses his real life experience to help Troy and Abed get major points in their violent video game while they have no clue how brutal the guy really is was a brilliant little exchange. It’s just another example of how Community has the ability to take awful, uncomfortable truths and use them to comedic effect – something few other comedies can attempt successfully.

The tag was rather short, giving us a quick shot of the group hanging out by spending all their time on their phones or computers or iPads (OF COURSE Abed is using an iPad) but my favorite part was how everyone else is using their technological devices to go on Facebook or Twitter or text, Pierce is plugging away on his ancient, giant calculator. He probably thought he was chatting with Wesley Snipes again.

The episode didn’t really deliver some of the fireworks of the last few, but like the “Mixology” episode back in December, this episode proves that at its foundation, Community is a well-written, solid comedy and that the fun themes are just icing on the cake, really.