Community, “Queer Studies and Advanced Waxing” (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in March 2015.

“Queer Studies and Advanced Waxing” took the most advantage of Season 6’s lack of running time restrictions thus far, clocking in just under 31 minutes.  This made sense, insofar as there were three plots and only two of them were even tangentially related.  The structure of a typical modern network sitcom episode is generally not long enough to fully conclude the normal amount of three storylines.  “Community” was not being indulgent here so much as it was just finding the necessary legroom.  But even though each plot had enough space, it was not clear why Chang’s performance as Mr. Miyagi, the Dean joining the school board, and protecting a bird’s nest as IT work all needed to be in the same episode.

Perhaps there did not need to be a reason beyond the fact that these events all happened to occur around the same time.  The writing seemed to be aware of that lack of necessity, with Annie declaring that she was at “a total loss of what lesson to learn from any of this,” and Elroy suggesting, “Maybe that’s the lesson.”  Television has conditioned the masses to believe that there is always something to be learned after a half hour of shenanigans, but sometimes all there is to know, at least in the moment, is that those shenanigans just happened.  “Community” has up until now been willing to play along with the life-lesson model, but maybe, six seasons in, it is more inclined to go with a more existential vibe.

That is not all to say that there was nothing meaningful to be gleaned from this episode.  Chang’s performance as Mr. Miyagi spoke volumes about this frequently extraneous character.  People who are only familiar with “The Karate Kid” through “Wax on, wax off” and “You’re the Best” may have been surprised to discover that it contained enough weighty subject matter to garner Pat Morita an Oscar nomination.  Thus, this homage was a surprising opportunity for Ken Jeong to show off his dramatic chops and for Chang to be more relevant than he has been for a while, perhaps even since Season 1.

“Advanced Waxing” called back to Chang’s theatrical abilities, first hinted at in last season’s “Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality,” in which he was able to tap into a lifetime’s worth of bizarre pain at a moment’s notice.  Somehow the director, Mr. Lundergard (a typically intense Jason Mantzoukas), was able to immediately key in on Chang’s deep well of sadness.  After all the insanity he has gone through since being fired as a Spanish professor, it turned out that acting was what he needed to turn to all along.

It was a relief that Lundergard had just been pushing Chang to dig deeper the whole time, because it did not make sense that he would continue to abuse him about his lack of talent but not find a replacement.  Mantzoukas has a knack for playing psychopaths, but there is usually a level of obliviousness there that makes them more insane than frightening (see Rafi on “The League” for an absolutely thrilling example).  But as Mr. Lundergard, there was a controlled aspect to his insults that suggested he knew exactly what he was doing.  If he had been throwing out barbs about reabsorbing Chang’s doughy body back into his mother’s doughy body just for the hell of it, it would have been abusive not just to Chang but also to the audience.  Thankfully, there was a point to all this, one which resulted in new character exploration.  (There was certainly more room to consider the appropriateness of such abuse in art, but this episode simply did not have enough room to go full-“Whiplash.”)

Annie ultimately bore the bigger brunt of Mr. Lundergard’s invective.  His unreserved praise of her was raising red flags.  Her performance was certainly serviceable and committed, but it was more suited to sketch comedy than the deep drama that Lundergard was going for.  His characterization of her performance as Vinnie Barberino-esque was spot-on, but that was not what the play required.  For someone like Annie who is so used to being praised, this dismissal was stunning, and it certainly did not help that her old rival Annie Kim replaced her.  Luckily, Jeff was there to comfort (and interestingly enough, tease) her during the show, culminating in their personal “Milady/Milord” exchange of endearment, which had not hitherto been spoken in its entirety since Season 1.

The gender-flipped and attempted race-blind casting of Daniel was thematically connected to the Dean’s promotion to the school board.  Carl and Richie were back to announce to Craig that they actually did like him enough to vouch for his qualifications.  Of course, the real reason they wanted him was for the sexual diversity his presence would signal.

It was nice to get a relatively concrete explanation about the Dean’s sexuality.  While he has always had a crush on Jeff Winger, he has rarely tracked as strictly gay.  Vice Dean Laybourne’s characterization of him as a “pansexual imp” back in Season 3 has now been confirmed as essentially accurate, as per Craig’s assertion that gay is only 2/7 of what he is.  As for how this story actually played out, it was rather predictable, with the press initially praising a diversity hire but then going too far and assigning all of his actions as part and parcel of his orientation.  The decision to ultimately “come out” as a politician was a little cute, but it made sense within the context.

The Dean’s promotion effectively intersected with Elroy and Abed’s work as the new IT crew, with their confrontation highlighting how identity markers can exacerbate situations in which race, sexuality, etc. really have nothing to do with the conflict at hand.  The Dean wisely exploited that tendency in a way that defused the situation, but also in a way that put the baby birds at risk.  Abed’s behavior often favors acting out movie and TV tropes at the expense of reality, but in this case, he appeared to be acting out of genuine concern for creatures in need.  His understanding of the birds’ plight seemed to be informed by his own history of his mother fading from his life.  It may not have been worth interrupting the entire campus’s Internet for the sake of one avian family, but at least this was a legitimate dilemma as opposed to Abed being unreasonably indulgent.  And he actually did manage to bring to life a common trope (the lazy IT crew).  Moreover, Elroy was further brought into the fold of the Greendale gang.

Notes & Quotes:
-Frankie’s references to the IT lady, a role Paget Brewster played in a one-episode guest appearance last season, showed “Community” going fully philosophical in its treatment of its fictional world, bringing to the fore the question, does a character continue existing if its portrayer has moved on to another capacity?
-Further details of Elroy’s past were revealed (“WHY WOULD A PLUMBER BE FIGHTING A MONKEY?!”).  Will his claims of being ripped off prove to be legitimate?
-For the second episode in a row, Britta did not have much to do, but at least what she did do (offer advice to Annie) was more dignified.
-“The wifi’s still broken.” “What happened to ‘Good morning’?” “It’s a bad morning. The wifi’s still broken.”
-“Did Clive Barker write you?”
-“I don’t hit water or old mayonnaise.”
-“I lost a button.”