COMMUNITY Review 6.04 “Queer Studies and Advanced Waxing”

The new format allows Harmon to go long - too long.

"Why would a plumber be fighting a monkey?!?!"

When a movie starts running too long and seems to have multiple endings (the ROTK effect), I often yell an exasperated "END!" at my television (I don't do this in theaters, I assure you). Until today the outburst was reserved for feature films. But then I watched "Queer Studies and Advanced Waxing", the fourth episode of Community's sixth season, which runs over 30 minutes (!), with the show coming back from one of its ad breaks at a time when the tag would usually be starting, except now it's kicking off the third act. The episode HAS no actual tag, but when they kept it going even longer for a dumb/obvious gag, I hit my breaking point. I was happy when last week's episode was reigned in to about 25 minutes after the bloated first two, but now they're going even further in the other direction.

Now, there isn't much fat within the episode's three plots themselves - but one of the plots didn't really work for me beyond a few gags. That would be the "Queer Studies" part of the episode title, where the school board guys (who I otherwise always love to see) offer Dean Pelton a job on the board - if he admits that he is gay. Seems they canceled a gay pride parade in favor of a school board parade ("They're always fancy, we get ONE day!" Carl, or Richie, yells in defense of his actions), and are facing heat from the gay community and the like for seeming anti-gay. Hiring the Dean would fix their problems, but there's a problem - the Dean is uncomfortable with labeling himself as gay, since it's only "roughly 2/7ths" of what he actually is (the dalmatian poster in his office is a hint to one of those other 7ths, I assume). But he does it, and then things go wrong, and he has to out himself as a politician, which costs him his new job, and then... it just keeps going, and while there are scattered laughs (I particularly loved his growing exasperation with the gay boyfriend he hires as some sort of beard), it was one of those things that got less interesting as it went on, with a truly bad resolution that seemed grafted in from another script entirely. And with his scenes offering little interaction with the regular cast, there was also a disconnect; it reminded me of one of the Chang or Pierce plots that they'd do just to give that actor something to do that week, and probably could have been saved as the B plot for an episode where the only had one other thing on deck.

The 30 minute length makes me curious for this show's inevitable 22 minute edit (for syndication, and also current UK broadcast), as the aforementioned disconnect might be a blessing for whoever has to make those edits. If Dean's plot was removed entirely, the episode would probably come in at the usual time and be stronger as a whole, but it might be a bit tricky since it crosses over at the midpoint with Abed and Elroy's adventure. The thing that causes more strife with the community is Dean refusing to fix the school's wi-fi, a problem he had tasked the "new IT lady" Elroy (with Abed as his self-assigned assistant) with repairing. It doesn't take long for Abed to find the problem: a bird's nest has been made inside the router box, and he won't move the nest to fix it because it means the mother won't come back (having been 'abandoned' by his mother in season 2, you can see how Abed would take particular issue with the idea). Elroy opposes him at first, but eventually comes around, with the two of them standing guard over the router box to make the birds are kept safe. This is where the storylines cross paths - Dean agrees with their decision and keeps the school from getting their wi-fi back, which is seen as some sort of gay-driven weakness by the other board members and whoever it is they answer to. It's not the sturdiest connection; you can imagine the loving and kind Dean doing the same thing even if it was his only appearance in the episode, but it still might not be a very smooth edit, if that's the route they choose. The other option is trimming all three subplots, but I'm not sure if they can excise EIGHT whole minutes without the episode being incomprehensible. Sure, scenes here and there can be trimmed a bit, and the montage of Dean on the cover of gay magazines could/should be removed entirely, but what's that? 90 seconds? Two minutes? It seems there is no way to get this down to the 22 minute time with trimming alone - this thing needs an axe, not a nail file.

As for the other subplot, it's probably the strongest, which is weird because it's a Chang-driven one. He is trying out to play the Daniel LaRusso role in a stage production of The Karate Kid, and has Annie accompany him to the audition for support. During his terrible attempt to act, the play's director (Jason Mantzoukas, so good that I let it slide that it wasn't the usual theater guy played by Kevin Corrigan) notices Annie in the crowd and asks HER to try out for LaRusso, with Chang switching to the more obvious choice of Mr. Miyagi (which Chang was trying to avoid). He keeps telling Annie she's doing great even though she's not, while verbally (and coming just shy of physically) abusing Chang with every syllable he utters, because he actually sees something great in Chang and is trying to wrestle it out of him with tough love (sort of like Whiplash, but also that one Ralph Macchio movie from the 80s, what's it called...). It's some of the best acting Ken Jeong has done on the show in ages, and it's also the rare time where they use him as an actual human being instead of some bizarre hanger-on. The play goes on a bit long (there's another 30 seconds!), with repeated cutaways to the audience really getting into it (we get it, they're mesmerized), but with so many characters gone it's nice that they've finally figured out something else for Jeong to do beyond just play an insane person. I don't think he has one really odd moment in the whole 30 minutes, in fact, and hopefully they'll keep on that track as the season progresses.

It's also the rare episode where Jeff has no real part to play; he consults Dean on his decision to out himself (and the two have a wonderful moment where they silently discuss the possibility that Frankie is also gay; it's so delightful seeing Jeff treat Dean as a pal!) and goes to Chang's performance along with everyone else, but that's about it (though there is a sweet recall of "Milady", "My lord" as they exit the play). Ditto Britta; she listens to Annie complain about the director being so mean to Chang (she eventually quits, but the director doesn't care since he didn't see any talent in her anyway), but otherwise it's an off week for her as well - it's testament to the show's ensemble that they can get away with sidelining the two top-billed stars for a week and still produce a mostly decent episode. With no apparent maximum runtime being imposed on the writers/editors, I guess we can thank them for holding back and not giving the pair their own "D" plot while they're at it.

That said, the episode does finally offer one thing the season has lacked so far: a full blown study room table scene! With Elroy and Frankie now comfortably at their seats (Shirley's and Pierce/Hickey's, respectively), it starts off like any old episode: everyone is sitting around, ribbing each other and catching up, and then the Dean comes in and does something silly (I love that he promises everyone, including Frankie, that he'll fix the WI-fi, and demonstrates this by writing "Fix the Wi-fi" down and handing the paper to Frankie). Elroy gets in some more "catching up" dialogue (apparently the terabyte was a pipe dream back in his day), and we also finally, sort of, get an explanation for the two Paget Brewsters running around Greendale. Well, more like a resolution - Frankie says she called the IT lady (who was played by Brewster last season) and just gets a "high pitched whistle that makes my nose bleed", which sounds like a movie's explanation of what might happen if someone went back in time and encountered themselves, so I guess that's that. Elroy is hired in her apparent permanent absence, and that's probably the last they'll ever speak of the confusion again. I preferred my twin sister theory from the 1st episode, but at least that leaves the door open for us to meet her actual crazy relative down the road somewhere. Frankie is a solid character but I feel they haven't done much to really round her out yet (she too has little to do in this one beyond listen to Dean and go to the play), so bringing in a family member and letting the others be HER moral support for a change would be nice. I also love that Elroy seemingly reserves all of his frustration for Britta; he barks at her TWICE in the episode and it's comic gold both times (the above quote is the first).

I'm torn on this one; the cold open was terrific and I loved all of the Chang stuff (and I'm not a die-hard Karate Kid fan; I don't think I've seen it since I was like 9), as well as Abed's sad bird story (the nest is eventually moved, and two of the three birds die despite his efforts - it's heartbreaking, really*), but "2/7ths" of the episode is devoted to an increasingly dull subplot that produced minimal laughter for me. Dean's plot was at its best when he was deciding whether or not to "come out" - perhaps they should have dragged that out for the episode and let the fallout be its own thing in a later episode? Regardless, for me it ping-ponged between being the season's high and low point. Except for the 1st, which took until Halloween to really come together, every season has produced a full blown classic by now (S2 - "The Psychology of Letting Go", S3 - "Chaos Theory", S5's lie-detector one... hell even S4 had one of its highlights in its first few episodes, the one in Pierce's mansion), and I'm starting to worry - if these "solid but not great" episodes are going to be the best of the bunch, what will the "bad" ones look like? They just finished shooting last week, but it's unknown how far along they are in editing - hopefully the feedback from this first batch will have the showrunners reconsider their editing approach and start making some sacrifices for the sake of producing stronger episodes as a whole.

*For the past week or so I've come home to see an in-progress bird's nest in a corner under my patio roof and had to knock it down; I'd be happy to let them stay there and do their thing but they bring mites and other hazards along with them, which is bad enough for an adult but a lot worse when a baby is involved. Also: bird poop. But damned if it doesn't make me sad to ruin their whole day's work (and try again to block their spots with plastic bags and other junk, a process that seems to be a total waste of my time), so this helped a bit - better to move their nest BEFORE the eggs are in it. Maybe they'll just take the hints and find a new spot before it's too late for mama bird. Thanks, Community!