‘Community’ Review: “Origins of Vampire Mythology”
This week's 'Community' revives Troy and Abed's friendship and brings the welcome -- albeit brief -- return of John Goodman and that fabulous braid with an episode about obsession with past relationships in "Origins of Vampire Mythology."
But is the crux of the episode a clever plot device to deliver a delightful moral or a crack that's resurfaced in the overall plot of the series?
First, let's talk about Dean Pelton and that adorable train conductor's outfit. Jim Rash steals almost every scene he's in this week with spot-on line delivery ("I don't know how!") and timing. He informs the study group that a carnival is coming to Greendale for the weekend, which has Britta worried because her ex-boyfriend works at this particular carnival and she's never gotten over him.
Her ex, Blade (played by Kirk Fox - Joe of 'Parks and Recreation'), has that enigmatic power over her and she can't quite put her finger on it. Jeff and Shirley decide to head to the carnival to figure it out, while Pierce -- unable to solidify a friendship with anyone in the group -- decides to Buddy up to Chang. Meanwhile, Britta has Annie hold her cell phone hostage and keep her distracted for the weekend while Troy and Abed decide to watch the movie 'Blade,' obviously.
Jeff's breakdown with Blade, begging to know his secret ("or are you just a human mirror? Do we all see what we wanna see in you?"), is a highlight of the episode. Joel McHale makes it difficult to come down on the redundancy of Jeff's feckless struggles with egotism when he's so damn charming week after week. His inability or refusal to learn from each episode's experiences has become a familiar endearment.
We're given a quick line from Jeff as a reminder and reassurance that he isn't in love with Britta -- this, coupled with Annie's fawning makes it difficult to tell if this is a self-aware play on viewer engagement in romantic entanglements or if this episode is falling into a trap. Supposing it's the former, it's been done -- and better -- in the first season finale and the beginning of season two. If it's the latter, which seems incredibly doubtful, it's a letdown; a lazy plot device to fill dead air with words.
The climax of the episode gives Jeff the grand realization that no one should be going to anyone else and it's all some Hallmark-esque ploy by commercials to weaken our ability to rely on ourselves. He opines that we give the people we're enamored with too much power over us, turning them against us when we're our own enemy. It's a positive, familiar idea that we can't be in a relationship until we learn how to be there for ourselves, but it's punctuated with the idea that we make other people hate us in all the ways we hate ourselves.
While the "will they or won't they" relationship tango is a staple of sitcoms, and 'Community' clearly doesn't resent its forebears, instead choosing to embrace and manipulate the constructs of the atypical sitcom with all its well-worn perks and pitfalls, the Jeff and Annie story is possibly problematic. The sporadic resurgence of this plot when we're given episodes with nary an acknowledgment of its existence is mostly to blame. It seems that if Harmon and Co. want to embrace this trope and play with it (and 'Community' is quite good at being self-aware and bucking convention while still paying loving homage), they should just go for it.
Otherwise, with the "will they or won't they" aspect is too intermittent to truly cohere with the rest of the series. When other sitcoms engage in these romantic follies, it's consistent week to week. 'Community' has only brought it in occasionally, making it feel out of place when it rears its head.
And make no mistake about it: The idea of Jeff and Annie is an incredibly cute one, owing chiefly to Alison Brie's sensational doe-eyed charms.
"I need help reacting to something."
"I spent my carnival years pregnant."
"She's whipped by an imaginary douche!" "Hey, don't knock it until you try it."