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TV That Matters: Community, Mad Men

By Matt Ern Columnist

 

Community-"Herstory of Dance"

Grade: B+

It took a while, but there’s finally been an episode of “Community” this season that felt like it had the heart of the old series. No gimmicks or weird self-parodies, just a story about the study group and how they need each other in order to be better people. This is largely a Britta episode, but wrapped up in all that are some nice moments for Jeff and Pierce too, plus there’s a great B-plot about Abed. Britta attempts to throw a dance to empower women, but mistakes singer Sophie B. Hawkins for Susan B Anthony and throws a “Sophie B. Hawkins” dance to combat the Dean’s “Sadie Hawkins Dance.” Jeff makes fun of her for Britta-ing the whole thing and keeps pushing her to admit her mistake, while Pierce councils her to stay the course. In the end, Britta pulls it off and Jeff finally gives her some genuine approval. It’s a great moment for Jeff and Britta’s relationship, brought on by Pierce--he’s the one who points out to Jeff that he’s always so mean to Britta, it’s no wonder she would rather insist on throwing a crazy “Sophie B Hawkins Dance” than admit she made a mistake. The last two episodes have had some great Jeff/Pierce moments, which were some of the highlights of the first season. Over in the B-plot, Annie and Shirley each try and set up Abed with a girl, and he agrees to go out with both of them so that he can act out the sitcom trope of dating two girls at once in two different dances. It’s a very Abed thing to do, and only gets more so when he falls for a third girl, Rachel, who’s working the dance. She catches on to his game early on and helps him to continue the rouse. Abed falling for Rachel is something of a sitcom cliché, but in a very “Community” way it’s wrapped in so many layers of irony and winking at tropes that it all feels very heartfelt and genuine. For me, this was the first time the new showrunners have really nailed the feel of old “Community.” In the past, they’ve been too obsessed with sweeping parody episodes.  Sometimes some subtle subversion of sitcom tropes is all you need for a great Abed storyline.

 

Mad Men-"The Doorway"

Grade: A

Death is surrounding Don Draper. It hangs over his conversation with the soldier at the bar; it’s evident when his doorman collapses in front of him; even his latest pitch is rejected by the client because it seems to suggest suicide. It’s clear Don isn’t taking all this meditating on death very well when he shows up drunk to Roger’s mother’s funeral and vomits during the eulogy. Last year, Don Draper was a man who had his life more-or-less together.  In this season’s premiere, we see a man struggling with an awful lot of demons. Megan’s success as an actress has given her newfound power over him, and her young age is yet another reminder of Don’s imminent death. He’s having affairs again, reading Dante’s “Inferno,” and drunkenly berating doormen about what they saw when they died for a few moments. Roger’s not having such an easy time this season either. He confides to his therapist that he doesn’t feel anything, even after his mother’s death (and then breaks down crying when his shoe-shine man dies and his family leaves Roger his kit). Life has become a meaningless series of events for Roger and he’s meandering forward into death. Betty is as unfulfilled as when we last saw her--maybe even more so--and, after a harrowing trip to the slums of St. Mark’s Place, she dyes her hair black “Mad Men” spends most of its two-hour premiere reminding us that there are an awful lot of characters on the show, and most of them are incredibly depressed. But everything isn’t all doom and gloom. The show is approaching the 1970s now, and so everyone has crazy facial hair. That’s something to look forward to--you know, other than watching depressed alcoholics contemplate death for another twelve episodes.

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