Community, Season 6 Episode 9: “Grifting 101”

This is going to be a short review, because I don’t have that much to say about “Grifting 101”. Community has settled into a nice sixth season groove, and while it’s a half step up from last week, there’s something lacking about “Grifting 101”. One of the reasons that Community became a cult hit was because Dan Harmon was able to manipulate the structure of the episode so that the show became a different genre for a week. We got the Law & Order episode, the many paintball episode, the documentary episodes and so much more. They were never my favourite episodes of Community though. My favourite episode of Community is still season two’s “Mixology Certification” which is a more character-based piece, and also satisfies my Jeff/Britta shipping requirements. Like last week’s space movie episode, “Grifting 101” is a take on a con artist movie.

It was much better than last week’s episode, as Alan Sepinwall wrote in his review, which I’ll finish reading once I’ve written this. It once again played to Jeff’s insecurities (he has so many), so that once the Grifting teacher (played by Matt Berry) made him angry, he wanted to con him. The con in itself was fine, which is how I feel about most episodes of Community nowadays. It’s fine – I didn’t hate it – but it’s not going to be an episode I’ll go back to watching. I think my favourite thing about the episode was the visuals and the music it took from classic films. I thought the sketches of the characters were great, and I loved the incorporation of The Entertainer into the theme song (I learned piano for ten years, but I never learned to play The Entertainer OR Fur Elise. I guess my piano teachers thought they were too cliche or something).

And that’s the biggest problem of the episode; Matt Berry was great, the con was fine, but my favourite things were the score and the sketches. Dan Harmon has great attention to detail, and it paid off here, but I’m wondering if he’s running out of stories to tell in this universe. I can’t remember the last time I saw “the gang” (in its umpteenth permutation) take a class since the beginning of Season 4 (I didn’t watch much of Season 4, but watched half of season 5, but I don’t remember anyone taking classes back then. I could be wrong). No wonder Frankie and Elroy were so surprised the other week when they said “This used to be a study group?” There are still great character moments in this episode: we know that Jeff is vain, that Britta is still getting used to the idea of taking money from her parents, and that Chang can’t be trusted. But in doing a show where half the gang takes a class, it naturally sidelines the Dean and Frankie, and once again there was no B or C plot.

Community became great because it experimented with genre, but that genre only works when it’s grounded in character beats. It’s an improvement on last week because there’s no Annie in a skimpy outfit, but it’d be nice if we had more character related stories that took up the B and C plots. I get that the writers have more time with Yahoo! due to a lack of ad breaks, but they seem to be using that time for plot rather than for character, and that’s a problem.

Other thoughts:

  • The main reason I stopped watching season five of Community was the lack of Troy. Since it’s all available on Stan I’ll probably get around to watching it at some point.
  • It seems like a lot of Frankie’s job involves telling teachers that the teachers’ lounge is not a bar. It would have been great if we just cut to all of the teachers at Britta’s work.
  • I get that it’s difficult to write a good con for a half-hour show, but the way it ended seemed kind of sloppy.
  • One thing we should all keep in mind is that I got a chromecast for my birthday last week and I watched Ocean’s Eleven on Netflix on my TV over the weekend. So I currently have high standards when it comes to cons.
  • Although if it was a really smooth con, it wouldn’t have been Community. Basically what I’m saying is “it’s fine”.

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