Heading into the Winter break, Community was on a hot-streak, with episode after episode of gut-busting laughs and some pretty touching character moments. Community is at its best when it can incorporate both of these qualities in a single episode, and it tries often to do so – mostly succeeding.

Problem is, once you let something on a hot-streak cool, it may take awhile to heat back up again. That’s what happened this week in Community – it was a week of cooling. And frankly, I don’t think the plot they’ve laid out for the season’s second half is that hot either.

The episode starts with the group talking about their own Winter breaks. Annie met some “cute guy” while doing volunteer work, while Shirley rekindled her relationship with her cheating ex-husband Andre. Chang continues stalking the study group while using his name as a pun.

Once the group gets to Anthropology, the class learns a shocking new development: Prof. Duncan has stopped drinking. While that leads to a few good jokes, it’s mostly irrelevant compared to an even more shocking development: Annie’s crush is Goody-Two-Shoes Dr. Rich, and he’s enrolled in Anthropology. And Troy, capping off the Shocking Development Hat Trick, accidently tells Pierce that Shirley and Chang slept together on Halloween.

Annie tells the group that she wants to make Rich a part of the study group. Jeff, who is predictably jealous (despite claims to the contrary), wants them all to consider a wider field of candidates. And so, it is decided that they will have an Anthropology class mixer while they choose the new addition to their group.

Eventually, an overly extravagant debate is held in which the group chooses who their new member will be. Rich is the early favorite, having won over everyone with his charm, kindness, and Kettle Corn. But Jeff, not wanting Rich in the group, flexes his powers of persuasion and manages to get Britta and Abed to vote for Chang (who contributes with a well-timed slow-clap). Troy and Pierce, making up the Kettle Corn Swing Vote, go with Rich.

When the final decision lies with Shirley, Pierce threatens to “shatter her world” unless she votes for Rich. Shirley instead votes for Chang. Spurned, Pierce exclaims that Shirley slept with Chang over Halloween – an event she does not remember. This creates the “sad violin” part of the episode, with Andre storming off, Rich leaving in embarrassment, and Pierce telling Jeff how he’s ruined everything. It’d be a lot more powerful and convincing if, you know, that didn’t happen 10 times a season.

By the end of the episode, everything is peaches and cream again. Andre says that he’ll help raise Shirley’s baby no matter who the father is. Annie asks Rich out, but he declines, citing their age difference. Jeff, inspired by this, runs off into the rain, and from the hallway of an apartment complex, Jeff professes his admiration for… Rich. Sure, the scene was clever in how it parodied just about every 90’s sit-com or romantic comedy, but unless you have the brainwave activity of a cantaloupe, you knew Annie wasn’t going to be on the other side of that doorway.

The show was still friggin’ hilarious, with its traditional lightning-fast joke delivery, but I couldn’t help but feel the episode lacked some of the show’s more unique qualities that set it apart from other sit-coms. It kept the same formulaic “falling out” scene at the end of the second act, when everyone knows all will be well by the closing credits. It had another appearance of Troy and Abed in the Morning (which is now closing in on “catchphrase” territory). It even set up some phony baloney reason to be invested during Sweeps, as if people who don’t already watch the show on a weekly basis will tune in to see if Shirley’s baby is Andre’s or Chang’s. Or maybe Rachel will end up with Ross. Don’t know. Don’t care.

Other things just seemed off as well. I know they’ve built it up, but I still don’t buy the spark between Jeff and Annie. Sure, there’s mutual physical attraction, but I don’t see a reason why the show needs to keep pressing this relationship – particularly when Jeff and Britta have much better chemistry. And speaking of her, I have trouble imagining Britta – the independent, feminist, anti-establishment hipster – is willing to take her top off for Chili Peppers tickets. Especially for Mezzanine tickets.

Extra Credit:

- This week’s Quote of the Week came from Pierce in what was perhaps a metaphor of Shakespearian quality. “Do you ever go to the bathroom and find parsley in your teeth that our friends hadn’t told you about? Now, imagine your teeth are her uterus, and that parsley is her half-Chinese baby.”

- This isn’t a normal feature, but this week’s Delivery of the Week merits its own category. Troy, after a failed attempt to learn whether Andre and Shirley had sex around Halloween, pouts, “His mind is like a fortress!” Donald Glover could read text from a congressional tax bill and make it sound interesting.

- Best of the Rest:

* The realization that White George Foreman and Black Michael Chiklis are the same person, and that Abed is Brown Jamie Lee Curtis.

* Annie’s deductive reasoning for determining Rich’s age: “30-something, I'm assuming. He has a landline and uses the word "album".

* “You can’t talk and then do a slow-clap.” Good rule of thumb.

* “Oh, he apologized! Well, I guess that really un-bang's that stripper.”

- To end on a positive note, I am happy Shirley was a part of the main plot this episode. I’ve been hoping she’d become a more central character to the show for a while. And yet, I still can’t work this into the main section of my recap.

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