Episode 220: Competitive Wine Tasting
Episode Review: 2.20 "Competitive Wine Tasting"
I’m a relative latecomer to the world of Community fandom. I have been watching it regularly right from the start, but it wasn’t until the end of Season 2 that I realized how much I liked it, and it wasn’t until the Great Unifying Winter Hiatus of 2011-2012 that I discovered there was a significant fan community – and on a website that I had recently joined, to boot! This is all to say that I wasn’t even aware of the bad reputation of “Competitive Wine Tasting” until about a year after it aired. I believe I had only seen each episode once at this point, so when I found out it was the least-regarded, I thought, “But why? It has Abed in the Who’s the Boss? class. That’s Abed at his most Abed!” Then I bought the Season 1 and Season 2 DVD’s, re-watched all the episodes, and after all that, I thought, “Oh.” I remembered that I actually had been disappointed with this episode when I first watched it. It featured the return of guest-star Kevin Corrigan, who is always welcome in any TV show or movie, but it wasn’t much to get excited over – so that was bad sign number one. And then I had basically completely forgotten about Pierce and Jeff’s storyline. It didn’t even come back to me when I re-watched it. There’s a legitimate possibility I may have actually been asleep during those scenes for the initial airing.
Since this episode’s reputation is marked heavily by the fact that each storyline doesn’t really have anything to do with any of the others (other than that they all take place in elective classes), let’s look at each of the storylines individually. The A-plot involves Pierce’s engagement to Wu Mei (is that a pun for “woo me”? maybe one of the writers was having some fun), an Asian P.Y.T. that he has just met in the Italian Wine Tasting class that he and Jeff (and Chang) are taking. This is the same Asian P.Y.T. that Jeff attempted to pick up on the first day of class, only to be shut down with faux-broken English before he even had a chance to turn on the Winger charm. While Annie the romantic is excited to make wedding plans, Jeff the skeptic is suspicious. What exactly it is that makes him suspicious is not initially entirely clear, but when it comes to Pierce – and women resistant to the Winger charm – skepticism is always warranted. It turns out that Wu Mei is a corporate spy out to uncover info on Hawthorne Wipes. Jeff announces this to everyone in the smuggest way possible at an engagement party dinner that is inexplicably attended by Chang. [Chang sidebar: Chang’s presence here – like much of his presence in Seasons 2 and 3 – strains credulity, but I still find him funny, particularly in his interactions with Jeff.] But it turns out that Pierce knew all along, and he was fine with it.
Even though this is Pierce we’re talking about, it definitely feels like Jeff has gone too far this time, despite being vindicated. Sure, he ultimately makes things right by reuniting Pierce and Wu Mei and giving them a Winger speech to convince them how perfect they are for each other (they are both incredibly racist). But didn’t Jeff learn his lesson in “The Psychology of Letting Go”? Also of note: We know in retrospect that Jeff and Britta had been hooking up. They likely were not exclusive, but he didn’t seem to show much interest in anyone else that year (Quendra notwithstanding). So why did he even feel the need to go after Wu Mei? Questionable storytelling decisions aside, this episode does feature some fine acting from Joel McHale, particularly in the scenes with Annie as the thorn in Jeff’s side. Both get some good digs in at each other: Jeff telling Annie people don’t call her “irony-free Annie,” Annie’s disgusted look when Jeff says he knows about romance from having had a three-way in a hot-air balloon.
Abed has his own little story going on this week: a class on Who’s the Boss? taught by the guy (played by Stephen Tobolowsky) who literally wrote the book on Who’s the Boss? It feels appropriate that a “that guy” actor like Tobolowsky (probably best known as Ned Ryerson from Groundhog Day) would play the professor teaching on the subject of a show like Who’s The Boss? – well-known, but hardly the best show of all time.
The class asks THE question: “Who was the boss?” Everyone assumes the question is rhetorical, except Abed. The fact that Abed is so certain that he can provide a definitive answer to a question that wasn’t designed to have one really rankles Prof. Tobolowsky. In their confrontations, Abed betrays just the slightest hint of agitation as well, but he is the one who is cool and in control. Ultimately, Abed concretely proves that Angela was the boss, with the help of a chalkboard diagram (a sight gag that is never not funny). This storyline is plenty amusing, but rather insignificant; it feels like it should have been a webisode or a DVD extra. The fake-out ending with the gun and the What’s Happening?!book was weird.
Finally, we come to Troy and Britta’s storyline, in which they take an acting class together, featuring the return of Kevin Corrigan (another “that guy” actor!) as Drama Professor Sean Garrity. The class is asked to access emotions by recalling a traumatic memory. Troy can’t think of anything painful, so he makes up the story of his uncle putting his finger in his “no-no,” which makes him very attractive to the fascinated-by-pain Britta, attention Troy is happy to have after seeing her in a unitard. Your mileage may vary on the viability of Troy and Britta as a couple, so your feelings thereof likely color your reactions to this beginning of that potential relationship. For me, I think that relationship could work (honestly, with enough effort, I think any relationship could work), so I do not have any bias against this development. In fact, I actually find Britta’s devotion to pretend-molested Troy the most entertaining their romance has ever been. As for the scenes in the acting class itself, Corrigan keeps up his habit of seeming like he is on a completely different show while somehow fitting in perfectly. He embraces the (what some may consider) bullshit of acting methods while also commenting on them (e.g., forming a trust circle and then clarifying that “it’s just a circle”). He gets some other great moments in as well, such as the assignment of drinking a glass of cognac in a bathtub and the moment when he tosses his briefcase into the seats upon entering the theatre. Despite my disappointment, this was a solid performance from Corrigan. I guess my disappointment mostly stemmed from the fact that this was no “Conspiracy Theories…”
The resolution of the Troy-Brita storyline is representative of the resolution of the whole episode: as Garrity explains, “The pain of not having enough pain is still pain.” That doessound like an easy resolution, and it is. And in fact, the whole episode has easy resolutions of already well-trod ground. Community’s writers do not have the excuse of being actors, and not writers, because, well, they are writers.
Still, my reaction to “Competitive Wine Tasting” is similar to that of Todd VanDerWerff. “Competitive Wine Tasting” was fine. But I’m NOT tempted to leave it at that, and I didn’t. When the episode ended, I had a smile on my face. There were plenty of jokes that landed and nothing was irrevocably ruined. When I put Disc 4 of my Season 2 DVD’s in, “Critical Film Studies” started automatically playing. And so I needed to watch that episode as well. When that one ended, I didn’t end the episode smiling; I had a more poignant, melancholy disposition. “Competitive Wine Tasting” made me happy, but it didn’t challenge me or surprise me. Still, it was fine.
That tag with the bit from Fiddla, Please was great. I’m guessing Donald came up with it himself.
The gag about Annie’s joke-telling class is an all-time classic. (“The professor is so old…”)
I enjoyed the young Chevy Chase/Pierce Hawthorne photo on the wine bottle.
Manuel on the PA was a nice gag that people don’t reference too often.
“Trevor St. McGoodbody or David?”
“She is funny, like Oprah.” “Oprah is a not a comedienne.”
“Don’t sell yourself short: you’re a baboon everywhere.”
Ketchup fight? Monkey drop?
On the AV Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/digital-estate-planning-the-first-chang-dynasty-in,73676/#comment-771859078 (page 732)