Thursday, March 18, 2010

Community 1.18: "Basic Genealogy"

“Troy, society programs us to dispose of the elderly because they don’t work or buy things, but don’t be blind to your grandmother’s value. You need to cherish her.”


“Basic Genealogy” centered around Family Day at Greendale, so the episode naturally explored the meaning of family. Everyone in the study group but Jeff, Britta, and Annie had visitors. It’s actually kind of strange to me that Annie wouldn’t have any family at Greendale on family day, but if she did I guess I’d start complaining that the episode was trying to juggle too many plots, so it’s all good. “Basic Geneology” was good fun, although it didn’t quite have the heart that I’ve generally come to expect from an episode of “Community.” On the positive side, it did feature some more unconventional character pairings which regular readers of this blog should know by now is something I always enjoy seeing on TV, especially on sitcoms.

So our cast of Family Day visitors (besides a mini Human Being…how cute…and kind of creepy) include Troy’s grandmother, Abed’s dad and cousin, Shirley’s two sons, and Pierce’s ex-stepdaughter. Troy is probably the least enthusiastic of the group about his visitor, and Britta thinks that’s pretty horrible. Britta doesn’t agree with our society’s tendency to marginalize the elderly. I definitely love Troy’s response about how he had heard white people got nostalgic about silly things, but now he’s seen it. Britta takes her acceptance of Troy’s grandmother to pretty absurd levels. When Troy’s grandmother takes offense to something Britta says, she tells Brita to find her a switch. And Britta actually does it.

Britta’s tune starts to change once Troy’s grandmother actually uses the switch on her. It’s pretty painful for Britta (and one of the funniest scenes of the episode, because it’s just so bizarre). Later, Britta tells Troy that she understands why he was ready to hide when he found out his grandmother was coming to visit- she’s a monster. And of course Troy’s grandmother hears what Britta says and demands that she and Troy go find another switch. It’s unclear whether or not they actually comply.

Shirley and Abed and their respective families spend most of the episode hanging out. I think this was the most successful unconventional pairing of the episode, because it was such culture clash, and it had such a sweet ending. Abed’s cousin Abra is very devout Muslim, so devout that she wears a burka. Abra truly wants a little freedom, though. She doesn’t want to go super wild and crazy- she just wants to have a little fun in the bouncy castle that Greendale set up for the festivities. Meanwhile, Abed’s dad gets frustrated with Shirley’s kids running a bit amok, and he actually flat out says Shirley is a bad mother.

It seems like there’s more fuel to add to the fire when Shirley’s kids appear to be missing. Turns out they’re actually hiding in Abra’s burka while Abra goes and spends some time in the bouncy castle. At the end of the episode, there’s a very touching moment where Abed thanks Shirley for not letting his father know what was going on. He tells Shirley that she should be proud of her sons for helping out Abra, and she really is a good mother. I think that’s the most emotion Abed has ever shown, really. It was nice to see.

I found the episode’s main plot to be the least interesting of the bunch. At the beginning of the episode, Professor Slater breaks up with Jeff. I was actually pretty happy about this, and I hope it sticks. Professor Slater provided a much needed catalyst for Jeff to grow up a little bit, but I don’t really see anywhere else interesting that her story can go. Jeff intends to enjoy being single again, but the rest of the study group, especially the ladies, all think that he’s really just trying to mask his pain over the break-up.

The perfect object for his newly single attention arrives in the form of Amber, Pierce’s ex-stepdaughter played by Katherine McPhee of American Idol fame. What is it with all these American Idol alums showing up on sitcoms lately? Pierce waffles between wanting Jeff to stay away from Amber and wanting to use Jeff to make Amber think he’s cool. Jeff is really more interested in hooking up with Amber than he is in helping Pierce out, but he goes along for the ride anyway…for a little while, at least.

Jeff discovers that Pierce has given Amber a $25,000 check. It wouldn’t have been so awful except that Jeff also discovers that Amber lied to Pierce about what’s she’s going to do with the check. She had told Pierce she was in photography school, and that she was going to use the money to pay for school. She tells Jeff that she’s not actually in photography school. She might use the money to buy a new car. Jeff enjoyed hooking up with her, but this deceit gives him pause.

He has help resolving his dilemma from Annie, who kind of randomly pops into this episode every once in a while to act as Jeff’s conscience. She pretty much tells Jeff that he needs to tell Pierce what’s going on with Amber. Jeff decides he’s going to do what’s right, but first he gives Amber a way to get out of the situation gracefully. She doesn’t take it. She decides to take the $25,000 and never see Pierce again.

When Pierce asks Jeff where Amber has gone, Jeff struggles to say the truth, but Pierce already knows that Amber is probably gone. He’s okay with it- he thought that might happen when he gave her too much money. Then comes what could be the only moment in this series where I have ever liked Pierce. Pierce and Jeff have a bit of a “friends are the family we choose for ourselves” moment. Jeff sees Professor Slater dancing with another guy at the little Family Day gathering, and he finally gets upset over the break up. Pierce calls Jeff “son” and gives him a hug.

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