First, a note: one of these spots would go to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons but, because of a plot point involving blackface, Netflix and Hulu removed the episode in 2020, and I had no other way to view it.
Chevy Chase was, canonically, the worst, on Community. I don’t know if he was always difficult to work with, or if his unique personality mixed with Dan Harmon’s equally unique personality created a tornado of personalities, but Harmon’s distaste for Chase (and vice versa) would only grow as the show went on. And Celebrity Pharmacology and Early 21st Century Romanticism serve as perfect metaphors for their working relationship. Overall the episodes are probably on the lower end of the spectrum for season two, but it at least provides an inside look at how Harmon would utilize Pierce going forward.
Up to this point, Pierce has mostly existed to wreak havoc and ruin whatever fun that the study group, or its individual members, are having. That’s not so different in Pharmacology, but it has the added meta effect because he’s in direct conflict with Annie, who’s producing the Greendale performance. It’s easy to forget it now, but when Community first aired, the show was seen as a sort of comeback vehicle for Chase, or he was at least the biggest name to draw in mainstream audiences. But somewhere along the way, Chase and Harmon stopped playing nice and Harmon’s discontentment for Chase started to bleed through in the scripts.
Pierce lends Annie some money once he sees how dire her financial situation is and uses it as a backdoor way to get more time in the spotlight during the play. Unsurprisingly, Pierce’s revisions get so out of control that he takes over the play and changes the message of the anti-drug play to something that gets the kids excited about drugs. The rest of the cast doesn’t get a ton to do besides a B-plot involving Shirley and Chang and the former’s strategy of ignoring the latter, but it mostly just feels like a filler to pad out the episode’s runtime. That’s not to say the episode isn’t without its usual stockpile of jokes, and that’s mostly what saves it from being forgettable.
Pierce gets less screen time in Early 21st Century Romanticism but his storyline is no less tragic. The episode is one of the few true ensemble pieces of the season so far (even John Oliver’s Duncan shows up!), both to its benefit and detriment. The only character that takes a back seat is Annie, though she gets some solid jokes and bits of exposition. Troy and Abed’s relationship gets a unique spin this time around as they both vie for the romantic affection of the school’s librarian (Maite Schwartz), so they go on a double date of sorts at the school dance when she has to decide who she’ll go out with. It’s a clever subversion of the “choose between two romantic partners” trope and episode writer Karey Dornetto anchors it in the hyper-specific friendship that makes Troy and Abed so perfect for each other.
I wasn’t expecting Romanticism to be set in such a specific cultural time, but Britta’s support/flirtation with Page (Brit Marling) falls into the pre-Obergefell era that makes the subplot feel a little dated. Nevertheless, it’s fun to see Gillian Jacobs’s ever-shifting performance match Britta’s neverending desire to feel morally superior to everyone else on the Greendale campus.
It’s easy to forget that the episode is a Valentine’s Day-themed outing, and when you remember that, it pales in comparison to this season’s earlier holiday episodes. But, per usual, Jeff brings it together in the end with a heartwarming message to his friends, speaking to the love they have for each other. This isn’t the first time the show has hinted at how the study group may be better off without Jeff, and every time it comes up, I can’t help but think of the finale to next season’s Remedial Chaos Theory.
Jeff’s subplot feels a little insubstantial at first with the fight that starts out the episode – funny as it is – mostly serving as a way to separate him from everyone else. Where the episode falters in its skewing of Valentine’s Day, it makes up for in the unique way it highlights the cast’s unbreakable chemistry. Or, at the very least, the episode deserves praise for introducing us to Jeff Youngblood’s Magnitude as a character. The show, and the world, would never be the same. God bless you, Magnitude.
Celebrity Pharmacology Grade: B-
Early 21st Century Romanticism Grade: B