If the premiere episode of Community flunked the exam, and last week’s episode scored top marks, then this week’s show merely passed. Things started out crisply, but the show’s second half couldn’t maintain the laugh count, and it managed to turn me off to Abed (Danny Pudi). More on that later. First, it should be noted that for the second week in a row, a supporting character managed to steal the spotlight. Last week it was Ken Jeong as the eccentric Korean Spanish teacher Señor Chang, and this week we were introduced to Professor Whitman (John Michael Higgins), who taught a class in… well, I think it was an accounting class, but we’re never quite sure what the heck he’s supposed to be teaching.
Now, I’ve been a fan of JMH ever since Christopher Guest’s Best in Show; these days, whenever Higgins pops up in a movie or show, I’m guaranteed to at least smile. So I was glad to see that Higgins completely ran with the character of Prof. Whitman, who was an exaggerated version of Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. For instance, the man’s only class requirement is for his students to “seize the day!” Jeff (Joel McHale) therefore thought Whitman’s course would be a cakewalk, but the professor soon identified Jeff for the “cocky opportunist” that he is, and required him to genuinely seize the day by the end of the week.
Let’s hope that nobody here has ever had an instructor quite as bonkers as Whitman. However, I’m pretty sure we’ve all had someone who came close. There’s always that teacher (often an English teacher, it seems) who’s less concerned about grades and tests and more interested in his or her students’ personal growth. Such teachers can be life changing, but they can also, well, cause a student to injure herself while attempting to stand on her desk.
And, now, a roll call of Whitman’s best moments:
— While instructing his class to live in the moment, Whitman delivered this sage advice: “Only when we stop stopping our lives can we begin to start starting them.” Expect that to be inside fortune cookies by the year’s end.
— Whitman ordered everyone to stand on their desks. “All your lives you were told, ‘Don’t stand on your desk.’ Well, why not?” he asked. Immediately, one girl’s desk collapsed underneath her, and that’s not even the funniest part. The kicker was Whitman’s carefree reaction as the student cowered on the floor in pain: “She’s okay. Go to the nurse. Seize the day!”
— Whitman berated Jeff for ordering black coffee, describing it as “an ordinary coffee for an ordinary life.” Whitman then stepped up to the counter, gazed at the menu, and joyously ripped it in half, threw it in the air, and announced, “I shall have… a birthday cake!” The character’s unadulterated enthusiasm for even the simplest of tasks had me in stitches.
— Jeff tried to prove to Whitman that he was seizing the day by flying a rainbow kite and jump-roping with some inappropriately young girls. When Whitman disapproved, Jeff asked his professor to give him a break. Whitman’s reply: “Had I not already cried at the sunrise this morning, I would be weeping right now.” His comment made me recall that Bedazzled remake with Brendan Fraser, who wished he was more sensitive and wound up shedding tears whenever he caught a glimpse of the sunset.
— Finally, after giving Jeff an A+ for kissing Britta (Gillian Jacobs) in the middle of the day, Whitman briskly ran to the nearest tree and started climbing it. Well, why not? Trees are for climbing. Carpe diem!
The one downer about last night’s episode was Abed. I had enjoyed Abed and his insular island of pop culture during Community‘s first two episodes, but I’ve now grown weary of the character. This partly had to do with the fact that Abed was a jerk last night. After Britta volunteered to pay for his film class and other expenses, he took advantage of the opportunity by using Britta’s money for everything from ordering the coffee and pizza for the study group to renting an expensive high-end camera. We later found out that Abed was purposely trying to aggravate Britta so that she could more accurately play his mother in the documentary he was filming (Abed’s only memorable line: “Documentaries are like real movies, but with ugly people”).
Regardless, Abed has become so awkwardly antisocial that he’s no longer amusing. His film, for instance, was simply disturbing — are we supposed to laugh at the image of Abed’s floating head being surrounded by syringes and MRI brain scans? By comparison, The Office‘s Dwight, however severely abnormal he may be, is a wholly lovable character that we’re able to (at least partially) comprehend. That’s not the case with Abed at this point. Yet, undoubtedly, the guy will undergo some sort of transformational arc later on in the season, and I’m curious to see if and how he manages to find his niche in the world.
Class, what’s your take on last night’s Community? Yay or nay? And who else would you like to see guest star as a professor? Christopher Walken teaching poetry, anyone?