Episode 222: Applied Anthropology and the Culinary Arts

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 DavetheDouchebag

S2E22 Applied Anthropology and Culinary Arts by DavetheDouchebag

Applied Anthropology is a weak episode of Community. Its main problem is that it feels remarkably lazy and cheap. This is a bottle episode, but no one would think to compare it to Calligraphy (or at least, I would hope they wouldn’t).  It was a bottle episode that was almost certainly done to save money, which is why this episode pointedly refuses to let Abed comment on the fact they’re “doing a bottle episode”. Additionally, it also concludes one of the lamest, most pointless stories the show ever did; Shirley’s potential pregnancy with Chang’s baby. This storyline made Chang horrifically creepy and Shirley rather unlikeable, and was a fairly massive waste of time. Compared to Season 2’s Pierce arc, the Chang storyline holds no weight, and so neither does Applied Anthropology, the suitably ungrand finale to this ungrand storyline. 

The episode starts off rather promisingly, during the Anthropology final which is being administered by Duncan. Duncan! One of the show’s most consistently funny, most dearly missed characters opens this rightly maligned episode.  He’s giving everyone an automatic A, and has turned the class into a rowdy drinking session which all the students but sweet, lovely Annie seem to be enjoying.  Annie is pelted by paper balls to punish her passionate love of learning, which was killing the buzz of the slackers she is forced to share the class with.  The whole sequence at the beginning of this episode is funny and fun. Things go downhill quickly, however. The Dean and a writer for “Dean Magazine” walk in, and Duncan winds up fleeing the room, and alas, the series. The Dean’s material is often not up to the level of Jim Rash’s performance, but his lines struck me as being especially unfunny in this episode.  “Dean Magazine” is a rather lame joke, and so all of the Dean’s humor which revolves around trying to impress the reporter falls completely flat.  Once Shirley goes into labor, we are treated to some of the worst Chang material the show has ever given us.  All of the shit that runs forth from his mouth like a waterfall in this episode is unfunny, and worse, it’s sentimentalized in the most unearned way imaginable. It’s unclear why his nonsense is supposed to comfort Shirley, and even if one accepts that it does, this doesn’t justify Shirley’s later decision to actually name her baby after Chang! Shirley’s loathing of Chang was previously established as so great that she actually told Chang to his face that even being reminded of the fact she had sex with him was inhumanly cruel.  It’s ridiculous to set up a conflict this contrived and then end it so lazily. The subplot with Trobed and Pierce isn’t nearly as obnoxious, but it still feels monumentally inconsequential compared to all the great episodes that dealt with Pierce’s darkening personality so effectively and so movingly.  

This episode does have its bright spots. It is Community after all, which guarantees that it will have a few good lines at the very least. There are plenty of funny moments in this episode, though a lot of the humor feels oddly telegraphed. The episode’s greatest element is its strong Britta storyline.  It beautifully showcases Britta making the difficult leap from talking the talk to walking the walk. All of Britta’s clichés about natural birth are made ridiculous by Britta’s experience of the real thing. But if Britta knows little about the way the world actually works, she cares a hell of a lot, and she’s too good a friend to truly fail Shirley.  It is Britta’s ability to transcend her own self righteousness that prevents her from being the genuine Worst.  No episode that deals with Britta’s character this well can be completely dismissed. In spite of all of its flaws, this is an episode of Community, and I’m glad it exists.

Stray Observations:

  • Alison Brie does a wonderful job silently conveying Annie’s disgust with Duncan’s travesty of an anthropology class. Her look of indignation when a paper ball hit her in the boob made me laugh pretty heard. 
  • This episode makes me miss Duncan. It’s a shame he had to go out on a rather weak episode. It’s an interesting experience to see John Oliver on Community after I had the wonderful opportunity to see him live.
  • “You have a booger.” “I know, it’s part of me” Oh, Britta. 
  • “Make your money, whore!” I’m not a huge fan of the Pierce story in this episode, but that line is delightfully cruel. 
  • Abed calls attention to the fact he delivered a baby in his now infamous background plot from the Psychology of Letting Go. Should the show have revealed this? I have mixed feelings. 
  • That shot of Britta staring at Shirley’s cervix in horror is rather brilliant, I would say.
  • “Are you saying I’ll be a good mom?”
  • Sorry I don’t have more of these. It’s hard for me to write everything down and watch at the same time.
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On the AV Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/digital-estate-planning-the-first-chang-dynasty-in,73676/#comment-779211292 (page 748)

 

Discussion:

  • Loki100

    I will say I loved everything involving the Race Kerfuffle. I also love that it is yet another example of how often the students at Greendale riot (at least twice a school year).

  • This episode is objectively a pretty bad episode of television. We see here the combination of a bad A-plot (finishing the worst idea Community's ever had) and an uninspired B-plot; I think it was at this point that Troy and Abed really started rubbing me the wrong way.

    Is it just me, or has opinion of this episode fallen with time? I seem to remember it being pretty well-received when it aired.

  • I hate to limit judgments (Wow, is that really how you spell that word? If you say so, computer program) to short phrases, but this really was a lacklustre episode with some bright patches. Thematically, it's unsatisfying in its (excuse me) conception and its delivery (no excuse needed). The comic beats are few and far between. And yet, I think that, within the larger season world-view, this is a good episode that showcases the characters' weaknesses and strings them out for as far as possible. It isn't about them coming together and overcoming an obstacle, but more about how the handle panic in a crisis, one which tries to limit their communication within a closed space so that they are quite clearly sinking in a pit of quicksand while surrounded by their friends (disregard for Jeff, he's just there to be clever). I can't remember what I initially thought about this episode, but if my current assessment is any clue, I probably didn't think too highly of it either. Good on you, DavetheDouchebag .

  • It's the same thing with Custody Law. Not a great episode, but Britta is great. 
     
    The worst thing about the Chang-pregnancy plotline is that it accomplished nothing. Chang's place in the group wasn't changed. Shirley and Ben stayed together. The baby was Ben's. It was pointless. 
     
    And I don't want Community to be the type of show where the women have babies in classrooms. That's what happens in crappy sitcoms. 
     
    But Jeff and Britta fight a lot, so it's still pretty funny…. 
     
    And I think the Tuna has the next review on Monday. glaz: is he ready?

  •  Psssst… It's Andre. Ben is Chang (and Shirley's dumb baby – no offense).

  • So Ben impregnated Shirley to create the baby Ben. I'm sticking to that weird incestuous story. To be fair, Andre is a forgettable character. Bring back Duncan and Rich!

  •  Hello there, forgettable Andre agreeabuddy!

  •  Great review, Dave! And thanks for taking one for the team and tackling such a terrible episode.

    What's funny about "Applied Anthropology" is that, unlike "Wine Studies," which is ust as bad, this is an episode I almost always forget exists. It feels so much like filler – it's a lazy ass way to wrap up a horrid plot. And unlike "Wine Tasting," which at least had some potentially interesting storylines which were mangled in the execution, "Applied Anthropology" lacks even that. Other than Duncan's boozy incompetence, there's almost nothing to appreciate about it. Even Chang's tales of his mutant Chang clan fall flat, because, as you well say, they're played as something heartwarming, when they should be fucking terrifying (and that's too bad, because some of the jokes aren't bad).

    I did like that brief exchange between Vicki and Starburns, which mentions how happy everyone was when the group went on a St. Patrick's Day fishing trip. That's a fun, blink-and-you-miss-it reference to "Paradigms."

  • DavetheDouchebag

    I'll always be willing to take one for the team. The hard part was watching it twice in a row, because I wanted to have it on while writing the review, to make sure it was as close as possible to my authentic feelings.

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  •  Armond has taught you well, I see ;-)

  • Oh you just had to remind me of the Dean Magazine joke. It's just…lame, yea. The only notable thing about that whole subplot is Starburns' excitement about the magazine. It's quite possibly the most obscure and inane callback the show has ever done, namely to The Science of Illusion where Starburns isseen on a bench reading Wholesome Living magazine. So the joke is that he likes lame magazines.

  • DavetheDouchebag

    I did not catch that, Lloyd! Thank you for bringing this matter to my attention.

  • Honestly, I've never understood the hate this episode gets. I can't even really think of a way to "defend" it, since when I watch the episode, I don't really see any reason someone would dislike it – it's just a very solid, funny episode to me. Yes, the Shirley/Chang pregnancy plotline was dumb in the first place, but given that the plot already existed I think they handled it pretty well in the end. I also personally think Chang is used well in this episode – not quite crossing the line of annoying and overbearing, and still pretty amusing. And yes, the B-plot is a little pointless, but it's good for laughs anyway ("WHO'S BETTY GRABLE???" and the aforementioned "Make your money whore!"). I've just always found this to be a very amusing episode.

    Great review, nonetheless.

  • Look, every episode is going to have great bits. Por tradicion, I liked Britta and Jeff, and I liked the idea of the other students exhausted by the group's navel-gazing (literally! *hi fives self*). I just watched it again now and I even laughed along throughout. That doesn't mean it's not worth pointing out how markedly disposable and lazy it is for a Community episode. There's bad jokes, bad acting, and shallow characterization. Not all episodes are made equal.

    I'm with you, though, that you can't hold the poorly conceived (literally! *breaks both arms*) arc against this episode, but I do think it missed an opportunity to somewhat redeem the Chang baby arc by actually having Shirley deliver a Chang baby. It's a legitimate twist and it puts Shirley in a place where she has to practice the virtues she professes to live by. Simply naming it Ben Bennett is not enough.

  • I prefer your idea of Chang kidnapping Ben Bennett.

  • Fair enough. I do like your idea of actually having the baby be Chang's. Instead of hitting the reset button, it would've been interesting to have the entire storyline have some actual long-term consequences, character-wise. There are definitely versions of that story that could've made for some really interesting character development.

  • That was way harsh, Dave.

    (Although, I guess I didn't think it was that good either [relatively], as I ranked it 3rd to last.)

  • DavetheDouchebag

    I thought I was fairly easy on it. I praised some of the jokes, and the Britta arc. The review was hardly a work of unrestrained hatred.

  • I just couldn't resist an opportunity to paraphrase Cher Horowitz.