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Monday, April 6, 2015

COMMUNITY Makes Some "Queer" Choices

Article first published as TV Review: 'Community' - "Queer Studies & Advanced Waxing" on Blogcritics.

This week’s Community on Yahoo! Screen, “Queer Studies & Advanced Waxing,”does a number of things. It gives Chang (Ken Jeong) his first subplot in quite awhile. It solidifies the evolving partnership between Jeff (Joel McHale) and Frankie (Paget Brewster). And it references the character Brewster previously played on the series, a lingering question these past few weeks. Overall, it’s a fairly solid installment.

For those that may have forgotten, Brewster appears as the IT girl for one episode in the middle of season five. When her casting as Frankie was announced, I wondered how Community would handle it. Sadly, hopes of establishing a tie between them as sisters, or seeing them interact in any way, seem to be dashed by “Queer Studies & Advanced Waxing.” I can’t help but think that the show’s weirdness could have done so much more than just establish that no one knows where she is and she’s been slacking at her job, a choice many lesser sitcoms would likely make. I guess there’s still a chance Community could tackle her missing person case, but it just doesn’t seem to be the way the show is going.

The new IT girl is Elroy (Keith David), which makes a certain amount of sense. True, he’s old and plenty outdated on modern technology, but this is Greendale Community College; they don’t have the budget for anything too new, and their standards are mediocre, at best. Elroy is exactly the type of IT person one would expect such an institution to have, and it gives him a larger role than as a student, expanding his possible reach on the series.

“Queer Studies & Advanced Waxing” sees Elroy and Abed (Danny Pudi) finding a bird’s nest in the router, breaking all Wi-Fi for the campus because, for some reason, there’s a single, unsecured box that provides Internet connections to everyone. No matter, it’s a good opportunity to demonstrate who Elroy is and help him better connect with his peers as he attempts to live up to Abed’s expectations and keep the birds alive.

Though, the episode does leave a cliffhanger when the surviving baby bird flies into the main transformer. Greendale survives without Internet, sadly sans the type of disaster reaction the school normally goes through. Could the writers be setting up a loss of electricity as an even bigger problem?

I don’t think so, and that’s a little sad. As much as I’ve praised Community for maturing and going more grounded, and in general I think it’s a good move, wasting such a blatant chance to throw the student body into a frenzy in favor of other, more toned-down subplots, is a tad disappointing. Hopefully, there will be other episodes that make up for this later in the season. I’m enjoying season six a lot, but there haven’t been many of those “love it to death” moments that occur in previous seasons.

Comm604Chang is often a catalyst for some of the crazier things the show does, although he also tends to live on the fringe, not totally connected to the others. That sort of changes in this episode. He plays Miyagi in a stage production of The Karate Kid, and under the tutelage of director Matt Lundergard (Jason Mantzoukas, The League), finds a way to emotionally reach the study group. I doubt acting will be Chang’s calling and new direction, but any chance where Jeong gets to actually show some range and get some development is more than welcome.

Lastly, “Queer Studies & Advanced Waxing” finally answers a long-standing question: Is The Dean (Jim Rash) gay? Most viewers have long assumed so, and that’s a natural inclination, given the character’s behavior. However, by having The Dean declare that gay is only 2/7ths of his sexuality and that he’s so much more than that, they execute a brilliant twist. It makes absolutely perfect sense that The Dean would be completely unique in this manner, and I hope it challenges at least some preconceptions in the audience about how sexuality is a fluid thing, sometimes not easily definable.
There’s also a hint this week that Frankie might be gay. Could there be a Jeff / Frankie / Annie love triangle with Annie (Alison Brie) the focal point instead of Jeff? That would be super interesting. Please show us that!

Community drops fresh episodes on Yahoo! Screen every Tuesday.

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