Episode 213: Celebrity Pharmacology

 

The Narrator Returns

213: Celebrity Pharmacology 212

Contrary to what those on the outside might think, not every episode of Community is an outrageous concept episode. For every “Modern Warfare” and “Basic Lupine Urology,” there’s a low-key episode like “Origins of Vampire Mythology” or "The Psychology of Letting Go.” And “Celebrity Pharmacology” might be the lowest-key episode the show has ever done. In fact, it feels like an episode for another sitcom, one less intelligent and heady than Community.

As we start, the study group is rehearsing for a drug play to be performed for middle schoolers. Troy and Abed are bees who unwisely try drugs because they think it gives them an extra “buzzzzzzzzz”, Jeff and Britta are “cool cats,” Shirley is a crayon, and Pierce is Drugs (played as a giant marijuana leaf with no lines). Pierce wants his role to be bumped up, so he follows Annie, who’s running the show, to her apartment (something that seems out-of-character for him) and gives her money to pay rent, so he can seem nice when asking for a bigger role. She obliges without realizing what he’s really doing, and Pierce can finally be the star, after his claims that he was the “Gerber baby of moist towelettes” is revealed to be a lie. The changes start out small (“Don’t call me honey, honey!” is added to the script), but soon Pierce upstages everyone, sending mixed messages to the audience (“We want drugs! We want drugs!”) and leaving the other members wondering what’s going on. Meanwhile, Jeff has been sending text messages on Britta’s phone to a mysterious person named Marcus, who is revealed to be Britta’s teenage nephew, who’s going to see the show. Eew. Even worse, he’s revealed to be attracted to her, as he sends her an emoticon of a penis. Eeew. And when Jeff fesses up to Marcus at the show, he gives him one of Britta’s bras. Eeeeeew.

Soon, the show turns into a complete disaster. Kids in the audience are demanding drugs, Pierce refuses to go away, and Annie’s deal with Pierce is revealed to the group. But thankfully, help comes in the oddest place possible. Chang has been following Shirley around, and he agrees to take over the role of Drugs after Pierce is fired. And he does a good job portraying Drugs as a psychopath on the level of Buffalo Bill. His performance is so good that the audience attacks him. And at the end, Annie gives Pierce back his money, because she can’t rely on someone else any more. And Jeff (hopefully) learns never to send fake text messages again, although he probably should have told Annie that, given her actions in “Vampire Mythology.”

This just isn’t a very important episode. It feels shockingly inessential as a whole. Not that that’s bad all the time, but this episode just doesn’t have the laughs to make it that worthwhile. You could say that it sets up the “Evil Pierce” arc that would be so brilliantly handled in the next episode, “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.” After all, the Pierce who sabotages his friends’ show just to live up to his failed dreams is the same Pierce who makes a student’s life hell because he doesn’t want him taking his place. But otherwise, there’s little memorable things about the episode. And it doesn’t help that it feels more like a good episode of an ordinary sitcom than a great episode of this show. You could add in a laugh track, and it would play exactly the same. Both plots are based off of sitcom contrivances (will he spill the beans about the rent money?), and it even feels small. It would be a standout episode of most other sitcoms. Just not this one.

Stray Observations:

  • “Who’s gonna be aware of a character with no lines?”
  • Jim Rash is just so adorable in that bumblebee outfit.
  • “And since you probably don’t have a cassette player, here’s a list of used ones on Craigslist.”
  • I love the little detail of the police lights outside of Annie’s window.
  • “If he wanted to rape you, you’d be raped.”
  • “She still come?”
  • Because of course Annie has a Charlie St. Cloud poster in her room.
  • I liked the clever reveal of Pierce’s lie being the Hawthorne Wipes commercial. But I just may be a sucker for degraded footage that gives out exposition.
  • “Next time you think about drugs, think about baseball instead!”
  • “I’m drunk too… on love.” Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeew.
  • Jeff can’t even stop using his Blackberry when he’s supposed to be dead.
  • “Jeff Winger even looks sexy in a coffin.” I love the sideways glance the girl in the audience gives the Dean after that.
  • “I love you drugs!”
  • “Next time I go to Dildopolis, I won’t be coming up the stairs to say hello.”
  • For all its faults, Chang is handled better here than in many S2 episodes. “I’m gonna wear your little brother’s skin like pajamas!”

 

On the A.V. Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/digital-estate-planning-the-first-chang-dynasty-in,73676/#comment-688476885 (page 546)

 

Discussion:

  • Thank you! My memory is weak at best and… what was the question again?

  • I agree that Chang is deployed well here as an amped up version of El Tigre Chino to one-up Pierce. Then the show made that Chang's entire character.

  • The outtakes of the Dean trying to occupy the kids with an improv-ed story, and Jim Rash can't keep himself from laughing at how intentionally unfunny his story is (which causes all the kids to start laughing, too) are great.

    The commentary, however, is not great, since Chevy is barely cogent and Rash cannot contain his ramblings. (It definitely pales compared to the "Spanish101" commentary where Chase didn't know what a DVD Commentary was.)

  •  …and here's a link to those famous outtakes:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

    "Talk about extra starch…"
    "There's no time for laughter!"

  •  You're right: this is not a hugely essential episode (except where it sets up Pierce's deeply edible relation to his father). But it's a funny one nonetheless – funnier anyway than "Asian Population Studies." The laughs aren't huge, but they're constant, and the story flows nicely. Once again, Chang is used really well: I really like the way in which his psychosis acts as both a means of penetrating the group (he does save their play, after all) and as the reason he's always going to be rejected.*

    I also like Pierce here: I'm not sure he gives Annie money solely to get her to bump up his role. I always thought he starts off by trying to do a selfless deed (she is his favorite after all), and then he literally cannot help himself and turns a nice gesture into something prurient and creepy. It's very much in keeping with his arc throughout the season, and it paves the way for the awesomeness of "Advanced D&D." Pierce's genuine joy when that little girl says "I love you, Drugs!" is also funny, and a little bit touching.

    I also enjoyed the randomness of the play, which involves bees, cats and crayons for some reason.

    This: http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…

    *Two great, if very short moments: Chang's frozen, creepy smile after he tells Shirley: "Let me go get Chang and you can tell him in person."; and the off-handed way in which Jeff pushes him away when he tries to hug him.

    Frankly, this is the standard I hope Gummi Bear and Potluck can rise to…

  • It's not funnier than APS, SEMI!!.

    And yea, I don't think Pierce went to Annie's apartment solely out of self-interest. He was even headed out after signing the check before Annie asked why he came.

  •  As certain as I am that Speed is a better movie than Die Hard, I know that "Celebrity Pharmacology" is better than APS.

  • SpongyandBruised

    Stop undermining your  argument.

  • Who wants to bet that Annie took a job at Dildopolis after that episode? She did say that she wanted to get a job to sustain herself*

     *Ewww. That came out gross and I didn't mean for it to be gross, but I'll allow it.

  • Any discussion of Celebrity Pharmacology demands this comment to be referenced.
    http://www.avclub.com/articles…

    "Rewatched this episode
    and the most important line that everyone missed is Jeff's "I'm going to drag Britta kicking and screaming all the way to 1997." Texting wasn't that prevelant in '97. It's meta-comentary about NBC doing everything in its power to recapture it's glory days of the 90's and the entire "thesis" of the episode.
    This is a concept episode as much as "Modern Warfare" and "Epidemiology" (although it's more on par with "Basic Rocket Science" quality-wise) but instead of being set in an action or horror movie, "Celebrity Pharmacology" is an episode of Community that takes place in a sitcom from 1997.
    The tired plots (lending money leads to manipulation, mistakenly messaging the wrong person, drug awareness spoofing) and sitcom conventions (the group hug at the end, the telegraphed jokes, as soon as the dean said baseball the audience knew they were going to be thrown at the gang on stage and yet the writers still made it funny) are, like the recreation of the action setpieces and the jumping cat gimmick, parodying the rules of a specific genre, or in this case genre time period.
    And of course Abed recognizes all of this immediately. He takes himself out of Jeff's stupid B-plot, catches the baseball, and calls the entire A-plot as soon as Pierce and Annie mention the money.
    It's not the best of episode of Community by a long shot but it certainly does what it intends to do, taking a show that regularly comments on the trappings of sitcoms and takes aim at a very specific type of sitcom."

    I don't want to give the episode that much credit because it would mean Community purposely made a bland episode, but it thoroughly wrinkled my brain.

  • Holy crap. I've long though that this was the most sitcommy episode of Community, but I never considered it could have been intentional. You can practically hear where the laugh track breaks should be. If they meant to do it, that is highly interesting. I don't know how factual this theory could possibly, but it's definitely interesting. 

    I've just taken it as a meta-commentary on Chevy's place on the show and his dissatisfaction with the use of his character. 

  • Yeah, that's definitely interesting, but I don't really buy it either. As Freud said, sometimes a bad episode is just a bad episode. When the show wants to skewer the network or sitcom conventions, it can do so in a more pointed way, and like you imply here, intentional mediocrity does not seem  like something the show would ever aspire to, even in the service of being me-ta.

    Anyway, I certainly don't hate this episode. The Pierce-Annie stuff is nice and perversely sweet (between this, the "my favorite" stuff and her showdown with him in the finale, it ended up being a nice mini-exploration of their relationship). And the episode has the odd distinction of being the sole one where Chang is pretty much the highlight. His turn as Drugs is inspired and goes some ways (but certainly nowhere near all the way) towards redeeming both the play and the episode. 

  •  Speaking of things being redeeming, I'd be curious to see (if anyone has the time and inclination) why people dislike this episode. I said why I don't like APS, and I know I'm in the minority on that. I seem to be in the minority of people liking CP. What am I missing?

  • Semi-bored torontonian Everything about the mistaken identity B-plot felt like it was tapped from a lesser sitcom and the ha ha:ew ratio was way off. (FOR THE RECORD, I propose 2:1, but this was more like 1:4.) Britta's overall guilelessness was pretty cute but that was all I really liked about it. 

    I thought the inanity of the play was pretty funny too and the odd line made me smile (particularly from the Dean). But this story too had a feel of being ratcheted up for maximum hijinks (oh no, now the kids are embracing the personification of drugs, in direct opposition to the play's intention! a girl says she loves Drugs — outrageous!). I feel like I've seen similar and fresher take-downs of this kind of messaging, so it feels especially lazy coming from Community. 

    All of this would have been fine if I'd just laughed more, but I didn't, and I realize how subjective that is. 

  •  Yeah, I agree with the relative staleness of the plot, but I really laughed a lot, and the Pierce/ Chang switcheroo was quite inspired, imo.

  • That's probably a perfect use of Chang: his insanity is a way to distract the unruly mob of pre-teens to save the rest of the group, and given his love for the Greendale 7 he'd surely die for him. 
     
    In fact, what's so great about them that Chang views it as the empyrean study group of the campus? Even Jack Black moved on to another set of weirdos. It's the main purpose of Chang's that desire to feel included and the pains and trials that come from the rejection?

  • When Harmon talked about "Celebrity Pharmacology" he said they were originally going to make the play be a history of Chevy's career (hence the bees like on SNL), but ended up abandoning the idea. Which made the episode sound kind of half-formed or never properly finished amidst all the tension over the concept episodes. But maybe the secret satirical meaning was too secret for us to know about. It certainly makes the ep more interesting.

  • Something Quirky

    I just wanted to say how much I liked Jeff and Britta in their costumes. It's their second best use of costuming after *starts to point to avatar, realises I changed it* the goth/magician.

    And Annie also sent a misleading text in Basic Lupine Urology, which was possibly my least favourite part of that episode.

  • Good review!

    The episode as a whole isn't much, I agree. But I love the anti-drug play and how Pierce's wiseassery accidentally wins over the kids. In my high school Drama class, we did a series of anti-drug sketches for an elementary school (I was a drug dealer who got zapped by an angel. I was warned very sternly by the teacher that I could NOT say "Oh my God!" because of the legal liability of saying "God"). We got really into making the sketches and it was all silly fun, but it was pretty obvious how anything we said would have zero impact on the kids, who knew we were in no way serious (about half the kids in my class used drugs, and were asked not to hold their "joints" correctly in the sketches). Anyways, the whole thing is essentially absurd, and nobody stops to think how stupid and ineffective it is. So that's why I think Pierce in "Celebrity Pharmacology" is very funny and appropriate. As is Chang saving the day with his insane sincerity.

    But I can't figure out what the Jeff/Britta texting subplot was supposed to be about. It could've come out of Two and a Half Men, for sure. 

  •  Was God going to sue you if you said His name, or what?

    There's not much to the texting subplot, but it's worth it, even if only to see Jeff's escalating frustration when Abed doesn't join in. In fact, I think it's partly about Jeff trying to play Abed and failing miserably and hilariously.