Episode 220: Competitive Wine Tasting

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jmunney

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.

Stray Observations:

  • 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)

 

Discussion:

  • I agree that this episode is perfectly fine. "Perfectly fine" unfortunately puts it at the bottom of the barrel for Community, but without comparing it directly to other Community episodes it's a pleasant and mildly entertaining 22 minutes of TV.

  • Lot of funny parts that don't add up to a great episode. I would definitely watch it over pretty much anything else on TV at 7PM on a Tuesday when it hits syndication though.

    "It's hard to be Jewish in Russia"

  • Ugh. This episode really isn't perfectly fine. The whole Troy thing is creepy and weird and icky, and not in a good way. Abed is mean to Ned Ryerson in a mean way, not in his usual Abedian, lovable way. It's just…yuck. The tag was memorable for being good, but the rest of the episode is memorable for being really not good. 

  •  Great review!

    I guess you were more easy on the episode than most of us… It's not that there aren't good jokes in it – you have in fact enumerated plenty, and they're all very funny. It's just that the whole thing feels disjointed and lazy on a level that Community hadn't been before (and thankfully, since).

    That being said, I've always kinda liked the Pierce/Jeff storyline. And there's a difference between it, and the one from "The Psychology of Letting Go." There Jeff acted out of malice and spite – since his world had been shattered, he wanted to shatter Pierce's. Here, it seems to me he's being animated by a sincere desire to protect Pierce from heartbreak or worse. It's sort of touching, really, that Jeff just can't seem to get an "in" with Pierce.

    The Abed story is decent, until, as you say it fizzles in that bizarre way with the gun (apparently Harmon wanted to suggest that Ned Ryerson actually DID kill himself, which is all sort of screwed up). And the Troy story… ugh. It's offensive on a level that makes me ashamed for the show. Moreover it just… ends. Prof. Proffessorson delivers that weird speech about acting (what the hell was that?) and that's it.

    On the plus side… It's hard to be Jewish in Russia, yo!

  • SpongyandBruised

    The speech about acting was a meta way of saying how shitty the episode is.

  • I know, right?  I'm thinking, thanks for writing the conclusion to my review for me.

  • "Story doesn't matter here. All that matters is…our time…in the spotlight."

  • Those writers are cheeky bastards. They managed to amuse me with Professorson's speech while fully acknowledging the insubstantiality of what had just/was occurring. THEY SHOULDN'T GET AWAY WITH IT

    THEY EXPLOITED HOW FUCKING FUNNY KEVIN CORRIGAN IS

  • I just want to remind everyone how poorly the episode was rated by Communists. It had a ghastly score of 37.5 … next highest was 45.8.  For reference, a roughly 7.5 differences separates like 15 episodes in the next of the pack. We just unanimously decided to shit on the episode. No one ranked it above 59. And no episode is close to that. No one ranked Custody Law above 35 … and that's the next closest. 
     
    Does this episode deserve that distinction? If it's just another episode and it happens to be the bottom of the barrel, it shouldn't be so universally hated. 11 out of 43 communists said it was the worst. Another 11 said it was the second worst. 
     
    I don't see how this episode is that bad. 

  • Well, for what it's worth, I'm not as harsh on this episode as others are, even though I did rank it last.  So, I do think there are 70 episodes better than it, but I don't think there's a vast difference between it and my number 70.

  • But people grade it like there IS a vast difference. That's why I had people send in grades and not just ranks. Two episodes can be essentially tied and be ranked 70 and 71st. But if you think the 71st episode is vastly worse than the 70th worse, you can't see that by pure rank. Anyhow, the problem is people consistently gave it a terrible grade, and usually people only did that for like 2 or 3 episodes. 
     
    So is it really that bad? Worst than Psychology of Letting Go, Custody Law, Geography, Untitled Riot Episode I Can Never Remember, etc?

  • Capt. Blicero Yes, it is worse than Psychology of Letting Go because Psychology of Letting Go is a good episode.

  • Psychology of Letting Go? LOLZ

  • Capt. Blicero Hey, way to let your Letting Go antipathy bleed through! Aren't those other episodes bottom of the barrel in the ranking and that one is forty-something?

  • I don't think it's necessarily a bad episode of TV but it's probably the worst episode Community has done.

  • thefunjustneverends

    I was the person who ranked it at 59.  Looking back at my list, I might actually move it up a few spots only because of the episodes that I would put behind it.

    The problem with this is episode is that it's exceedingly average.  There are three separate stories that don't go anywhere.  I actually enjoyed Chang here because he's used sparingly.  But it's not the worst episode the show has done.  It's forgettable because of what Community can be capable of.

    Nice review, jmunney.

  •  Well I don't hate it. Other than the Troy story which is just insulting on so many levels, the other plots are more than OK. But they're half-assedy developed and even more half-assedly stitched together. It's like a better than average BBT script accidentally got sent to the Community set.

  • The Dean actually molested Chang once, so Troy lying about it is the hardly the worst thing the show has ever done. There are even other rape jokes the show has done that are more uninspired.

  •  Do you mean Abed? Because he did it too in AUC and Chang seemed to enjoy it ("How about a few more minutes on that third button?").

    Unless I'm massively misremembering the show though, those were rather short jokes. This one is the premise to a whole fucking subplot, details and all. So yeah, to me, it's the worst thing the show has done. Not the only bad thing, just the worst thing.

  • I mean the Dean giving Chang an "unasked for adult backrub" when he was sleeping.

  •  Hey, maybe that explains why Chang was so fixated on deposing the Dean.

  • Almost the worst episode for me. I had at least two others ranked lower (Contemporary Impressionists, the riot one whose name I can never remember either). So technically I don't think it's "that bad," but pretty damn bad all the same.

    The show has used the Pierce-Jeff pairing to great effect to plumb the depths of their characters and mine for truths about acceptance, aging, forgiveness, inclusion, and a whole host of other important shit. Now I don't think there's anything wrong with the bones of this plot. (I.e. Jeff and Pierce briefly compete over the same woman, woman chooses Pierce, and when Jeff finds out she has no feelings for Pierce he has to balance his vanity and his antipathy for Pierce in deciding how to proceed. I actually think there's a germ of something good here.)

    And yet by the end I really didn't know what they're trying to say about either of these characters, their relationship, or anything larger that they haven't already said in much, much better ways. Jeff has already been thrust into a paternalistic role (contrary to what their age difference would suggest) on numerous occasions, most explicitly in Messianic Myths, but more generally by simply looking out for him in Genealogy, the STD fair episode, Psychology of Letting Go, the end of the first doc episode, and probably others. What it ultimately feels like is all of these episodes chopped up and spat out as this episode. The inclusion of an unmemorable, one-shot character in Wu-Mei does not help the situation at all, either. She's not awful, but simply because she is unfamiliar and doesn't have much to offer, she makes this storyline stick out in a bad way. And I don't know about anyone else, but I barely recall any laughs from this story. You add all this together and have mediocrity at best, crap at worst.

    As for the Abed plot, I think some people (Lloyd in particular, perhaps?) complained that this was just a bad use of Abed's pop culture proclivities. Something along the lines of this being the go-nowhere referentiality that some critics accuse the show at large of. I didn't find it that bad, if enjoyably slight, but the reveal of the gun at the end with that pseudo-sad/serious music is a weird-ass tone to end that plot on and had the effect of undercutting it for me.

    And finally, molestation. I think quite a lot of people were very put off — some actively pissed off — by the molestation stuff in the Troy/Britta plotline. I have a hard time even articulating how I feel about it, because I think comedy should be allowed to go some dark-ass places, that in theory nothing is off limits. In this show, it just feels like a cheap-ass device to make a true but not exactly revelatory point about Britta (attracted to men in pain).

    Well, that was long. In conclusion, I don't agree that this is the worst episode, but there is more than enough grounds for its being the most universally-disliked episode.

  • Re: Abed, yea, they just make a total mockery of him with that plot. It's not tracking any particular running thread or exploring nuances about him. It's just a BBT-fied Abed plot through and through.

  • I don't even rank the episode very high. It's near the bottom for me. 
     
    Here's the problem: even with other hated episodes, there are ways of liking them. Custody Law has great Britta. The first half of Geography is pretty good and it has a great guest star. I wanted to hate CI, but I like a lot of the episode including an excellent Troy-Abed conversation that surprised me during a rewatch. Etc. That's why there are defenders of even episodes like those. Wine Tasting? There's nothing special about the episode. I guess there are the two guest stars, but people hate the pretend-rape plot and the pointlessness of the Who's the Boss plot. I think the tone's just off with Who's the Boss. What's wrong with seeing Abed assert his skills in TV in a college class? That feels inevitable. But they screwed up the ending and there are no stakes to the episode. 
     
    So there's no reason to like this episode at all, there's no reason for the episode to have any defenders who generally like the episode, and it's probably a bit of a case of groupthink deciding that this is the terrible episode to end all episodes. (That'll change season 4. Hooray!) 
     
    It says a lot that even with the other relatively bad episodes there are really cool features, jokes and plots.

  • Well, I thin you answered the question you posed. There might be some groupthink, there might be some details which have assumed an exaggerated effect in peoples memories, but ultimately I think it's pretty simple. Too many problems, too little to recommend it. Hey, it is like those ok Cupid graphs on attraction. This one is a loser because no one really gets excited either way.

    You're right though, even this one has fun stuff. The tag, Professorson, "my emotions, MY EMOTIONS," Britta talking about her ex, some of the Annie-Jeff chatter.

  • One more joke to add: Thai food is to China as Mexican is to America. That joke just stuck with me.
     
    I still think we rate it too low because we need a red-headed stepchild of an episode to call the worst and we decided on this one because it has no defenders or great reasons to like it. Maybe this one will age like fine wine though. (lolz no it won't.)  

    But, again, this won't be a problem next season….

  • I will say one good thing about CWT; I think "plop-plop" is the funniest euphemism for a butt I've ever heard. Otherwise, this is an aggressively mediocre episode. I get the impression that the writing staff was burnt out from putting CFS together and had to find a way to fill 22 minutes of air time. 

  • Good review, and kudos on taking this one on.