TV Review: COMMUNITY 4.07 “Economics Of Marine Biology”

A Season One-style plot makes for a great, funny episode.

"You have the spatial reasoning skills of a young Kevin Miller. A really good PE teacher I know."

I never shared the sentiment (obviously), but there are some Community fans who believe the show was at its best in the first season, finding season two (my favorite) to be too up its own ass or whatever. And while I'm sure they've long since abandoned it (if they couldn't even get behind S2, how would anything in the past year win them over?), if they are for some reason reading this review, I invite them to check out "Economics Of Marine Biology", which reminded me of several season one episodes whose names I can no longer recall off the top of my head, but hopefully "the sailboat one" and "the billiards one" would suffice.

That is mostly due to the B (or C?) plot, where Shirley and Troy have enrolled in a Physical Education Education class (Troy thought that the listing of "P.E.E." was just a typo in the Greendale course "cartalog"), where no one really does anything strenuous and instead the students train to become a physical education instructor. It's the sort of goofy nonsense class we saw a lot in the first season (and in an all-too-brief montage in the third season clip show, "Ladders"!) but has been largely abandoned since then, as they've focused less on the school and more on its student body. Which is fine, obviously - at this point I'd happily watch the seven of them just hanging out at one of their apartments ("Remedial Chaos Theory" proved this, handily), but I can't deny I was thrilled to see this sort of thing again, and hope it's not the last in this season.

The main plot gave Jim Rash plenty to do, which is never a bad thing (the two best laughs of the night are just from his reactions to things, and thankfully once again they don't put him in goofy costumes for no reason). It comes to his attention that a rich idiot is considering coming to Greendale, which is a godsend for a community college as they will never graduate and keep sinking money into the school as they take course after course without ever progressing toward a degree. As Dean explains, they've already gotten one - Pierce Hawthorne himself, who has taken 80% of the school's courses and is the only one to ever buy their pencil warranty. But after a drunken visit from the school board members Carl and Richie (I seriously love these two), Dean realizes that the school won't impress this "whale" as is, and has Annie and some others go around creating a "Mountain Dew fun tent" and redecorating the cafeteria to resemble the party in Project X. Meanwhile, he keeps telling Archie total lies, like that Shaun White is a professor there, in order to ensure that he enrolls and drops the money needed to fix up some of the school's lacking areas (Britta explains that the biology class has been dissecting the same dead pig for ten years). Obviously, things eventually go too far - Archie demands exclusive use of saying "Pop Pop!" - and Dean has to make a choice between this walking pile of money and his dedication to actual Greendale students, and it actually gets the best use out of Magnitude since his first appearance. Kudos to episode writer Tim Saccardo for taking a one-joke character and actually finding a real use for him, and to the set design team for the blackboard where Magnitude has sketched out some alternate phrases (I particularly like "Haaaaamburger!").

But in order for this plot to work, Pierce has to be kept away from the school, as he would get jealous about this new guy stealing his thunder as the school's golden child. Thus, Jeff is forced to hang out with him at an old barbershop that Pierce frequents, only to discover that he actually enjoys it as well. Of course, Pierce finds out that Jeff wasn't there out of the goodness of his heart and wanted to leave as soon as Archie's tour of the school was concluded, leading to a sad little moment for Pierce and a trademark "Jeff realizes he was a dick, makes amends" scene. This is something we first saw in the show's second episode (the Spanish "play"), and it's something that has been completely abandoned over the years, either because they didn't want to keep exploring their father/son dynamic or because Chevy Chase was such a pain in the ass* that no one wanted to bother writing lengthy material for him, but either way it was good to see again.

There's also a go-nowhere subplot about Abed trying to start a frat for the sole purpose of messing with the Dean, but it didn't really work for me - it seemed like an idea they had for a whole episode, couldn't crack it, and decided to just toss it in to give Danny Pudi something to do. Again, it seems like the new runners are afraid of leaving someone behind for an episode, something that happened quite a bit in previous seasons (and not always just Chevy) and is problematic when they have three other stories to tell. Luckily, it's basically just a glorified running gag and not a real subplot, but still, that 90 seconds could have been used letting the other stories breathe a bit.

Honestly though, that's my only real complaint about this one. It's not as emotionally successful as the Thanksgiving episode, but it's funnier, putting it as a tie for me for the season's best offering. Everyone gets at least one laugh out loud moment, and even the throwaway gags tend to be more on point than they've been on average this season - I particularly liked the explanation for the school's abundance of "Let's" chips, as well as Leonard's commitment to the foam pool. And speaking of Thanksgiving, it definitely takes place after that one as its events are mentioned twice, and it seems Britta and Troy are indeed still together. So hopefully any episode reshuffling that might have occurred is in the past, and with this and Thanksgiving being such strong episodes, it seems the new writers have started meshing well with the veterans and will hopefully provide a more consistent, enjoyable back half of the season (there are only six left!).

*I actually got to watch some of these scenes being filmed thanks to a certain person who works on the show letting me come on set for a bit, and for all I know it was a fluke, but Chevy was on his best behavior the entire time. He knew all his lines, didn't argue about a particular joke or anything, and he even offered to stick around for McHale's angle where his photo double could have sufficed. Obviously that wasn't always the case, but I thought it was worth noting, especially since it was very late on a Friday (i.e. at the end of the week) where he probably was starting to get tired, as any human would. And I guess one can take my opinion of the episode as being partially biased because of my little visit, but honestly as much as I love Chevy and Joel and seeing their characters together, the scenes I was present for (the last two in the shop, where Pierce sees the text from Annie, and when Jeff comes back to apologize) weren't even my favorites of the night - I loved the other stuff and I didn't know anything about it.