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Friday, May 8, 2015

"Grifting" COMMUNITY

Article originally published as TV Review: 'Community' - 'Grifting 101' on Blogcritics.

On this week’s episode of Community on Yahoo! Screen, a grifter (Matt Berry, The IT Crowd) comes to Greendale and decides to swindle the students by teaching “Grifting 101.” If that sounds a little meta, well, this isn’t the first time the series has gone in that direction, and couching the whole thing in the community college’s version of The Sting, complete with simple piano music (including for the theme song) and sketched images, gives a stylistic, enjoyable experience. Though he leaves sans tar and feathers, let’s hope the grifter doesn’t darken the halls of the institution again.

Much of the plot of “Grifting 101″ is pretty easy to see coming. Jeff (Joel McHale) declares the class a hoax the moment that the Save Greendale committee brings it up. Despite this, five of the seven members fall for the scheme, Jeff and Frankie (Paget Brewster) being smart enough to abstain. But of course the gang comes back to Jeff for help when they realize he is right. And Jeff makes it seem like he’s losing to the huckster over and over again, even though intelligent viewers know that has to be a part of his plan.

The only time Community has me doubting the certainty of the outcome is when Jeff is forced to admit in the storage closet that he doesn’t have a plan yet, which probably ends up being part of the plan (I think; or maybe the plan is solidified after this?). The Save Greendale Committee and the school at large are not the most clever bunch, even given the way Jeff cheats at being a lawyer for years. (Community did it before Suits, for the record, though I love Suits, too.) A real grifter could come easily in and take full advantage of them. For a second, it looks like that might happen.

It all comes together in the end, though, as it must. Community sometimes gets dark, especially this season, but a loss in “Grifting 101″ would be worse somehow. Perhaps because the failures of the characters are almost always internal, found when a person tries to overcome something within themselves. To have a villain from the outside get one over on the cast is intolerable. Greendale exists in a protective, delusional bubble, and that’s the way it must stay. At least until the end of the #sixseasonsandamovie

The finale of “Grifting 101″ is pretty awesome, keeping with the tone of the show and serving the premise. Leonard (Richard Erdman) wheels a hotel cart full of briefcases in the professor’s way, and a briefcase parade taunts him. It’s goofy stuff, to be sure, but I like that this is Greendale’s version of an elaborate set and a host of extras. The flashbacks to the briefcase switch, with Abed (Danny Pudi) loudly banging the cases and the professor not noticing as he makes out with Britta (Gillian Jacobs) is icing on the cake, even if it stretches the believability that the group gets away with the scheme a little bit.

“Grifting 101″ doesn’t do much for the overall continuity or character development of the show, but I find myself OK with that. Most of Community‘s episodes this season have served the whole, and it’s acceptable to have a stand-alone adventure once in awhile that is merely fun for fun’s sake.

My only disappointment with the half hour involves the tag, in which we learn that Jeff has been basically using a gym buddy as a slave all these years, possibly inadvertently. It’s a humorous concept, and it’s even OK that it’s introduced this late in the game. My issue is that it probably won’t be followed up on, and that’s a shame.

Also, Jeff gets a new office mate and no mention of Hickey? C’mon!

Community posts new episodes every Tuesday on Yahoo! Screen.

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