Episode 306: Advanced Gay

Community3x06_0054

digifreak642

3×06 – “Advanced Gay”

Urbana Champaign. These two words are the key to understanding the third season of Community. There’s a reason the character Shangela played in this episode had that name.In Champaign there is a Greendale Drive. And almost directly next to it is… Chevy Chase Drive. These two streets are conveniently located a few blocks away from where Digifreak went to middle school and high school. So this explains Champaign. What about Urbana? Digifreak’s dorm, where he binge watched season 1 of Community freshman year of college, was located in Urbana. So why is this significant? The writer of Advanced Gay is Matt Murray. Digifreak’s first name is Matt. During the commentary of this episode Gillian tried to get Matt to talk about conspiracies and the free masons. He couldn’t then for reasons that Grrr. Argh. will get into in her review of “Curriculum Unavailable.” But now, I can finally reveal…

There are three characters that have important arcs in this episode: Jeff, Troy, and Pierce. Let’s start with Troy because his is mostly disconnected from the rest of the action. Yet he’s the first of our main characters shown. Troy spends much of this episode interacting with guest characters. Jerry the Janitor, Murray, and of course John Goodman. Troy is spending less time with his friends because he’s contemplating what he’s going to do with his future, something that may not involve the study group (season 5 foreshadowing). The only other character Troy interacts with (besides some stuff with Tron-Dean and this) isAbed. Troy practices for Basic Human Anatomy by pretending to be Abed pretending to be Han Solo in one of the funniest bits of episodes. Butt Soup Barnes is supposed to keep it a secret that these two entities are vying for him, but there’s another reason he retreats into a gimmick to tell his best friend what’s going on.

This episode spends more time in air conditioning than plumbing. Part of this is because if you have John Goodman you should use him as much as you can, but part of it is because we’ve already seen Troy’s plumbing skills in the first two seasons. We still get some great moments with Jerry Minor, who feels at home in Greendale. “Unclog one toilet with me and tell me you don’t feel something. But it’s not until Troy is captured and brought before these guys that the storyline really gets rolling. This is where the storyline starts getting weird. The astronaut making paninis and Black Hitler seem a bit out of place in Greendale, but that’s purposeful. Personally, I’ve always found them to be somewhat funny but a little lacking. But they’re only there for a moment, as Jerry gives some exposition to the study group which leads to us learning that Shirley smiles at murder-suicide. Troy proves how great he is at air conditioning and we head towards the room that holds THE room temperature. This storyline largely focuses as setup for future Troy (and Abed) storylines, but Goodman’s monologues and Glover’s wonder save it from being just that. The strangeness of what Troy is going through sometimes gives off a similar vibe as the trampoline storyline in Aerodynamics of Gender. Of course, it ends with Troy choosing neither air conditioning nor plumbing. Troy chooses Abed. In future episodes Troy will go through more inner turmoil, but for now he can play with his best friend.

The other half of this episode concerns the main character of season 1 (Jeff) and the main character of season 2 (Pierce). Although other study room members factor into this storyline Britta the most significant with the classic edible line, hilarious argument with Jeff that echoes their argument in season 2 Documentary, and getting called the worst at the funeral), this is all about Dads, this fall on Fox. Wrong! It’s all about gays! Wrong, the gays are used stereotypically and this episode is offensive. Wrong, Miss Urbana Champaign is one of the best characters in the history of television. Wrong, that character is used as the butt of a joke in the Chang runner, which is the worst part of the episode. Wrong, the worst part of the episode is the tag because INSPECTOR SPACETIME SUCKS GUYS! Wrong, the tag was supposed to be in a different episode also what the hell are we talking about right now. Oh yeah, Jeff and Pierce.

Pierce story circle: Top right = I don’t like gays but I can make money off them so I like them. Bottom right = I want to please my father so I hate gays. Bottom left = Look at me now Dad! I’m with the gays! Top left = my dad is dead so he can suck it. So Pierce forgets about the gays at the end. But that’s okay because this episode wasn’t really about them. Ha, suck it first guy who said “Wrong!” Cornelius Hawthorne, played by Larry Cedar, exceeds expectations considering he was foreshadowed in multiple episodes. His racism and homophobia is hilarious as a lens to why Pierce is how he is. Pierce’s wipes set this story in motion, but it’s Jeff who takes it to its inevitable dark conclusion when he kills Pierce’s father. We all know Jeff has daddy issues, but this came as a surprise. Now that we know how many deaths occur in season 3, it makes more sense. But the funeral scene is a little jarring at first. Is this a drama or a comedy? But Pierce’s eulogy brings us back to our comfort zone. His father was evil so his death isn’t a tragedy.

Great work from both McHale and Chase in this episode. Joel nails the speech “from every son to every crap dad that ever lived” and even makes the “sorry for killing your Dad” line work. It’s always great to see Chevy Case enjoy his work on the best job he ever had. Overall this isn’t a top tier episode of Community, but I think it’s solid. Both storylines contribute to important arcs and supply a good amount of laughs. There are some throwaway moments that don’t work but they don’t stop the episode’s momentum. The tonal shifts work even though they probably shouldn’t, and that’s credit to director Joe Russo.

Discussion questions:

1.    What do you think of the depiction of homosexuals in this episode?

2.    Do you wish that Troy got to interact with the study group more in this episode instead of hanging with the guest stars?

3.    Who was better, Cedar or Goodman?

4.    Do you like that we got little bursts of Chang throughout the episode instead of a true C-story or were the jokes so dumb that the structure of his “story” is moot?

5.    Do you think Shangela should come back in season 5?

 

On the AV Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/advanced-introduction-to-finality,97134/#comment-997518938 (page 166)

8/12/2013 – 10:51 AM – 15 LIKES

 

Discussion

  • BOOM! Got it on the first try.

    I will accept the likes on behalf of digifreak and hold them in escrow, but then never give them to him.

  • "These are your friends, Pierce? Minorities, Jewesses, and the unseasonably tan?"

  • "1.    What do you think of the depiction of homosexuals in this episode?"

    So this is the big one. I understand that homosexuality was stereotyped and all but I think the vast majority of it was intentional and meant to mock homophobia. After all, it was a homophobe who threw the Gay Bash so why would it not be offensive? The two guys who idolize Pierce were problematic but not terribly so (I thought "we can have peanut butter or chocolate chip" was a good line to defuse that stuff). Bottom line: I give the benefit of the doubt to a writer's room full of super liberals and someone as tortured about stuff like this as Dan Harmon is. It really wasn't a problem for me at all and I don't think Harmon should have had to apologize for anything.

  • I generally dislike the use of the word "problematic" in these sorts of context, because it typically means "I want to disagree with something but can't adequately back up my point."

    If Community only ever portrayed gay characters as a specific set of stereotypes?  Yeah, that would be a problem.  This brief thing here?  Nothing to get riled up about.

  • Yeah, I figure that Pierce probably believes that all gay people are flaming, so he can't see beyond the basic stereotypes.

  • I don't really find anything about the episode particularly offensive. They were two guys who were slightly effeminate. I know dozens of gay guys exactly like them. I think there is some sort of knee-jerk reaction that any portrayal of gay men that isn't Max from Happy Endings is somehow offensive in and of itself.

    I will say they were not well rounded characters. They were not given their own unique personalities and motivations. They were, more or less, props for Pierce's storyline. Which is exactly what Vicki was in her first appearance. The problem is that they never became integrated into Greendale like so many other minor, supporting characters.

  • They were the most minor of minor characters that weren't instrumental to the plot, so I don't hold that against the writers. They did have their own little rapport of the one guy always trying to tempering the other hyper gay guy.

  • hmm, i take it from the other angle: it's a writer's room that should know better, with dan harmon at the helm. he's shown surprising sensitivity in the past, so why did he fall down on the job here?

    it's not the worst stereotyping i've ever seen, but come on, we know they can do better than this. why not hold them to that?and putting the term "liberal" in there really just emphasizes how american "liberals" are just moderate middle class capitalists who have never really had the best interests of any minority in mind or heart, but that's another argument for another day (probably in a discussion on a season 4 episode, because it'd be more fun that talking about AHGI, anyway). i look forward to putting them against the wall when the revolution comes*.

    * i'll be third or fourth in line, probably, but it'll be worth it.

  • "hmm, i take it from the other angle"

    Gayyyyyyy!!

    And that's^ basically the depth of the treatment of the subject at hand, so yea it could have been better. The jokes were all pretty crass with even Jeff saying things like "I throw a pretty gay party, huh?"

  • Matt Murray apologized in the commentary and I think Dan Harmon both made a tumblr post and talked about it in the behind the scenes video (remember those?). So obviously they made some mistakes. But the mistakes aren't enough to make it one of the worst episodes of the *series, which some people (including Rowan Kaiser) think it is.

    *Pre season 4

  • I wouldn't say the obviously made mistakes.  There are people who will get riled up about anything or everything, and the internet gives them the means to group together and get their voice heard regardless of merit.

  • that guy just looks like a "murray." no other name would fit.

  • "Tight seal, good flow. Kid's pretty handy."

  • also, the impact of jeff killing pierce's dad was kinda skimmed over, and i always thought that was a flaw. 

  • "These are your friends, Pierce? Minorities, Jewesses, and the unseasonably tan?"
    "That is inappropriate! And maybe you'll give that more weight since I'm white."
    "You've got a wide brow. What are you, Scandinavian?"
    "Yeah, Swedish!"
    "(spits) Swedish dogs. Your blood is tainted by generations of race mixing with laplanders. You're basically Finns."

    While the rest of this episode may not be that hot, I am eternally grateful for its existence thanks to this moment.

  • Lots of great lines here in one of the funniest season 3 eps.

    -"Unless segregationist mummy is a gay fetish I'm unaware of"
    -"Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go find a half decent ivory buffer..in this..two horse town."
    -"Well if you like gay people so much why don't you marry them!!" (a classic)
    -"No more palm fronds, Troy. Now we are the pharaohs."
    -"Cool. Stonehenge."
    -“Unclog one toilet with me and tell me you don’t feel something!” (a classic for me)
    -"*chuckle* Very funny. Not even I can fix a compound coil fracture over night" (I loved all the (fake) inside baseball plumbing jokes)
    -"Comb your hair, you idiot. You look Greek.", followed by only Abed "getting it".

  • I've played it to death now, but "I like football, but also…I don't?" is one of my favorite lines in the entire run of Community. An amazing meta-comment on s1 and how the show has developed.

  • 3. I'm giving this one to Cedar, even though Goodman was great (Man, John Goodman was on Community!). Cornelius as a character was a bit over the top for my liking, but he was played with great conviction in his hatred by Cedar.

  • What to make of Abed being totally OK with whatever Troy wants to do in a season where he's totally not OK with change and loss? In almost every other instance Abed is either acting passive-aggressively about his anxieties or straight up breaking down, but this is a uncharacteristically pragmatic Abed (for season 3) when something real finally comes up (real as in "not about blanket forts and what not"). Is it Abed steeling himself to bare the pain or just inconsistent characterization?

  • To digifreak642:  Well done on the story circle for Pierce this episode, among many other excellent points /cheer.  

    Solid proof that no matter what the season or his current internal temperament, Pierce is all about instant gratification for himself (at least publicly/socially).  Get it via his Dad's approval with parroted racial and homophobic slurs?  Fine.  Get it via supporting homosexual customers of his product?  Fine by him.  

    It's that kind of superficial yet mercurial attitude that has allowed Pierce on his best days to know Vicki's a dance major and connect with so many people as a student at Greendale for so long, just as it's his fickle attitude to deeper relationships that he ends up with Vicki's pencil in his face and never really having any long term bonds beyond his parents 'til the Study Group is formed.

    To address some of your superb discussion questions:

    2.  I don't mind Troy being separated in this episode because it underscores the chaos and destructive forces at work to potentially break the Study Group apart.  Troy's destiny is calling whether Vice Dean Laybourne is offering a road to the future or not though– best to utilize John Goodman and Jerry Minor to such excellent effect as his competing father figures while he pushes forward to said destiny this season.  

    Also, having these plot lines separate allows this theme of fatherhood and filial piety room to breath (as opposed to trying to tie EVERYTHING together in a more RCT way).  We have Pierce and Cornelius, Jeff and Cornelius, Troy and Jerry, and Troy and Vice Dean Laybourne.  

    Along those lines, 3. I'd say that John Goodman turned in his usual exemplary John Goodman performance, but he so rarely gets the chance to be more subdued, so I'd say Larry Cedar was equally fantastic disappearing into his role as a true character actor.  Could have used some singing about Roman Numerals or slinging opium to people– but what can yah do?  Both sensational as used in this episode. 

    All that having been said, it's INTERESTING how many parallels there are between Cornelius and Abed in this episode.  Cornelius being the "Abed of racism" and keeping Pierce stuck with him in his own myopic view of the world (albeit one of inequality and bigotry with the former instead of one of fantasy and imagination with Troy in the latter).  

    In particular, the Godfather Part II esque way Cornelius just has to show up to get Pierce to tow the line gave me a very Evil Abed vibe:
    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

    [Though obviously and ironically it's not Abed or Jeff, but Troy who ends up wearing Cornelius' ivory helm– so who knows what that symbolizes if anything]
    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

    Point is, maybe this is how we distinguish Pierce as an unchanging "2001 evolution" of Jeff VERSUS a depiction of Abed should he not be able to adapt to the Study Group graduating/moving on.  

    Maybe the worst possible conclusion is that Abed becomes Cornelius Hawthorne– is his subtle put down of Annie in VSA for not being able to perceive his Dreamatorium system THAT far removed from "TYPICAL WELSH NONSENSE!" (it's far less insulting and not at all racially motivated, but just as dismissive of others and obtuse)?  

    In any event, Abed is not that way by a LONG shot in this episode, to be sure.
    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

    As LB points out in these comments, Abed's very supportive for someone so fearful of change this year.  Maybe Abed realizes Troy doesn't want either option for his future and will default to imagination/child like antics to avoid facing reality for now, so supporting Troy openly will insure things change the least in the present.  

    Maybe Abed realizes he wants Troy to be happy and if it's for certain that Troy must leave, might as well support it fully.  Maybe it's another tug of war between Shaman Abed from S1 saying the right thing, and Der Die Grabber Abed from S3 not wanting to let go just yet, only in this instance S1 Abed came out ahead.

    In any event, one another interesting parallel this episode does set up with CI:
    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

    Troy has a conversation involving impressions with Abed about a choice he has to make for himself.  A choice that could adversely effect everyone in his life and he knows what's potentially best for him, and Abed wholeheartedly tells him to do what he wants to do– what will make him happy.  

    Now, the difference between the AG scene and the one in Contemporary Impressionistsdepicted above is that Troy is asking because he doesn't want his choice to potentially ruin/forfeit everything good in his life– or hurt the people near him, most notably Abed.  

    While Abed's decision to make himself immediately happy in CI IS making everyone suffer ever so slightly, but he wants that unconditional support reciprocated.  There are certainly issues I have with execution in the CI conversation, but the parallel it draws here is welcome in any event /praise.

    The only real issue I had with this episode during the first watch? Sure you have that continued jarring tone of Season 3 that makes every twist and character development seem off-tilt, and there's the homophobic comments(assuaged by Pierce being Pierce and not knowing what a dunderhead he is), but neither is that horrendous (though understandable to those who find them negative).  

    For me, the only problem is Jeff's speech to Pierce.  I really like Pierce's ATTITUDE in this scene– in S1, Pierce would love any attention from Jeff.  In S2, most notably Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples, Pierce relished an opportunity to be antagonistic to Jeff.  But here, he's just slightly exacerbated that Jeff won't let Pierce deal with his own issues.  

    And Jeff's attitude– one who'd been dodging conflict and the group as a whole since The Ax Incident, instead embeds himself all over this mess because Bastard Dad= a cause he knows is wrong and can combat with all his chaotic energy this season ("he can't POSSIBLY mess this up!" he might say to himself). Interestingly enough, in a way– he and Britta trade places this episode— Jeff is someone forcing conflict in the name of a cause to define himself– he may be messed up this season, but he's no Pierce or Cornelius Hawthorne, THAT'S for sure.  And Britta's the one speaking reason, even if she's mispronouncing it.

    Anyhow, my conflict with the Pierce/Jeff speech during my first watch of the episode–Pierce should have pointed out how Jeff's just trying to solve everyone else's "problems" to make himself feel less lost– to have something to fight.  Pierce of any season is usually dead-on in his take-downs, and here just asking Jeff to layoff and let Pierce be ignorant and under his father's thumb is understandable but didn't fit the narrative Anti-Jeff vibe I was getting at the beginning of the season.  

    More a case of mismanaged expectations on my part than anything else, but I feel it's a slightly missed opportunity to show S1 Pierce still has his mojo here.  It could also be that because so much of this season is atonal and full frontal chaos I was expecting the dialogue to be more acerbic there– either way it's still effective for what it is.

    As a final note here– all these dead stares in this episode of representative of these influential forces in Advanced Gay:
    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…
    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…
    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

    They're all dead by the end of the season (relatively speaking in Evil Abed's case).  

    "You're just stomping around trying to prove you exist!  Well, mission accomplished!"
    And aside from Vice Dean Laybourne having a post-mortem change of heart, so to speak, a heart-felt speech from Jeff was involved in slaying the rest.  Yay New Jeff /cheer~!

    Quick Doppeldeaner Count for this S3 Episode:  Every parallel of Cornelius Hawthorne and Pierce/Jeff/William the Barely Known/Abed/Vice Dean Laybourne/Father Figures/The Past.  Air Conditioning Repair and Plumbing, Troy potentially being inducted into a myopic society and Pierce finally being freed from one, and Black Hitler.  

    Also, the multiple applications for Hawthorne wipes ("EVEN BRUCE VILANCH?"), the different racial layers and derogatory comments made about the Study Group by Cornelius (IE how from his filter on life none of them is free from insult/flaws), the different impressions and characterizations in the Troy/Abed conversation, varying analysis on Annie's peas (a face vs. Stonehenge), and the different version of history where the palming slaves became the Pharaohs.  

    Thanks for the great read and thoughtfulness, Digifreak (so edible!). 

  • I have always felt this episode would've been better if it hadn't killed off Corneilus. It was a fun, simple, Season 1-esque Greendale episode in the first stretch, but it sort of drops the ball when it tries to get all serious for me. It just doesn't quite stick the landing because it never feels like it's taking itself as seriously as an episode about Pierce's dad dying should. They do fix this a bit with how they deal with it in DEP, though. But the serialization aspect of it makes the dramatic storyline of this episode feel weirdly unfinished. I guess that's the point, but it feels a little clunky.

    Still, it's a fun episode, mildly stereotypical gay characters and all. I don't think this episode is going to be winning a GLAAD award anytime soon or anything, but for the purpose of cartoonish satire, it worked well enough and wasn't any worse than something you'd find on 30 Rock. It's just that Community doesn't usually sway into that brand of satiric farce – it usually has a much warmer tone, so it comes off a bit jarring, and it's not as well-executed as similar material would be on a show like 30 Rock because again, it's not Community's forte. I could certainly see how some find it offensive but it's not enough to ruin the episode for me.

  • Good review, Digi! You are an unorthodox American Hero.

    "Advanced Gay" is a flawed episode. Wrong! It's the most underrated episode ofCommunity, and my comment will prove that right now. Wrong! I waited 21 hours and now no one will read this comment. ;-)

    AG came after the darkest stretch of Community, IMO, the almost oppressive first 5 episodes of s3. There were some great eps in those 5, and 2 of the show's worst as well. But the tensions between the study group members never came as close to bursting or violence as they did there. S3 is meant to be about the consequences of deciding you're stuck with people no matter what, and the legit cracks that develop in a web of friendships that begins to feel like a family. On the other hand, the group feels precariously close to drifting apart at times here, or at least like they'd all rather have some time to themselves. Even though each member could have more plausibly extracted themselves from the group in s1, there was never the sense of legitimate impending tragedy that sometimes hovered over s3 (it's present in a genuine melancholy in OVM, LCU and CU as well, and the ending to CI).

    "Advanced Gay," then, is a return to a brighter tone. It has a dance, it has great, witty exchanges around the study table, it even has obstacles that are overcome, however temporarily. Britta is central to all this. In "Biology 101" she started to show some more backbone, not caring is she embarrassed herself or was made fun of, because she was determined to follow her cause of being a psychologist. In AG, she's even able to help the others and get a little validation from Jeff (albeit after being called "the worst" by a Priest). I'm a big fan of the Jeff and Britta relationship/friendship, and this was one of my favorite moments.

    Jeff and Pierce also accomplish things (in an ironic sort of way, by standing up to/accidentally killing Pierce's Dad, who to be fair is both hilarious and maybe the most obnoxious character ever on Community, so he doesn't engender too much sympathy), and Troy has an almost epic, absurd adventure which ends with him rejecting the Air Conditioning Repair Annex and the inevitable adult future, though it's obviously a "To Be Continued…" type deal which will come back on him sooner rather than later.

    These good vibes (mixed with streaks of dark comedy) are present throughout the ep, in step with some uproarious sequences. Cornelius insulting everyone at the table and gradually exceeding each member's worst expectations for him, is amazing. Troy and Abed falling into an increasingly layered impersonation of each other is nearly as good. While "Advanced Gay" will never gain the reputation shared by s3's most ambitious eps, for me it slots in behind RCT, BLU and RHM among it's greatest successes…as one of the funniest eps, a great character ep, and one with importance to so many aspects of s3's greater story arc (and where all the developments of that arc actually work satisfyingly for once).

    Shout out to Blue Light 888, who loved this ep as much if not more than me, but hasn't been around in awhile.

  • Jeff-Britta really shined here, showing how a show can make a professed romantic lead pair compelling without having to go that route at all. It's so very impressive and you just don't see that on TV. I loved their "you're a terrible therapist" exchange which actually ends with Jeff sheepishly telling her to shut up just so she'd stop being so on the money about him. By the end he's even telling her she'd make a good therapist. Look how Britta's face lights up when he tells her that.

    Also noteworthy is how the show makes a big joke of Britta saying "edible" but by the end she's using the correct term without any mention of it. She probably knew the correct pronunciation all along but her psychology high got the best of her until someone finally acknowledged her insight and then she got it right. That's such a neat comedic trick: you can have your cake (she ends up being the winner after all) and eat it too (jokes at character's expense) if you just keep your character's best interests in mind throughout. And how gorgeous was Gillian in this ep?