Going into Community’s sixth season, Dan Harmon said one of his goals was to ground the show back into reality. He wanted to remind us that despite how ridiculous and out there the show has become, full of paintball, space adventures and zombies, it’s still a real community college full of real people with real emotions.
This week’s episode, “Queer Studies and Advanced Waxing,” is a great example of that. It’s an emotionally honest episode that deals with these characters as real people, and while it’s not too inventive and not the funniest episode, it’s a really well written and emotionally honest exploration of these people.
In the episode, the Dean is offered a position on the school board, a dream come true and a big deal for him, a Dean nobody really cares about at a school nobody pays attention to. But he’s only being brought on because Richie and Carl recently offended the gay community, and they want the Dean to come on as an openly gay member of the board to prove their tolerance. But the Dean doesn’t identify as gay, or at least not just gay, but he decides to take the job and be dishonest. It’s maybe a bad decision, but it’s one he makes not really just out of a desire for power but out of a desire to improve Greendale and help people, and his heart is warmed when a gay student tells him how inspired he feels by the Dean.
But it begins to eat at the Dean more and more that he’s being dishonest and that he really only has this position based on this dishonesty. Now that he’s become something of a symbol, his actions become overly scrutinized by all sides, with the board calling him a “weird, gay monster” for wanting to protect a nest of birds. He briefly gives in and tries to be more of a “traditional” leader, forcing the nest to be removed and killing the birds, but comes back around by the end and admitting he’s been dishonest and behaved like, well, a politician. He loses his power, but goes back to the good old Dean we know and love.
The Dean has always come across as someone who genuinely wants to help his students, and also someone who just wants to be loved and a part of things. Both of those qualities kind of drive his relationship with the group, constantly expressing his care for them and also his desire to be part of their weird little dynamic. His actions in this episode are completely in line with his character; with something like this, the arc of the episode could have been the Dean being power-hungry and disregarding others only to come to a realization by the end, but that’s not what happens here. Everything he does comes from a genuine, caring place, and it speaks to Harmon and the team’s ability to maintain a great sense of these characters and how they would act in situations like these.
That’s the case with our B-story too, where Chang auditions for an adaptation of The Karate Kid. Annie comes with him for the audition, but she ends up getting the role he auditioned for. Then all throughout, the director (Jason Mantzoukas) is pretty abusive of Chang, Whiplash style. We know Annie as someone who wants to be the best at everything, and so getting the feeling that she’s the best at this play and a good actor at first gets in the way of her friendship with Chang. But she eventually comes to the realization that she needs to be loyal to her friends and so she stands up for Chang against the abuse. But unexpectedly, Chang stays on board and does incredibly well in the play, blowing everyone away.
Chang has been the subject of a lot of ridicule, and this episode both indulges in the opportunity to make fun of him though Jason Mantzoukas’ character, but also ends up treating him pretty well. It would be an easy joke to have the play go disastrously and everyone to make fun of Chang, but Harmon and the crew actually allow Chang a victory here. It’s probably the first time in a long time the show has actually taken Chang somewhat seriously and given him some respect as a person. The Karate Kidadaptation scenes themselves are pretty funny, but it’s also a storyline that allows Annie to have some development, gives us some great Chang laughs, and gives him a bit of a victory before he inevitably goes back to being completely insane next week.
Overall, “Queer Studies and Advanced Waxing” isn’t really the funniest episode of the season so far, but it is pretty well written and a character-driven episode of television that works to ground the show back into reality and remind us that these are real people at a real college.
-In the cold open everyone is complaining about the Wi-Fi being down, and the Dean comes in to say that he’s dying. Not really, but wouldn’t they feel bad about complaining about the Wi-Fi if that were true?
-Elroy literally goes on a monologue about dead baby birds.
-Can we talk about that gay dean song? By far the highlight of the episode and one of the funniest things of season six so far.
-The Dean makes gayness look like mormonism. I love the way that they still kind of keep his sexuality somewhat vague here, although confirming that he isn’t just 100% gay.
-I love the utilization of Britta in this episode as not a total idiot but someone who can actually help people, giving pretty good advice to Annie at the bar.
-Some of Jason Mantzoukas’ insults to Chang are downright brutal, including “the ghost of your father just turned his back on you.”
-In a confrontation about the baby birds, Elroy plays the “unarmed black man” card, only for the Dean to respond with the “unarmed openly gay man” card, playing into the episode’s theme about people being somewhat dishonest to appeal to what the public and politicians will think.
-I love the moment towards the end of the episode where Elroy says something that makes everyone nod their head and think, only for Abed to say he lost a button and Elroy to say “maybe we all lost a button,” confusing everyone. Not everything he says is wise.