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‘Community’ Review: “Herstory of Dance”

Community Herstory of Dance
NBC

After a short break, ‘Community‘ returns this week with an all-new episode in which Dean Pelton plans a Sadie Hawkins dance, while Britta plans a competing Sophie B. Hawkins dance (remember her? Yeah…).

Tonight’s episode of ‘Community,’ regardless of quality, gets an automatic pass just for casting Brie Larson in a show that stars Alison Brie, therefore bringing the Alison Brie Larson joke to life. They don’t share any scenes, but that could be changing now that Larson is Abed’s love interest. Thankfully, the rest of the episode is quite charming and doesn’t need to rely on its lovely guest star to lift it up.

Dean Pelton is planning a retro Sadie Hawkins dance, where the girls ask the boys out, which of course gets under Britta’s skin, so she plans a Sophie B. Hawkins dance — only, she meant to say “Susan B. Anthony” and instead invoked the name of the 90s alternative singer who had two hit songs. So now Britta has to follow through on her mistake lest she incur the wrath of more insults from Jeff about her ineptitude. Jeff takes a couple steps back this week, regressing into classic Winger mode, but there’s still hope when Britta somehow wills Hawkins into appearing at the dance and performing (the room full of flannel and Doc Martens was a nice touch) and Pierce of all people reminds Jeff that he should be kinder to Britta. She did help him out with his daddy issues, after all. And Pierce is on a roll lately — first he bonds with Jeff in the season’s best episode, and this week he helps Britta out with a little anonymous assist, calling in a favor to make sure she doesn’t look like a fool.

In fact, everyone’s sort of different this week in a good way. Could it be that the show is finally settling into a rhythm after its jarring Dan Harmon-less return? Should I eat my own shoe now? Not quite yet. But I will give them props for coming up with a quirky and charming story line that manages to give (almost) all of the characters something interesting to work with, and Chang even had a line that made me laugh for the first time since sometime back in season three, with his joke about Hawthorne Wipes: “Perfect for cleaning the dashboard of your ’92 Subaru.”

Where recent weeks have felt convoluted with too many story plates spinning at once, this week only has two plots to work with: Britta’s dance fiasco, and Shirley and Annie vie to set Abed up with ladies they think will be perfect for him for the dance. Abed wants to grow up a bit, but he can’t resist a traditional sitcom trope when he sees one, so he says yes to both dates and ends up totally mismatched with Shirley’s choice, a preacher’s daughter, and Annie’s choice, an overly-quirky girl who talks through balloons and, as Troy comments, is either an alien or a toddler with a growth problem.

But of course Abed gets caught up in his imaginary world, so much so that he misses the perfect lady — a coat check girl (Larson) with a similarly-matched wit and a fondness for playing the sort of make-believe games Abed likes to play. It’s here that Abed learns a lesson we’ve seen ‘Community’ teach before: he gets so wound up with these meta tropes and conventions that he forgets that he lives in the real world, where there are consequences and people have feelings. They aren’t just action figures in his reenactments. And then Shirley actually says, “In the real world people can actually get hurt.” It’s a cute plot filled with fun moments, but I’m concerned with the overt dialogue in the third act, which insists on explaining something to the audience when we just watched it happened. It belies a lack of writerly confidence in an episode that’s otherwise pretty solid and continues to prove that the show is improving week to week.

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