Spoilerific reviews of the finale of one of my favorite seasons of television in awhile after the jump
“Pascal’s Triangle Revisited”
Episode grade: B
Much like the Chuck last year, Community concluded its surprisingly strong season with two finale-style episodes. The penultimate episode, “English as a Second Language,” would have served just fine as the last episode. With one last hurrah for the main characters, it wrapped up the overarching story and set up some building blocks for next season before sending its characters into the Wild Blue Yonder of summer break. It very much fit the established tone of the show and was one of the stronger episodes of the season.
“Pascal’s Triangle Revisited,” the actual finale, served as a very different kind of conclusion: Instead of an independent story focused on the relationships of the characters, it was more concerned with tying up all sorts of loose ends and throwing in dozens of references to old episodes. It also had plot twist after plot twist, culminating in a surprise cliffhanger ending.
Unfortunately, the real finale didn’t work nearly as well as the pseudo-finale. It wasn’t so much the tone that I minded — I have a place in my heart for both low-key and gasp-inducing finales — as it was the execution. “Pascal’s Triangle Revisited” didn’t have that magical Community feel of being weirdly moving even as it’s slapdash, ironic, and meta.
- Most of the Jeff-Britta-Slater subplot – I felt like the episode’s key plot was a little bit undercooked. While I’m not against a Professor Slater fallback as an obstacle for Jeff getting together with someone in the study group, it felt like an artificial obstacle here. The Jeff-Britta-Slater triangle didn’t really work because we haven’t seen Slater in so long and don’t have much of an emotional bond with her the way we do Britta (and Annie and the rest of the group). The show had been building towards this revelation that Britta and Jeff, in spite of their major personality differences and lack of obvious chemistry, really wish they were together.
- But particularly, the execution of the Britta “I love you” scene – Britta revealing her feelings in such a public way had a lot of potential, especially after the earlier observation by Jeff that she always acts so guarded around others. But the framing of it didn’t feel right, in part because it was set up as a rivalry between her and Slater, but mostly because the show didn’t let the interaction between the two of them breathe. It was just underwritten, and lost a lot of potential poignancy because it was cut short.
- The half-hearted self-referential humor – The episode started out calling back old episodes about a mile a minute. But about ten minutes in, it gave up on this pursuit, which is a shame. I feel like it would have so much more if they’d gone whole-hog on bringing back as many past plots and gags as possible. I kept waiting for a werewolf to pop out and chase Shirley (episode 9, “Debate 109”) or for Boob-o-tron to crash to the dance (episode 20, the “Science of Illusion”) or for someone to mention Buddy (episode 13, “Investigative Journalism”) or for a rendition of La Biblioteca (episode 2, “Spanish 101”) or… you get my drift. Okay, one more: It’s a travesty we didn’t see any more of Annie’s Boobs (episode 21, “Contemporary American Poultry”).
- The Troy-Abed subplot – The plot with the two most reliably funny characters was barely funny at all, didn’t have much of a payoff (aside from the instant-classic line “My friendship with Abed is a giant cookie!”) and didn’t have much for Danny Pudi to do in general. With the rest of the episode already wrapped up in drama, some light-hearted Troy-Abed love would have been a nice respite.
- Too much Professor Duncan – I get it: Dan Harmon thinks John Oliver is a genius and wants to fit as much Duncan in as possible when he can. Here’s the thing, though — he’s not nearly as interesting a character as the dean or El Tigre Chino, in part just because we know those two better. Oliver as Duncan always feels so awkward and out of place, in that British comedy sort of way that doesn’t jibe with Community’s usual warmth. So why did he get about twelve or fifteen scenes in the season’s culminating episode? Beats me.
- The tag – The final thirty seconds of Community are very often the highlight of my week. But the video yearbook, instead of being a magical close to the season, didn’t feel funny or inspired or anything, really. It was just sort of there. I get the meta-TV joke that we really only focused on seven-plus-a-few in a big college, but it still didn’t do much for me.
- The Annie and Jeff moments, particularly the last one – That last scene was golden and made the episode. I loved Annie’s growing self-awareness — more than any other character, I feel like she’s matured this season. The framing of the scene was pretty strong for the show (though not quite at the level of most of the great Jim-Pam scenes). Jeff’s analysis of his feelings about Britta versus Slater was almost good enough to make up for that plot’s overall mediocrity.The show has so carefully and brilliantly building to an Annie-Jeff pairing that I fist-pumped when I saw her in the parking lot and it became clear they were going to kiss. (I only wish I hadn’t called it like three weeks ago.) Allison Brie and Joel McHale’s chemistry has been pretty stellar all season long, and I think the idea of a romance between the two has a lot of promise. There’s a lot of comedy to mine out of the ickiness of their age difference and the big gap between Jeff’s cynicism and Annie’s naivete.Overall, it was just an excellent last-moment twist that has me buzzed to see where the show takes it. Well-played, Community, well-played.
- Donald Glover – A recurring debate of mine is whether Abed or Troy is my favorite character on the show. Though I still give Abed the edge, last night made a strong case for Troy, who got to do a bit of everything: silly dancing, carrying around a giant cookie, getting angry, awkwardly whispering to Jeff, etc. All that was missing was him attempting to talk while crying.
- The callbacks – Yeah, I wish they had gone for broke with the in-jokes. But the callbacks that they did bring in were stellar and reminded me why I watch this show. From the dean’s dalmatian fetish, to Vaughn saying “hi” three times, to Jeff’s busted car, to Professor Whitman seizing the day, to Britta’s psychiatry appointments (I’d forgotten about those), to Abed’s skill at inviting people to things, to Pierce’s school song, to Shirley and Britta chatting in the bathroom, and more. All of these made me smile at a minimum and occasionally burst out laughing.
- The character quirks – “Pascal’s Triangle Revisited” was a big love letter to the many quirks of its well-established characters. Shirley said “That’s nice!” Pierce did his wheezy laugh. Vaughn bared his micro-nipples. Annie flashed her doe-eyes. Abed used the study room to make a commentary on a parallel between the group’s situation and pop culture. Troy wrinkled his brain. More than the specific references, I loved how many little character moments that the writers crammed into this episode.
- Britta’s embarrassed, vulnerable face – I kind of wish they’d made Britta a little bit of a softer character more often during the season, because Gillian Jacobs is a lot more likable when she’s smiling like this.
In case any of you hadn’t heard, Community was picked up for a full second season. NBC announced at upfronts last week that Community would keep its same time slot at 8:00 Thursday nights and would debut on-time (unlike Parks and Rec, which is being held for a couple months so NBC can pull 30 Rock to 8:30 and push new comedy Outsourced behind The Office at 9:30).