There was a great moment in last week’s pleasantly entertaining “Herstory of Dance,” when the normally cheerful Dean Pelton went on a sarcastic rant against Britta and her competing Sophie B. Hawkins Dance. “Oh yeah, a LARGE percentage of Greendale students sort of gave up in the mid-‘90s, so for many of them, Sophie B. Hawkins is the most recent music they’re aware of,” he smirked, as Britta’s face dropped. Of course, he continued, if Hawkins should not make an appearance, those students just may question whether “life is worth living at all.” It was the Dean at his acerbic best, annoyed with Britta’s contrarian ways and eager to see her fail. It was also a reminder that no matter the situation, watching the Dean is always a pleasure. In fact, through the great, good, and so-so episodes of Community’s four seasons, the Dean has never failed to be deantastic.
The Dean doesn’t need any family members or significant others to flesh out his character background. He serves one purpose on Community: As a passionate advocator for Greendale’s very existence, he fights against everyone who puts it down or resents what it stands for. (“E pluribus anus!”) Whether he’s promoting school pride via an intense paintball session (and unwittingly vandalizing the school in the process), or resorting to desperate measures to convince a wealthy kid to enroll so Greendale can get more money for facilities improvements, the Dean’s heart is usually in the right place.
And watching him flail about has been a ray of light in a rather rough season. While other characters have taken creative beatings in Season 4, the Dean has remained consistently spot-on in both delivery and material, perhaps in part due to his relative one-dimensionality. Whether tangoing with Jeff in the Season 4 premiere or consistently taking cheap, great shots at Britta (“I hate to say ‘I told you so,’ but I’m gonna say it to Britta’s face”), it’s impossible not to appreciate how much reliable fun the Dean supplies to Community. The broad humor of his character was always just a little taste of what NBC apparently wanted from the show as a whole for this fourth season—more slapstick and middle-of-the-road silliness. It’s ironic that the character closest in comedic style to superfans’ biggest fears for the show once NBC ousted Dan Harmon is the one who’s provided the most reliable laughs in the show’s post-Harmon era. Community’s remaining writers excel at giving the Dean funny things to do, even as they struggle to replicate the intricacies and meta flourishes of Harmon’s best work.
Of course, it helps that Jim Rash does such a great job of bringing his character to life. (And it’s incredible to remember that this ridiculous educator is played by the same guy who won an Oscar for writing The Descendants.) Sure, we expect every episode to feature at least one outlandish Dean costume, but the comedic impact of witnessing him in a new outfit in all its glory has hardly diminished after four seasons. (Last week’s grey-painted “Deana Reed” was quite clever.) And the Dean will forever be in love with Jeff, much to his object of affection’s chagrin, but his shameless attempts to flirt with him never get old.
So let’s raise a glass to the Dean, a constant source of dean-lightfully silly humor.