Seasons of Seasons: Community Season 2, “Applied Anthropology and Culinary Arts”

One last programming note: this week we’ll only be covering one episode, since the finale is a two-parter.

Look, I’ve praised Dan Harmon and his team of writers’ impeccable creative decisions throughout this season, which he’d go on to hone during the rest of his tenure on the show. But I don’t know how strongly I would grade his ability to tease out the running storylines of season two, especially given the weakness on display in Applied Anthropology and Culinary Arts. I have no doubt that the writer’s room wanted to put all their eggs in the basket of the finale and – spoiler alert – doing another paintball episode, which is the best explanation I can give for why this week’s episode is so lackluster.

The show had to wrap up Shirley’s pregnancy without it distracting from the end of the season, and the rest of the episode simply feels like writer Karey Dornetto (who wrote some decent episodes this season!) ran out of steam. The episode isn’t without its jokes, including an on-brand subplot about Britta’s performative feminism (the POV shot of Britta peaking under the curtain to help deliver the baby is an episode highlight), but rarely did I feel like any of the events would have much bearing on the show going forward.

Most notably, the B-plot involving Pierce stealing the mojo behind Troy and Abed’s handshake. The best B-plots of the season have been when the characters find a unique situation that could only happen at Greendale, or when a semi-significant character beat is expanded upon. Applied Anthropology and Culinary Arts is the season’s shortest episode, and while I don’t think an extra minute or three would necessarily save it, there could have been a new element thrown in to liven things up.

Shirley goes into labor during the episode’s opening minutes, throwing the group into a panic. Further complicating the matter is Dean Pelton interrupting because he’s being spotlighted for Dean Magazine – a bizarre plot element, but one that somehow doesn’t feel out of place within the world of Community. The bulk of the jokes within Shirley’s storyline revolve around Chang and his deep-seeded confidence that he is, in fact, the baby’s father. Most of these jokes are fine, and as much of a defender of Chang as I have been this season, they don’t subvert our expectations of Chang or reveal anything new about him.

Applied Anthropology and Culinary Arts isn’t an outright stinker (though it’s likely my least favorite of this season). The emotional beats with Shirley and Andre, along with Britta and Annie coming to a sort of realization about themselves, works right along with what Community does best in terms of its characters. But it’s ultimately disappointing because the show could have easily found a better, more productive way to utilize its spare parts.

Applied Anthropology and Culinary Arts Grade: C+

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