Monday, March 29, 2010

Community 1.19: "Beginner Pottery"

“Well anyone can be a lawyer. You can even represent yourself. You can’t do surgery on yourself. It’s illegal. You’d get arrested. And then you’d get a free lawyer.”


So reviews of “Beginner Pottery” have been mixed, but I have to say I really enjoyed it. I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard at an episode of “Community” in a long time, if ever. I don’t know, maybe I just have an odd sense of humor. I’m not a fan of gross-out humor or over-the-top emoting (Señor Chang, I’m looking at you), but I love bizarre visuals and physical comedy. So parking lot sailing lessons were right in the wheelhouse of what I find really funny. Not only was this episode really funny, but it gave us insight into some previously one-note or underused characters.

It’s that time of the semester where once again, the study group is trying to choose a “blow off” class. The last time Jeff suggested a blow off class, they had a professor who thought he was reenacting “Dead Poet’s Society.” This was especially disturbing to Annie, so she’s not really enthusiastic about Jeff making another suggestion. Jeff wants to take Beginner Pottery. Pierce has another idea- he wants to take Sailing. The group ends up divided, with Jeff, Annie, and Abed taking Beginner Pottery, and the rest of the group taking sailing.

The story of Jeff and the pottery class was kind of lame, but the sailing plot more than made up for it. Jeff has trouble dealing with the fact that pottery isn’t something he naturally excels at. Even though the professor, played by the always funny Tony Hale (the late Emmett Milbarge from “Chuck”), says that all a student needs to do to earn an A is refrain from reenacting the pottery scene from “Ghost,” Jeff still gets incredibly frustrated. Not helping matters is a student named Rich. He claims to be a doctor who is just taking the class for some fun and relaxation. Rich, despite claiming to just be a beginner, is blowing everyone else away with his pottery-making talent.

Jeff spends most of the episode obsessing on how to find evidence that Rich is not a beginner pottery student. He wants to expose Rich as a fraud. Jeff is so fixated on this that he even spends the entire night in the study room researching. Overall, Jeff’s a mess. His obsession culminates in trying to ruin Rich’s latest creation in a move that looks too much like “Ghost” for the professor’s comfort. Jeff is thrown out of the classroom, singing “Unchained Melody” just to make his coming unhinged complete. Now, I usually find Joel McHale to be a very talented comedic actor, but the part of this plot where Jeff is especially manic just doesn’t work for me. It goes a little too far, into more obnoxious than funny territory.

This storyline is somewhat redeemed, however, by a conversation Jeff and Pierce have. Pierce has been abandoned by the rest of the sailing class (more on that later), and he’s hanging out in the “boathouse” figuring out his next move. Jeff finds him there and asks Pierce about what happened. The result is a very nice heart-to-heart between Jeff and Pierce where Pierce explains that all his life, he’s never really been naturally great at anything, so he’s learned to just try harder and be more persistent than everyone else. For some reason, NBC has really done a number on the episode order for Community this season. “Beginner Pottery” was apparently episode 14 in production order. I think this conversation between Jeff and Pierce does a nice job setting up their “father and son” moment in the Family Day episode. Jeff returns to pottery class contrite, and the professor agrees to give him a second chance as long as he keeps any future “Ghost” outbursts contained.

The sailing class was really the best part of this episode from a comedic standpoint. It was absurd and wonderfully hilarious. Greendale is apparently several hours from any water, so sailing class is held in the parking lot. Shirley is named Captain of the crew, and this is a really great opportunity to explore Shirley’s character. She always tries to be kind to people, and the sailing professor wants her to be tougher. There’s too much dissension in the group without a strong leader.

Shirley’s convictions are especially tested when it becomes apparent that Pierce is a severe liability to the crew. To foster crew unity, the professor has deemed that the class will all get the same grade. They’ll all pass together, or they’ll all fail together. That leads to widespread clamoring for Pierce to be kicked off the boat. When Pierce does accidentally fall off the boat, Shirley’s first instinct is to throw him a life ring. There’s a “perfect storm” brewing, though, and the professor tells the crew that there isn’t enough time to rescue Pierce and get to safety. Shirley gives in and lets the life ring, and Pierce, go.

This is the point at which Jeff finds Pierce in the boathouse. Pierce has a plan to get back into the sailing class despite being ousted. He gets into a dinghy, also outfitted with wheels like the sailboat, and he starts “paddling” towards the sailboat. He looks pathetic to begin with, but he becomes even more pathetic when he runs into a sprinkler and his boat begins taking on water. Shirley’s better nature takes over, and she orders the crew to save Pierce. Starburns starts the engine on what looks like a lawn tractor attached to the sailboat, and they start moving towards Pierce, who is frantically trying to bail water from the sprinkler out of his boat.

The absolute funniest visual of the episode, perhaps even of the entire series, is a view from inside a classroom as the students see the sailboat go by out the window, with Britta keeping watch for Pierce as the boat moves towards the site of the wreck. Words can’t really do it justice- it’s something that must be seen to be really appreciated! This plot really ended up developing the characters of Shirley and Pierce. I liked seeing Shirley struggle between her natural inclination to be kind and the need to be a hardass to save her grade. I also liked seeing that Pierce could actually be vulnerable. The professor ends up being impressed with Shirley’s compassion, and he tells the class that they get an A. Until Pierce ruins it by violating that professor’s one rule. No reinacting the “I’m king of the world!” scene from Titanic.

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