Dear Community, Please Don't Let Ken Jeong Ruin Your Show

Slate's Culture Blog
March 24 2011 11:01 AM

Dear Community, Please Don't Let Ken Jeong Ruin Your Show

Community is one of my very favorite shows—it has such a soft heart underneath layers and layers of pop culture cleverness. So it is with great sadness that I must admit that last week's episode was a tipping point for me : I fear that the character Chang (played by Ken Jeong, who is best known as the crazed, poorly endowed pimp in The Hangover ) is ruining the sitcom.The Onion AV Club termed these sorts of characters "Showblockers" last year: a person who is "so grating—sometimes intentionally so—that even fans of the show heave a heavy sigh when they appear onscreen."

Chang, formerly the gang's salty Spanish teacher, has taken on a greater prominence in the second season. At the end of the first season, he was unmasked as a fraud and forced to take classes—rather than teach classes—at Greendale Community College. Apparently this demotion also caused some sort of psychotic break, because his personality did a 180 as well. Where he was formerly a sparingly used, stern presence, in the second season he is crazy and basically unable to wash, clothe, or feed himself appropriately. Earlier in the second season, Vulture's Community recapper Andy Greenwald noticed how irritating Chang was becoming, and begged the writers to back off on the Chang plots .

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Unfortunately, the show did not heed Greenwald's advice. Chang is now part of a several episode-long arc about how he may be the father of Shirley's baby. The show tries to pump laughs out of how sexually repellent Chang is, and also what a horrible and unfit father he would make because he's so nutbar. On the first count, it's a bummer that Community —which usually handles race issues so deftly—falls back on the stereotype of Asian men as unattractive. On the topic of Chang's personality flaws, the problem is not just that he's bonkers. It's that he's really mean-spirited, which just doesn't fit with the otherwise very sweet tenor of the show.

In this clip from last week's episode, Chang has brought some random children he believes are Shirley's back to Jeff's apartment. He's tutoring them in Spanish in order to prove that he is decent baby-daddy material. Jeff reams Chang out, and agrees to bring the children back to their mom. At the end of the clip, Chang is calling the police anonymously, trying to convince them that Jeff has kidnapped these kids. This is what I mean when I say Chang is mean-spirited—that's a pretty callous, cruel move (even though it's obvious to the viewer that the charges will go nowhere).

It is with a sigh of relief that I report that tonight's episode doesn't seem particularly Chang-heavy from the description ("Jeff Plans a 'Pulp Fiction' surprise for Abed's birthday"). With any luck, the rest of the season will ease up on the Chang; he's best in small doses.

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.

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