In Slate’s Community TV Club, Aisha Harris will IM about each post-Dan Harmon episode with another Community fan. This week, she discusses “Economics of Marine Biology” with Slate copy editor Miriam Krule.
Aisha Harris: POP POP, Miriam! Words cannot describe how incredibly happy I was when Magnitude returned for the first time this season.
Miriam Krule: Alas, like a Pop Pop-less Magnitude, for me this episode was standard Harmon-less Community: It had the form of something I used to love but was missing its essence.
Aisha: I actually thought this was one of the better episodes. At least, the Dean's storyline of trying to recruit a “whale,” or extremely wealthy student whose parents will donate to the school, was one of the better narratives of this season.
Miriam: My least favorite, and the most random, was the Jeff-Pierce barbershop one. There were no quirks and no real connection. Jeff likes a close shave. Pierce is a misogynist who mocks gay marriage.
And we're supposed to believe that now Jeff defends Pierce? Did I miss something?
Aisha: The point, I guess, is Jeff's progression as a character—in the beginning of the episode, Britta gives him that nudge and points to his "breakthrough" during Thanksgiving with his father. So, Jeff sees things a little more optimistically now. I buy it—somewhat.
Miriam: I guess I just didn't like the direction of his optimism. But the P.E.E. storyline had all the makings of classic Community.
Aisha: I loved that! It was great to see Shirley get more to do for once.
Miriam: Shirley was great, as was Troy. And the absurdity of P.E.E. gave me so much hope. But then they got Chang involved.
Aisha: Yeah, a really tacked-on move, there. It's like they knew they had to remind us that Chang's still lurking. So they incorporate him into this Saved by the Bell-type montage of learning to work together, complete with a fun '80s/’90s song. "Teachers teaching to teach!"
Miriam: Exactly! But this episode as a whole felt like a bunch of feel-good lessons.
Aisha: I got the sense that TGIF at its peak was what they were going for.
Miriam: But like, not mocking it!
Aisha: Because there was no darkness or sarcasm to undercut it. Which was weird, but not too surprising considering how the season's been shaping up so far. On another note: Overall, there was way too much going on. There were four different storylines crammed into a 22-minute show!
Miriam: I think you're right; Community's biggest problem this season is that it tries to do much. This episode is a metaphor for that in some ways. Greendale is trying to get this new student. But it doesn't need a new student. And the show is at its best when the study group is hanging out. When you break up Abed and Troy, you lose me.
Aisha: Troy and Abed in the morning, forever! And in the evening, and in the afternoon. Anytime, really.
Miriam: I'd watch that spinoff.
Aisha: Personally, I liked having the Dean front and center and look forward to perhaps more City College fodder. At this point, the only direction I can see this going is yet another (possibly final) showdown between the two schools. They did try to lure Archie with a Vespa, after all.
Miriam: The Dean has definitely grown on me. It doesn't hurt that my fondness for Jim Rash has also grown in the past few years. I think what worries me the most is that all the well-developed characters with all their quirks are being flattened out.
Aisha: Yeah. But to be fair, there are still some great lines/moments here and there in Season 4. And the actors are still giving it their all. It’s just not cohesive, nor consistent.
Miriam: Wouldn't it have been great if Let's potato chips was the company that Archie's dad owned, and where he got his money?
Aisha: Get your hands off my Spingles, Miriam. Or is it Springles?
Miriam: And then they all got sick or something. Maybe I should write fan fiction.