Community Watch: Competitive Wine Tasting

Community is unique in that its main character is, for the most part, a terribly unlikeable human being.

When stacked up against the other NBC comedy protagonists, Jeff is the only one who seems like kind of a sleazebag. Michael Scott is dumb, but lovable. Leslie Knope is naïve, but lovable. Liz Lemon is quirky, selfish, and kind of a racist, but lovable. Todd Dempsy is an ignorant “bro”, but… he’s…

Anyway, there’s really no reason for me (or any of us) to love, or even like, Jeff Winger. And yet, he still manages to win us over every week. His natural charisma and genuine decency (albeit buried deep down) shines through and we forget how much of a bastard he’s been for most of the episode.

Why is this? Dunno. Probably because the show is too damn funny, and it speeds along too quickly for us to get a chance to reflect. Or it may just be because the other members of the ensemble compliment Jeff so well that we view them not as individual characters, but more as equal parts in an amorphous blob of excellently timed comedy.

In this week’s episode, Jeff is definitely showcasing his less-appealing qualities. At their wine tasting course, Jeff and Pierce go after the same beautiful Chinese woman, Wu Mei. After Jeff strikes out, and Wu Mei gets engaged to Pierce on a whim, Jeff is hell-bent on finding a reason for this that allows him to reassemble his pork-fried snapped ego. Jeff suspects Wu of robbing the grave, or angling for a Green Card, but she’s both a US citizen and independently wealthy.

Finally, Jeff discovers Wu is actually working for a rival moist towelette company (which is attempting a hostile takeover of Pierce’s company). He broadcasts this knowledge aloud to everyone at Pierce’s engagement party, completely failing to take into consideration the feelings of his friend. Then he feels bad, does the right thing, and tries to set the two of them up on a real date –despite their deceit.

That may sound like an easy resolution, but… we’re not writers. We’re TV patrons. Story doesn’t matter here. All that matters is the quantity of meta jokes we’re exposed to in a half-hour.

Speaking of which, it was a bit surprising to see that the most meta storyline of the episode did not revolve around Abed. That honor belonged to Troy and Britta’s acting class B-story, which featured the return of Kevin Corrigan as Prof. Sean Garrity.

Troy and Britta enroll in an acting class at the behest of their dance instructor. Troy quickly finds that his lack of childhood hardship and insecurities has alienated himself from his classmates, and from Britta (whose hotness Troy had only recently discovered). In an effort to win all of them over, Troy fabricates a story in which he is sexually abused by his uncle… since the ladies love damaged goods (or at least Britta does). Britta grows more attracted to Troy, and Troy perpetuates the lie, despite warnings from Abed.

Troy’s conscience eventually gets the better of him, and he admits to his friends and to his class that he made up the story. Garrity accepts Troy’s admission as proof that he also suffers from pain: specifically, the pain of not having enough pain. Then he shatters the fourth wall in the hammed-up performance of a lifetime.

Abed’s storyline also features an excellent guest-starring performance; Stephen Tobolowsky joins the cast as Prof. Sheffield, who teaches a class that analyzes Who’s The Boss. Tensions are high as the class begins, as Abed immediately challenges Sheffield’s authority on the subject. Abed postulates that the boss is Angela, while Sheffield subscribes to a more complex theory.

Sheffield allows Abed to teach the next class so Abed can defend his assertions. Big mistake. It this point in the series, Abed’s acumen of pop culture has been built up in a way that he is much grander than mere mortals on the topic of television study. He does not disappoint; by the end of the class, Abed has converted his peers and Sheffield himself to his way of thinking.

Sheffield is visibly broken as his views are dismantled before him, but come on… you can’t go toe-to-toe with Abed on TV. Abed imparts his knowledge like a hurricane, destroying all opposition in his path… with himself at the eye, observing. And so we learn that the boss is not Angela at all, but Abed.

Extra Credit

- While watching episodes like this, I’m glad I live in an age where TiVo and Hulu exist. This show is just so dense with comedy that it’d be impossible to catch it all on a first viewing. For example, take my Quote of the Week: When Shirley mentions that there’s a joke writing class at Greendale, Annie responds, “Oh, don’t take that; I dropped it after the lesson on set-ups. The professor is so old…”. On its own, it’s an obvious throwaway joke, but Annie’s eyes on the reaction shot sell it so well.

- Other favorites:

“It’s hard to be Jewish in Russia.”

“For homework: drink a glass of cognac in a bathtub.”

“We don’t discuss the special gym.”

“He refused to drink Pinot Noir because he thought it was French for Black Penis.”

“Oh geez, I better get back there before they start playing Monkey Drop... don't ask.”

“I liked her. She was busty... I thought we had something.”

And lastly…

“Don't preach to me about romance, Annie. I had a three-way in a hot air balloon.”

You know what? I take back what I said. I love that guy.