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Community Review: “Competitive Ecology” (Episode 3.03)

"Competitive Ecology" (Episode 3.03)

Community has always been a divisive show. Some that fell in love with the original season, were not too fond of season two’s more over the top thematic episodes. It moved away from a more grounded school setting, and explored deeper themes by the use of “high concept” episodes. And similarly, I think some might not like season three, because it’s found itself more grounded again like season one, with the exception that more of the themes explored here are internal ones. And those internal themes might not always be pretty. At this point, because both season one and two had such different personalities, different people have different expectations for what Community should be. Me? I just want to spend time with the study group. Community has always been about the characters for me. I would be stating the obvious if I said humor was an important factor in comedy (d’uh d’oy”). And of course Community has always been great when it comes to humor. But, no amount of clever writing and hilarious jokes can make up for a lack of characters you really care and feel for. For me, this has always been what has separated Community from other comedy shows. I actually do care about these individual characters, and why they are the way they are. I want to know why they are so screwed up. This week’s episode showed an interesting shift in the groups problems, as they start to focus dealing with it outwards.

Just like last week’s episode, the story was split up between Chang and the group. And while I loved Chang and Britta’s plot from “Geography Of Global Conflict”, I kind of found it jarring in the context of the episode’s overall plot and pacing (but still hilarious). This was not a problem with tonight’s episode. It actually strengthened it. Chang’s bizzarro detective story was played out with subtlety, which made it all the more hilarious and to be frank, fucked up. One of my only complaints of season two, was in fact, Chang. I wasn’t fond of their use of his character after he became a student. I think everyone can agree, Chang is a much better character when he’s in an authoritative position and given something to do. And damn, was it a great decision to have Chang become the school’s security guard. Not only have his plots been funnier, it just gives the character more room to breathe. While we could argue that Chang has always been insane from the very first season, his break down after job loss made him almost too depraved. I mean hell, the guy was living in the school’s vent system. And while yes, Chang is still downright disturbed (I’ll get to that in a second), his, craziness is brought back down to a level that fits him much better. Tonight’s episode focused on a noir-style mystery, that comes out of complete left field. After putting in time (which is really just a week or two at best), Chang is “finally” ready to be promoted from a guard to a detective – or at least that’s what he tells his lover, who is a female mannequin leg. Did I mention that he’s living like a hobo in a boiler room behind the kitchen? Chang’s fascination with a random girl kicks off his absurd mystery case, with each clue along the way making no sense at all. His incoherent mystery eventually leads him to the schools kitchen being burned down. The head of security says they need to call the cops, because there is a ton of fire codes being broken, and things not adding up. Chang believes the conspiracy with the Arizona match company is behind it, and proposes this as the real solution. The best part of all this? The Dean agreeing with Chang’s theory, because he doesn’t want to get in trouble for allowing Chang to live at the school. The head of security quitting and stating that he thinks Chang is crazy was hilarious, because the Dean didn’t seem to care one bit about what he was saying. In fact, he gives Chang the promotion to head of security (not that the title means anything, they aren’t even getting paid), and ponders if he was just doing right by the school.

In last week’s review, I asked if the study group was Narcissistic? The answer was pretty obvious, and has been, for much of the show’s run. Of course they are. But it seems to me, season three is pushing that envelope a little harder. Not to say the group hasn’t been dismissive of others outside of the group before. Because they have. But in the past, the group would usually do this unknowingly, as they were wrapped up in whatever their group had going on. This is totally applicable of tonight’s episode, except they are now taking the groups issues and throwing it off on others almost blatantly as a means to survive. It’s an interesting evolution. The episode had a bit of a dark tone to it. Just like the premiere, the group’s relationship starts to cave in when their personalities start to clash. Their story explores what happens when you spend too much time with the people you love, as well as the problems that can occur with being too dependent on something. After getting their first assignment from Professor Kane, the group quickly freaks out when they are all assigned partners that are not in the study group. God forbid they have to get to know other people in their school. They immediately run to Kane to ask if they can pair together instead, since that’s how things are done at Greendale. Kane okays it, but is a bit baffled as to why they  are so bent on having things in a specific way: “Why do I keep having conversations here, that make no sense?” The scene where the group breaks up with their original partners was hilarious, if not downright mean. I found Todd’s observation to Pierce to be poignant: “It’s okay, I understand you just want to be with your friends”. It kind of shows to a degree, how much the group is either in denial about their dependency on each other, or just their lack of understanding it. They have to make excuses to get out of their partnerships, instead of just being upfront and saying they want to work with their friends. However, the problem arises when each pairing realizes they have to be partners with that person for the entire year, and they start to see the flaws in having their good friend as their lab partner. Annie is of course annoyed by Jeff’s lack of interest in doing work. Britta is annoyed by Shirley’s constant chatter about her kids and religion. Abed and Troy realize they have nothing to talk about, since they live together. And Pierce, well he is stuck with Todd, the “outsider” that isn’t worth his weight in dirt, since he’s not a part of the group.

This all leads to the groups confrontation in the study room as they discuss the “Todd Problem”. Yep, suddenly their dissatisfaction with each partner is all Todd’s fault, because no one wants to pair with him. But someone has to, so they can all switch their current partners. The entire thing came off brutal, as they all talk down to Todd, and almost act like he’s not even in the room as they talk about him. Ironically, Todd is the most stable one in the room. He has a wife and kid, he’s sure of his life and has goals. He’s an Iraq war veteran. It’s safe to say, he’s actually pretty bad ass. Yet, the group is so focused on their internal fighting, they are just using him as a scapegoat to take out their anger. All of this comes to a head, when Abed pairs the group up using an algorithm that pairs people off by popular with unpopular, to balance it out. Jeff assumes his pairing with Todd is because he’s the most popular,  and Todd is the most unpopular. But then he finds out that Todd was actually listed as more popular, and it was Jeff who was the unpopular one in the pairing. All of this sets off a hilarious conclusion where Todd just loses it and scolds them all for being terrible people. They are no more acting as friends, as they are as enemies. And their personalities are toxic, to even those outside of the group. The group then calls it quits, and realize they had been there all night, and class is already starting. The group fails their assignment, Annie passes out. But instead of fighting with each other more on the issue, they chalk up the entire incident as being Todd’s fault, and unite in making fun of him. If anything is to be taken away from this episode, it’s that the group is evolving. Whereas in the past their internal issues would blow up and cause them to fight and take a temporary time out from each other, this semester they have found a way to cope with that, and that’s taking out their baggage on something other then the group. There’s almost this sort of twisted unification here, and well, they are kind of a bunch of assholes in the grand scheme of things. It’s really interesting to see what the writers will do with this. I imagine that this new unification of the group, could eventually take its toll on those around them. Will there be an episode where eventually the school wants the group out? So many possibilities.

“Competitive Ecology” by all accounts was a fantastic episode. In fact, I would say it’s easily the strongest episode out of the three that have aired so far. It was funny, it had good pacing, there was an interesting evolution of the group, and the overall episode came together extremely well. I can understand if some are not digging the negativity that the group has been displaying lately. But personally, to me, it makes perfect sense that this is the way the group is evolving, and finding a way to handle their baggage, so that they don’t take it out on each other. And I have no doubt that as the season goes on, Harmon will dig deeper and explore why these individuals are so screwed up, and how that plays into the group’s baggage.

Grade: A-

Best Lines & Other Random Thoughts

  • Professor Kane calling the group the “mean clique” was appropriate. Their reaction to it (specifically Annie) was great.
  • Professor Kane’s bizarre rant on legos was hilarious.
  • “Here’s Abed and I dressed up as Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy” “Awwwwwww” Annie: “Who’s Nick Nolte?” “Awwwwww”
  • As someone that has attended a Community college in recent years, I found the 2 cents to drink out of the water fountain to be hilariously accurate. Obviously no school has done that (have they?). But with school funding being cut ever year, I thought this was a great touch to add to the realism that Greendale is in fact, a struggling college.
  • “We have to keep this whole living situation kind of quiet. You know, on the Dean-Low” I love Deanisms
  • The class’s reaction to their Terrarium assignment was great for two reasons: I. in the past they’ve had to make numerous Dioramas, they are burnt out on that. And II. Just how blatantly open they were about complaining about an assignment to the teacher.
  • “I have to get caught up on Breaking Bad”. Another Breaking Bad reference, I could never get tired of these. Maybe we can get a Breaking Bad themed episode at some point.
  • The group breaking up with their partners had me on the floor. But Pierce’s was the best: “You’re also quite frankly, a weird looking man. I don’t know you, and I don’t trust you.” Perhaps the most eloquently douchey speech I’ve ever heard.
  • Abed and Troy scraping off mushrooms in the the bathroom, acting as if it wasn’t a big deal or anything
  • “Arizona is Arizona backwards…it’s a Palomino!”
  • “You’re just a good grade in a tight sweater!”, “You’re just a bad grade in a tight sweater! And who the hell are you always texting!? Everyone you know is here!”
  • “Oh no, she’s got her marijuana lighter!”
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