Maybe it’s by absolute coincidence, but I’ve enjoyed how each of these entries has given us a little of everything that Community did so well. First, you have the completely original offerings in Aerodynamics of Gender, followed by the goofball earnestness of the conspiracy thriller spoof in Cooperative Calligraphy. Both episodes really bring into focus that season two won’t exactly have an overarching plot to speak of. Sure, the characters grow and change from the premiere to the finale, but Dan Harmon wasn’t really interested in crafting a season-long narrative beyond “the school year.” Watch any episode in any order and, outside of a few callbacks and character details, you’ll probably have the same experience.
Greendale is a magical place, despite how terrible everyone espouses it to be in nearly every episode, and nowhere is that more evident than in Aerodynamics of Gender. I know that the Britta, Annie, Shirley, and Abed story is probably the A-plot, but there’s a charm to the Jeff and Troy B-plot that just brings a smile to my face. It’s the way that a simple trampoline – a symbol of childhood happiness – can bring so much peace and clarity to these otherwise miserable people. It’s the unnecessary but spot-on soft focus whenever the scene is set in the secret trampoline garden. It’s also Matt Walsh’s guest appearance as the gatekeeper (phrasing) of the garden, who also happens to be a horrible racist.
Maybe the reason the A-story doesn’t resonate with me is because it’s all fairly predictable. We saw a version of this in the season premiere, when Jeff and Britta turned the campus against each other, and the Aerodynamics of Gender doesn’t do much to up the ante beyond literally turning Abed into a robot. It’s great to see the girls whipping from one extreme of the campus ladder to the other in such a brief amount of time, but I expected writer Adam Countee to tap into some bizarro elements that worked so well with the B-plot.
Meanwhile, Cooperative Calligraphy tackles a genre in its own way that I wouldn’t be surprised if Dan Harmon had the idea circled on his vision board from the outset of the show. The bottle episode is a time-honored television tradition that virtually every long-running show has dipped its toes into. That Community did so so early on in its run with Cooperative Calligraphy is not only surprising, but bold. The show had already done parodies of action films in Modern Warfare, Goodfellas/Mobster movies in Contemporary American Poultry, and the few we’ve already seen this season, and now Cooperative Calligraphy sets its sights on the conspiracy thriller. Episode writer Megan Ganz doesn’t hit one specific film in the group’s rising paranoia; rather, it hits on the escalation from one suspect to the next, and the extreme lengths they’ll go to to prove their innocence.
Each cast member gets their moments to shine, and it feels like Ganz has an iron-clad grip on who these characters are and what they mean to each other. It’s equally impressive that this is her first credited screenplay for the show. Allison Brie hasn’t gotten the spotlight much this season so far, but she makes a meal out of Annie’s shifting suspicions as the episode goes on. Maybe Cooperative Calligraphy didn’t need Abed constantly pointing out that they were “in a bottle episode”, or the anticipation of Jeff’s Heartfelt Speech, but those are minor quibbles in what’s otherwise a smart – and, above all, funny – episode.
I don’t think I would ever point to Aerodynamics of Gender and Cooperative Calligraphy as the show’s – or even this season’s – best consecutive pair of episodes. But I would argue that both offer the platonic ideal of what Community did so well, so specifically, better than any show of its era. They both have issues to be ironed out, and past and future installments would tackle their genre exercises just as well, if not better, but if you can point to another show that worked in storylines about secretly racist groundskeepers or bottle episodes about stolen pens, I’d be happy to be proven wrong.
Aerodynamics of Gender Grade: B+
Cooperative Calligraphy Grade: B+