One of the hallmarks of Community is that, throughout its past five seasons, it’s always been a show about broken people who know they’re broken and are trying to make their way in the world as best they can, holding on to the hope that maybe they can come out the other side a little less screwed up than when they started. But it’s also been about the idea that nobody ever makes it out completely whole, no matter how much we purport to learn from screw-ups and hurt feelings. Sometimes the best we can do is forgive ourselves and try to do better next time.
In the second of Yahoo! Screen’s two-episode premiere, “Lawnmower Maintenance & Postnatal Care,” we get to see two very different characters at their lowest points and watch to see if they’ll be able to pull themselves up again. (I mean, it’s Community, so they probably can. If Chang can get pass after pass, pretty much anyone can, I imagine.) The A-story of the episode follows Britta, whose life, since her introduction in the pilot episode, has been on a downward trajectory. Starting off as a strident former anarchist who valued honesty more than anything else, she has become, as Jeff put it last season, the group’s airhead. From wandering from one dead-end job and relationship to the next to having her name as a synonym for screwing up, Britta’s character has taken one hit after the other, yet still presses on to fight another day.
However, in the season premiere, things have taken a dark turn, with Britta sleeping in a tent, too broke to afford an apartment. At the beginning of “Lawnmower Maintenance & Postnatal Care,” she moves in with Annie and Abed, who, along with the rest of the group, have been loaning Britta money obtained from her parents. When Britta finds out that she’s being supported by her parents, with whom she cuts ties years ago, she has a meltdown and must decide whether to accept their help and forgive them for their mistakes in her upbringing.
Meanwhile, the Dean has purchased a virtual reality system from VirtuGood, a VR company owned down-on-his-luck programmer and inventor Elroy Patashnik (played by new addition Keith David). Unfortunately, the VR system cost $5,000, way too pricey for Greendale Community College’s meager budget, but the Dean refuses to return it. Jeff visits Elroy to attempt to get the school’s money back, inadvertently causing Elroy to confront some hard truths about his own life.
Enough can’t be said about Gillian Jacobs’ performance as Britta in this episode. Jacobs has an ability to perform all sorts of comedy with easy: broad tantrums, righteous indignation, and neurotic self-loathing. However, she brings something to the character that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle: a quiet and not-so-quiet dignity. That seems an odd thing to say about a character who makes a grand exit by running away from her parents on a Big Wheel, but Jacobs has a way of using the script to make Britta’s realization about why she makes the choices she makes seem organic and a real point of growth for the character.
A big part of that realization is thanks to Britta’s conversation with Greendale’s administrative consultant Frankie. She suggests to Britta that we’re all broken in some way, neither completely heroes nor completely villains, and with that realization we can stop hating each other and ourselves. Again, Paget Brewster’s performance as Frankie is a welcome addition to our cast of misfits, as she acts as a grounding influence on the characters that’s sometimes a necessity. She brings a wisdom and an outsider’s perspective to the group that can help reveal truths about the group members that they might otherwise not see in themselves because of their insularity.
Like Frankie acting as the “new Shirley,” Keith David’s Elroy is an attempt to fill the hateful curmudgeon role once filled by Pierce and, later, Professor Hickey. However, Elroy comes with his own baggage and issues with which he must wrestle, rather than being just another sour man to shake a cane at the youngsters. Whereas Pierce was looking to fill a void in his life where a family should be and Professor Hickey was learning to be a better teacher, Elroy’s character arc looks to focus on reinventing himself after a promising career takes a downturn.
“Lawnmower Maintenance & Postnatal Care” reinforces a truth that the series attempts to hammer home again and again so we’ll realize it for ourselves: Broken people don’t have to remain that way and there’s always a chance to turn things around.
- It was nice to see Britta’s parents, especially Martin Mull as her father. At this point, I think we’ve now seen family members from all of the original study group’s families: Jeff’s dad and half-brother; Troy’s grandmother; Abed’s dad and cousin; Shirley’s husband, sons, and in-laws; Annie’s foster brother; Pierce’s dad, half-brother, and ex-stepdaughter. We have even seen Chang’s brother and ex-wife. Hopefully, we’ll see what’s lurking in the Dean’s family tree sometime soon.
- Do remember the movie The Lawnmower Man? No? This episode will refresh your memory.
- “JESUS WEPT!”
- The Dean’s VR experience, while a nice bit of goofiness, also has a “Choose Your Own Adventure” feel. It’s a nice parallel and commentary about how we can all decide our own destinies.
- Chang’s increasingly-infected hand and his quest to find nurse is one of the funniest and saddest things I’ve ever seen.
- If you want to know how dedicated Community is to detail and what the show can do with Yahoo!’s budget, keep an eye out for its Gremlins spoof. Oh sweet baby Jesus, that movie needs to be made a reality.