Episode 120: The Science of Illusion
The Science Of Illusion
One of the most common complaints from Community fans who think the show has lost a little something in the last year or so is that it will never again be as good as it was in season one, particularly late season one, when things really got cracking. This school of thought holds, basically, that "Modern Warfare" was great and much of what followed has been great, but the show never again attained the pure, whimsical sense it had in these late season one episodes, when it was content to just be a really, really good sitcom, not try to change the medium of television. It's interesting to watch "The Science Of Illusion" now, because to watch it is to return to that time when the show was content with what it was and not yet bursting off in all directions.
And yet, this is an episode that offers plenty of intriguing signposts that point toward where the show would go, particularly in the Annie and Shirley plotline.
Let's start with some of the things that don't work for me. The scene where Annie chases after Jeff down the alley and ends up spraying pepper spray in her own face feels a little too wacky for my tastes. I like the idea of the gag, and I like the way Abed feeds her and Shirley their lines to start the scene, but the whole thing is so overtly slapstick-y that it's hard to really get a bead on it. (I think a big part of the problem is the music, which is very, very omnipresent throughout this episode, in the grand tradition of single-camera sitcoms trying to find a way to tell you to laugh via their soundscapes.) I'm also not a big fan of the direction, which feels curiously flat throughout, particularly in Dean Pelton's office.
But this episode deserves to be in the long list of near-great Community episodes for one reason: It's the one where the writers finally and beyond all shadow of a doubt proved they knew how to make Britta funny. Now that she's everybody's favorite character, it's easy to forget this, but back in season one, people hated Britta. Hated, hated, HATED her. (I never did, but that's because I'm awesome.) She was seen as the character the show was trying to force on us, while the Jeff and Britta pairing was seen as forced. Instead of trying to keep up with the character as conceived, though, the show steered into what everybody already thought of her and made her (in a phrase one of you coined, and I wish I could remember who, since Sepinwall and I use it all the time) a sitcom character who was bad at being a sitcom character. The writers also realized Gillian Jacobs had a real gift for physical comedy.
Really, this is an episode with great physical comedy moments for all the women of the ensemble. Alison Brie and Yvette Nicole Brown are very funny as the bad cop-bad cop duo at the center of the A-story (and Danny Pudi is nicely understated as someone watching their "movie"). But it's Jacobs who really sells this one, with some great gags about what Britta thinks is funny, the terrific moment in the lab, and her photo of her cat in a necktie. He's formal!
I'm not AS big a fan of the Pierce-as-Cookie-Crisp-wizard bit as I was back when this first aired (at least I think, as I haven't gone back to read my review), but there are several solid laughs in it as well. This is a really solid episode, from a time when the show was hitting a really great stride.
On the A.V. Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/regional-holiday-music,66270/#comment-459717439 (page 150)