One of the few negative comments on my “these episodes are why I love Community” article was a guy who said that the show "became an unwatchable disaster of a show in season 2", which most consider to be the superior of the two completed seasons. If I had to guess, I assume he was referring to the show’s reliance on high concept episodes in the 2nd season; whereas S1 only really had a couple ("Modern Warfare", the “Goodfellas” episode, etc), it seemed nearly every week of their sophomore year found the study group doing something off-kilter: Pulp Fiction/My Dinner With Andre, the clip show, the bottle episode, the zombie episode… there were very few “normal” episodes of the show.
Well that guy should be happy with “Urban Matrimony And The Sandwich Arts”, as should NBC execs since the episode is an easy enough entry point for what will hopefully be an increase in viewership (ratings will be out tomorrow). For the first time in ages, they’ve actually been promoting the show – the return from hiatus, Jim Rash’s Oscar win, etc have provided NBC’s marketing team with ways around the show’s admitted difficulty in looking appealing based on a 10-15 second promo. Unless Abed is dressed up as Batman or Pierce is engaging in a classic Chevy Chase pratfall, there’s not much to work with for the guys who cut these brief promos together, which is why they often just don’t even bother. Lot easier to just show Mariska Hargitay saying something snappy to this week’s SVU rapist – folks can “get” that.
Luckily, the push is for a good, if not spectacular episode. It’s easygoing and charming like that guy’s beloved S1 entries, sans any “gimmicks” or high concept nuttiness that might scare away some of those new viewers*. The main focus is on Shirley, who is being goaded by Pierce to start a sandwich business with him in the school’s cafeteria, while also trying to plan her re-wedding to Andre (guest star Malcolm-Jamal Warner) after he delivers a charming proposal in the show’s opening scene.
What works best about this episode is that it gives everyone their own little subplot that naturally branches from the main thrust of the episode. Pierce’s needs distract Shirley from her wedding, Jeff panics about having to give a toast about love (which he doesn’t believe in), Annie and Britta are tasked with helping plan the big day, and Troy and Abed realize that they have to act like normal human beings for once. Unlike the Foosball episode, it doesn’t just drop two characters off (Pierce and Britta were MIA for the bulk of that one) in order to focus on everyone, which again makes it a good entry (or re-entry) point for those who don’t watch every episode – everyone gets a good moment or two. Even Pierce gets quality time; we learn of new developments at his company (with some nice acting from Chevy here), and gets the episode’s tag all to himself for the first time in the show’s history, I believe.
Of course, this is a double edged sword. While it’s nice that everyone gets the spotlight, it does feel a bit cramped in the storytelling at times. For a brief portion of the episode, Andre turns back into the jerk we heard about in S1 (before we ever met him), and it seems a bit out of nowhere and is resolved just as quickly. As I’ve said before, this show could occasionally benefit from being an hour long (like similarly beloved/low-rated Freaks & Geeks) to give these plot points a bit of room to breathe, but I guess condensing what could have been an hour’s worth of story into a half hour is a better option than simply ignoring the show’s stellar cast, or cutting out some of the funnier bits. What would you rather have – a little bit more time with Andre getting frustrated, or Troy and Abed’s bizarre attempts to be normal? Speaking of which – have the sound designers on a sitcom ever had as much fun as they do on Community? The barrage of nonsense we hear in the Dreamatorium even tops Dean’s presumably horrifying, heard-but-not-seen Greendale ad from “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux”.
Most importantly, everyone gets comic gold this week. Britta’s drunken outburst at the wedding rehearsal is bound to be a favorite among fans, and there’s a wonderful little bit about Joel talking Troy out of wearing turtlenecks that for me was the episode’s funniest line (yet it didn’t go over as well as some others at Paleyfest, where I first watched the episode). There’s also a lot of great interplay between the characters; Shirley’s casual dismissal of Annie’s giant book of wedding ideas and her reaction to Britta’s offer to help provide some of the biggest laughs Yvette Nicole Brown has ever gotten on the show.
So again, it makes for a nice starting point, not to mention a pleasant, “the gang’s all here” tale for the first new episode in months. Not every episode has to be described via pop culture (“Goodfellas”, “Pulp Fiction”, “D&D”), nor does the show, to borrow a phrase, need to “disappear up its own ass” to satisfy the die-hard fans like me. Nope, “Sandwich Arts” is just a plain ol’ good episode of a terrific show, one that should easily make a solid first impression on new viewers – and tonight, they were the ones that needed to walk away happy. See you next week.
*If you ARE a new viewer and are reading this: the monkey is Troy’s, has been living in the vents for a while now, and her name is Annie’s Boobs. Inspector Spacetime is a Doctor Who-esque show that Troy and Abed love. I have no idea what Pierce’s wedding “ranking” was about (he’s been married seven times, yes, but that seemed oddly “in-jokey” to me), so I got nothing there.