TV Review: COMMUNITY 3.15 - “Origins of Vampire Mythology”

Brian really likes the surprisingly sweet latest episode of Hulu's official best TV show of the year.

“I need help reacting to something.”

Those who think that the Chevy voicemails are some sort of publicity stunt won’t be swayed by “Origins Of Vampire Mythology”, which the actor’s (year old) rant could be describing to the letter. The episode is funny, but it seems more focused on drama and the characters' emotions than trying to wow us with amazing jokes, and, yes, it ends on a Winger speech. Then again, since Pierce doesn’t really have any romantic entanglements with the group, he actually gets a number of laughs in his subplot while the others deal with their past, present, and future relationship hang-ups. If Chevy indeed has no interest in Community’s dramatic aspects (based on Dan Harmon’s description, the bit that he walked out on would have been the most heartfelt and wonderful interaction Pierce has ever had on the show), perhaps this episode should be used as a template on how to make everyone happy.

Anyway, the story wastes no time getting started, with Britta laying out the plot in the cold open. After Dean Pelton arrives to inform them about a carnival taking over the parking lot that weekend, Britta realizes that her ex, a carnie (laughter) named Blade (more laughter) will be around, and she’ll be powerless to fight her undying want for him. Thus, she tasks Annie with safeguarding her phone to prevent herself from texting him, and also to keep her under watch like a werewolf on a full moon so that she doesn’t break down and see him at the carnival. Most of the episode then takes place in the apartment that half the group lives in, as a reunited Troy and Abed try to watch Blade (the vampire movie) while Annie keeps Britta from trying to see Blade (the carny). As you might expect, it’s not so easy, and Pelton complicates things by showing up for “guy’s night” after a visit from Dean Laybourne (John Goodman – who wasn’t promoted as being on the show this week, which is good since he’s only in it for 30 seconds and that would probably annoy viewers who tuned in to see him). Laybourne still wants Troy to join his air conditioning repair school, and intimidates Pelton into assisting him after crushing one of his toy Dalmatians (the bastard!). I won’t spoil Pelton’s genius, complicated plan to convince Troy to join, but it’s worth the wait to see him finally carry it out.

Meanwhile, Jeff has Shirley pose as his wife so they can go to the carnival and figure out why Britta is so obsessed with Blade, who runs the duck shoot game. It’s nice to see them together again, and Joel McHale and Yvette Nicole Brown have terrific chemistry as Shirley grows increasingly exasperated as Jeff gets more and more obsessed with trying to figure this (seemingly average in every way) guy out. Apart from their drunken near-marriage in “Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts”, Jeff and Britta’s history hasn’t really come into play since S2’s “Paradigms Of Human Memory”, so it’s nice to see them go back to this subplot without it being the focus. In fact he only interacts with Britta twice in the episode, spending most of it (and 300 bucks) trying to uncover Blade’s “secret”. When he does find out, it results in the aforementioned Winger speech, which for the first time ever I think is not peppered with humorous asides (Ben Affleck – you’re safe this time!).

And then Pierce becomes best friends with Chang. This is a throwaway plot for the most part (unless it has ramifications for “Chang Rises”?), but it’s the first time they’ve been paired up in ages, so it has some novelty value. Basically Pierce is tired of not having a best friend in the group like everyone else, so he asks Chang to fill that role. They pal around, fight over nothing, and then we get to see Chevy cry over a sad ballad. It’s worth noting that this week’s script is attributed to Harmon himself (the first since “Horror Fiction In Seven Spooky Steps”), so whatever issues he has with Chevy behind the scenes (if they have indeed been at war for a year as the press suggests) hasn’t clouded his judgment when it comes to writing for the character. It may be superfluous compared to the rest of the episode, but even with the limited screentime you can still see Harmon’s “embryo” process in effect: Pierce wants something, enters an unfamiliar situation, gets what he wants…

It also scores a lot of its laughs just from the cast bouncing off one another, particularly in the apartment when Britta gets her phone back (“She’s using her phone as a PHONE!”). It’s always good to see Dean hanging out with the group instead of just wandering in and making announcements, and even Pierce puts a little faith in Annie (and scores one of the best laughs), much to everyone elses’ surprise/bafflement. Even more impressive is how tight it is; for the first time in ages, not a single supporting Greendale student appears. Laybourne and Blade are the episode’s only characters beyond the main cast; I expected to see Garrett or Magnitude buzzing around the carnival but the script admirably keeps it focused on our core group (a nice change of pace after the last few, which have featured just about every Greendale student we’ve ever seen). It might not be the funniest episode of the season, but I’ve spent enough time with these folks to not really care how it stacks up against others in that regard, as long as I walk away feeling like I watched a half hour of quality television featuring characters I’ve grown to love. And if that half hour involves Alison Brie trying to impersonate a carny, then bonus!

Ultimately it’s just a very sweet episode, especially in the third act when one of the group realizes what must be done to stop Britta from trying to see Blade (shippers – enjoy!), and Jeff’s speech resonates a little with pretty much everyone (except Abed, who just wants to watch Blade). And thus, it’s another one that pays off the care and respect the writing staff has for these characters and their histories with one another, further elevating it above just about every other sitcom on the air right now. Community has no “reset” button like Two and Half Men or The Office, where nothing really affects status quo because it’s forgotten about by the time the next week rolls around (remember how Jim helped save Dwight’s job a few episodes ago? Because neither of them apparently do!). The first 10 seconds of the episode remind us that Abed and Troy have recently quarreled and reunited, and Jeff is still excited about his newly discovered locker – you might think that the attention to continuity isn’t even necessary, but it stealthily helps strengthen the reality of the show, which in turn is why people love it so much.

Speaking of which, today it won Hulu's "Best in Show" award! The promise of six seasons and a movie inches ever closer...