Community recap: The Big Freak

Chang finally becomes a Raymond Chandler character, as Jeff & Co. learn about natural selection while competing for lab partners with Darwinian glee.
Ep. 03 | Aired Oct 6, 2011

DICK AND A BOX Troy (Donald Glover) discovers he's been ranked as one of the study group's more popular members.

Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Community is the weirdest show on TV. By default, in this new era of televisual blandness, that makes it one of the best shows on TV. Last week we were treated to a hilarious riff on that high school and college staple, the Model United Nations, that not only painted a vivid portrait of the ego-stroking and power trips that actually do prevent world peace from ever being achieved but also worked in a high-concept alternate-universe motif that was about as brain-bending as anything this side of Star Trek and proved Abed to be television’s heir apparent to Mr. Data. Tonight’s episode upped the WTF? factor even further. Fitting in somewhere between the respective oeuvres of Raymond Chandler and Thomas Pynchon, “Competitive Ecology” should really have been titled “The Lab Partner in the Lake” or “The Crying of Lot Greendale.”

It opened with an increasingly delusional Chang sleeping with “Veronica,” his mannequin leg that serves as female companionship, and the kind of nonchalant joke that’s so much funnier because it’s never explained. (Although, someone seriously needs to rent all the copies of A Christmas Story and Lars and the Real Girl in town, so the erstwhile Señor won’t get further ideas.) Come on, don’t try to deny you got chills when he sexily purred to Veronica, “Shhh…get some rest. You probably need it.” Like Pynchon’s great heroine Oedipa Maas, Chang began imagining himself in the midst of a vast conspiracy involving the Arizona Matchstick Company, Greendale’s new pay-water-fountains, Larry Bird, the local PD, and his boss, security chief Nuñez. (Not to sound like Mookie from Do the Right Thing all of a sudden, but, come on, what’s up with people’s obsession with Larry Bird?) This was a conspiracy that could only be unraveled by staring at potential suspects, imagining hard-boiled voiceover, and slowly wailing on a muted sax.

I feel bad for Chang. He used to be the ultimate observer—never a part of Greendale’s study group clique, but keenly aware of everything that was going on. Last year he could still be the racist-prover! This year, he’s regressed so completely into himself that reality outside of his warped headspace holds no value or interest for him. Instead, he sees a female student walk into his office and thinks, while silently moving his lips, “She was all dame. Legs that went all the way to the bottom of her torso. The kind of arms that had elbows.” Needless to say, if Magnitude represents the ultimate extrovert on the “Pop! Pop!” Scale of Outgoingness, Chang seems about as introverted and internalized as that little turtle Troy found on the Greendale lawn.

Meanwhile, as Chang skipped further down the rabbit hole of his own making, Jeff, Britta, Shirley, Abed, Troy, Annie, and Pierce were dealing with a relationship decision second only to choosing one’s soulmate: finding a lab partner. Originally, the newly paroled Professor Kane had paired everyone up with non-study-groupers, which was unacceptable. After all, that study group comprises the only living human souls to whom Pierce has confessed his lavatory liaison with Eartha Kitt. These are people who survived an Abba-scored zombie infestation, the transformation of the school into a paintball warzone, even a simulated trip to outer space courtesy of Kentucky Fried Chicken. But the only thing that seems to puzzle Kane more than Lego’s increasingly complex building-sets (what must he think of Lego videogames?) is Jeff Winger & Co, so he quickly agreed to their demand of partnering up with each other. How to determine who should partner up with whom? Leave it to Abed to devise an algorithm pairing the least popular with the most popular members of the study group. This would maximize each partnership’s audience appeal, and prevent two fans of Kickpuncher from ending up in the same group. It also meant a (gasp) outsider would have to be involved, since their clique numbers only seven.

NEXT: Todd almost becomes the Frank Grimes of the Community-verse.

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