Apr 24, 2013

Community: "Intro to Knots"

By Nico Danilovich 

Having its original airdate pushed back by a couple of months, Community’s seasonal Christmas episode finally aired this week—and it sure was a merry one. Contained completely within Jeff’s apartment, “Intro to Knots” told a wonderfully cohesive story that was extremely engaging. This was due not only to particularly sharp humor, but also compelling stakes, a constant increase of conflict and a great villain. Its only downfall was a slightly underwhelming resolution that still managed to wrap up the story in a satisfying way. Overall, “Intro to Knots” was the best episode of the season thus far and, with only three episodes in the season left, that’s unlikely to change.

In stark contrast to last week’s bore of an opening, this week’s opening set up the story perfectly. The study group arrived at Jeff’s apartment for their first “grown-up Christmas party”, swiftly delivering a constant stream of humor as they came. Chang also joined the party, serving as a replacement for Pierce who was away at “sensitivity training with Gilbert” (a.k.a. no longer on the show). Once the entire group had finally gathered, Annie introduced the central conflict of the episode: she had invited their history professor, Professor Cornwallis, to the party in hopes of convincing him to raise the group’s supposedly failing grade to a passing one.  And, in the words of Abed, “just like that, [their] pleasant holiday party turned into a tense, high stakes, secret mission.”

The central conflict of this episode worked so well because the entire study group had the same thing on the line: their grade. Furthermore, the key players in the story were given particularly compelling motivations; without a passing grade, Jeff could not graduate on time and Annie would lose her shot at being valedictorian. This forced the group to form a united front that would eventually be tested by Cornwallis’ expert manipulation. Unfortunately for the group, it was soon revealed that their front was not as united as it would seem. Not only did Jeff completely blow off his section of the assignment, but Annie had also deceived the group for her own gain. It was revealed that the group had actually received the passing grade of a C-. Obsessed with becoming valedictorian, Annie had actually invited Cornwallis in hopes of raising the already passing grade to an A. This eventually blew up in the faces of the study group as Cornwallis actually lowered their grade to a failing one.

It was at this point that Chang tied up Cornwallis and Cornwallis was forced to change from a stubborn old man to a manipulative antagonist. Watching Cornwallis attempt to poke holes in the unity of the group with such clever insight was an absolute joy. Furthermore, given that we had already been presented with evidence that the group was not as cohesive as they liked to believe, there was a real sense of danger present. What made the situation even more engaging was the clever fight the group gave back in response to Cornwallis. This intense struggle between Cornwallis and the study group, along with the ever-present danger of the study group imploding, resulted in the best segment of the episode by far.

The resolution to this tense situation, while well crafted and effective, was slightly underwhelming, given the quality of everything that came before it. Ultimately, Jeff was able to save the day with a simple Winger Speech. Given how much the writers had built up Cornwallis’ villainous ability to see right through the group’s dynamics, it was slightly disappointing that he was unable to counteract such a predictable tactic. Jeff’s speech, however, was so well written that its success was ultimately emotionally satisfying. From there, it was revealed that Chang had not really tied Cornwallis up and that Cornwallis had faked his imprisonment so he could continue to spend the holiday with the study group instead of alone. While this did work to resolve the issue of how the group was going to get their grade back, it was a tad disappointing to see such an awesome villain knocked down like that. Obviously, seeing villains get bested is a plus in almost any story, but I’m not so sure that painting him as lonely and desperate was the proper way to do it. In the end, despite some minor missteps, this resolution did wrap things up nicely and provided us with a feel-good experience fitting for the holiday setting.

I’ve already mentioned it a few times, but I think it’s important to also give particular focus to the fact that the humor was extremely sharp in this episode. Since they were given such minor roles in the central plot, it was great to see Abed, Troy, the Dean and Chang played up so skillfully for laughs. Abed’s meta commentary of the situation was a hoot; Donald Glover (the actor who plays Troy) delivered his relatively minimal lines with comedic expertise; the Dean’s obsession with the study group continues to be hilariously adorable and Chang’s Changnesia was constantly effective in creating humor. Ultimately, it was the consistently clever humor in this episode that set the episode apart from other impressive installments of the season, such as “Economics of Marine Biology”.

At this point in the season, I think it’s safe to say that Community is still great at telling its simpler stories in a cohesive and engaging manner. Although the episodes with more out-of-the-ordinary premises have ultimately detracted from my overall experience of the season, episodes like “Intro to Knots” are definitely making up for it. In my last review, I expressed my hopes for Community to provide the proper mix of humor, emotion and insanity in its final stretch. If the next three episodes follow in the footsteps of “Intro to Knots”, then we should be in for a great time. Here’s hoping.

Grade: A

Nico Danilovich is a television enthusiast and amateur filmmaker. His work can be seen at www.youtube.com/thelazyneighbors

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