Episode Title: "Competitive Ecology"
Writer: Maggie Bandur
Director: Anthony Russo
Before we get started on this week's review of "Community," I'd like to introduce all of you to Todd (David Neher), one of the other students at Greendale trying to make it through Biology 101 alongside our beloved study group. Whereas, most of the student body and professors are made up of larger than life characters, Todd is a laid back, easygoing war veteran who has a wife and a kid that he loves dearly. He's also unfailingly polite even in the face of increasingly hostile comments.
You see? He doesn't look like such a bad guy… aside from his Spider-Man villain haircut, No offense.
And yet somehow, Jeff (Joel McHale) Annie (Alison Brie), Pierce (Chevy Chase) Abed (Danny Pudi) Troy (Donald Glover) Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) and Britta (Gillian Jacobs) look at Todd and consider him to be an interloper intruding upon their group. They don't want to be with each other, but they sure as hell don't want to be with him either.
It starts off innocently enough as Professor Intensity (Michael Kenneth Williams) randomly assigns the students in his class to partner up with the person sitting across from them, effectively breaking up the group. The study group doesn't like that, so they converge upon Intensity (using his given name, Michael Kane) and ask to be allowed to partner with each other instead of with strangers. Kane couldn't care less, so he leaves them to it. Jeff breaks things off with his lab partner by doing his best impression of Abed's "Star Wars" obsession and social disorders while Troy tells his would-be partner that he just needs to catch up on "Breaking Bad." Meanwhile, Pierce has some choice words for his partner, Todd, who completely understands that Pierce would want to be with his friends… until Pierce realizes that as the seventh member of the group, he has no one to pair with but Todd.
But the group quickly sours on each other as Troy and Abed realize that they spend too much time together (and have nothing to talk about) while Annie gets tired of carrying Jeff around academically and Britta longs to be free of Shirley's endless baby pictures. Britta and Troy even have a mock romantic moment when they want to switch partners before the group comes together and Jeff suggests a meeting to solve "the Todd problem," right in front of Todd himself.
Todd takes his ongoing abuse well, as every member of the group seems to find ways to bash him. And amazingly, Todd comes up as the fourth most popular member of the group according to Abed's calculations. Naturally, this outrages Jeff, who came in at number 5 and Shirley, who came in at number 8. As the ordeal lasts all night, Todd's good nature takes a pounding and he can barely muster a "none taken" to all of the "No offense" comments heading his way. Todd finally has enough when Britta nearly burns the Turtle that Troy found and he angrily berates the group.
And Todd is completely right when he dismisses the group as toxic. From an outside perspective, all he sees is the group sniping at each other and being horrible instead of getting anything done. This minor character actually stands up to them as the voice of reason and rejects their sitcom insanity. Professor Kane also has an appropriate punishment in store after learning how they broke his friend, Todd. The group is now stuck with each other as a partner, with one specimen and one microscope between the seven of them. After all of the awkwardness and spite between them, the group only comes back together by their mutual bashing of Todd… while the poor man sheds tears within earshot.
I can't argue that the Todd plotline wasn't funny. But it really does seem like a surprisingly mean spirited turn from the show that's supposed to have more heart than this. Are these really the same people who stood by Abed during his mental breakdown last Christmas? Or the same group of friends who staged a game of Dungeons & Dragons because they were worried that Neil was going to kill himself? The heart does matter on "Community," and if the series is going to veer off from that and make everyone into caricatures of themselves… than I can't support that.
The other plotline for the week followed Ken Jeong's Señor Chang, as he descended further into madness and imagined himself as the hero of a noir detective tale that led him to accidentally burn a room in the school where he has been living. The storyline had its moments, including Chang's one sided romance with a female mannequin's legs and Dean Pelton's (Jim Rash) insanity lining up with Chang's fantasy world. But in all honesty, the Chang as a campus security guard storyline has felt like a desperate way to keep Chang on the series even as it removed him from the majority of the show's cast.
Chang works best in smaller doses, but it seems like we're getting Chang-ed down our throats. Chang's antics just aren't as funny when he's all by himself and he needs more interaction with the core group.
All in all, I enjoyed the episode. But I remain concerned about the current creative direction. If I was writing a prescription, I'd say we need less Chang in our diet and more of the group as we remember them from the first two years.
Crave Online Rating: 8 out of 10.