“Aerodynamics Of Gender” originally aired on NBC Thursday night November 4, 2010
This feels like more of a “palate cleanser” episode after the zombie hijinks of the previous one. It’s also kind of an awkward, cringey episode that plays very strangely in this day and age. If anything, it feels almost akin to “The Art Of Discourse”, though it doesn’t have anywhere near the same toxic reputation. What it does have is another one-dimensional clique of guest stars who seemingly exist only to be obnoxious and insulting, a B-plot that riffs on some very specific movie tropes, and of course, Pierce being horrible to everyone the whole time1. It’s more successful at what it sets out to do than “The Art Of Discourse” was, but it’s also not nearly as interesing thematically. While that episode2 went deep into the insecurities of Jeff and Britta, this one doesn’t explore much about its characters beyond “people act out when they feel provoked”, which hardly seems revelatory. The characters don’t appear to be motivated by anything other than meanness for meanness’s sake, and if it hasn’t been made clear by now, mean just isn’t a pose this show holds very well.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean we can just ignore this episode3, since it sets up some important plot developments and contains at least a few indelible sequences. Once it hit its stride, Community was basically incapable of producing a bad episode. At worst, it would create episodes like this one, which i’d only go so far as to label “weird”. And if i had to really think about what makes it weird, it’s that it seems to have all the elements of a good Community episode, yet there are things about it that just don’t work. That “secret garden” pastiche is hysterical every time, as is Jeff and Troy spending the episode in a blissed-out trance. But then the episode jumps to its “mean girls” plot, or Pierce’s scheming, and those parts just aren’t anywhere near as fun. There are some good moments to be found, but not enough of them to elevate it beyond “weird”.
Its setups are…. intriguing? at first, anyway. There’s an overarching theme here about putting the different genders of the study group into separate stories and upending our expectations of them. The men start as bitter rivals, only to turn into touchy-feely peacemakers. The women take a class together to bond and become enlightened, and end up turning into the very same bullies they once hated, corrupting one of their own in the process as he alienates himself from the rest of the school. Potentially, these could yield insightful narratives or solid gags. But more often than not they seem stuck in first gear, content to keep rehashing the same shtick without much variation until time runs out, or until they find a suitably absurd twist to go out on, a belated grace note to support somewhat stale foundations.
But then there are certain types of humor that just don’t ever land with me, and women shitting on other women for their appearance is one of them4. It’s my comedy kryptonite. The idea that this could be the thing that cuts all of them to the quick, including the women in the study group who are fully fleshed-out, deeply emotionally developed characters — meanwhile, Abed is the only one who gets the dignity of insults that attack his personality-based insecurities — strikes me as incredibly ugly and misogynistic, very strong r/menwritingwomen energy. The fact that it was Abed himself who custom-made his own insults and gifted them to Queen B of the Mean Girl Squad Meghan (guest star Hilary Duff) might make it even worse. It’s not that i don’t understand or can’t relate. This could actually serve as a commentary on a sexist society if they expended any effort on that. But the fact is that these roasts are so hoary, and this setup so hackneyed, that there was probably never going to be a way to salvage it. Portraying women as so superficial that they are singlemindedly obsessed with looking perfect, only to be completely undone by the first catty comment someone makes, with zero self-awareness whatsoever, definitely isn’t this show’s best look. Falling back on these kinds of lazy stereotypes is in fact exactly the sort of thing they’d usually make fun of. Leave this insult comic hackery in the 90s where it belongs.
The other plotline skates by on sheer weirdness alone, but still manages to resolve in a similarly questionable way. Community sure liked its “secretly racist” jokes, didn’t they? You had the racist prover thing from last week, the episode where Annie threatens to expose the Dean’s racism, and now this one. i guess the joke was that racism was something people still had the capacity to be ashamed of at the time. God, i wish that kind of joke still flew today. What a quaint notion. At least the pastiche still works. The soft lighting, dreamy camerawork and pastoral music still get a laugh out of me every time, and building it all around a forbidden trampoline strikes just the right note of bizarre absurdity. This is also where we start to see Pierce get really aggressive about being left out of things, as Jeff and Troy’s interests shift seemingly at random, leaving him unable to keep up. Serialization isn’t necessarily the best aspect of this show either, but if they had to break both of Pierce’s legs and get him hooked on painkillers, at least they did so on an inspired visual gag5
Yeah, beyond the parody elements i just can’t find much to recommend from this one. The women have very little agency and don’t learn anything from their behavior until Abed turns on them6, the men technically learn something but there’s no real reconciliation between them and Pierce, and none of this stuff is ever really amusing enough to justify the strange turns it takes. So it’s a flawed episode, but there are still things to enjoy about it. Season Two is just warming up, though. We’re about to hit what i’d consider to be the strongest run of episodes this show will ever have, that for me, cemented Community as an all-time Great TV Show. Just absolutely undeniable stuff coming up, which more than makes up for an episode that occasionally falters, like this one.
NOTES + QUOTES
⁃ End tag: The Return Of Troy And Abed In The Morning. Star-Burns was studying for his econ final, they placed a turtle in his hands and told him to smile for the folks at home. Best moment of this segment is when they throw to Garrett for the extremely concise weather report
⁃ Pierce is seen hanging out with Leonard again, as they attempt to figure out how to download photos from his spy camera. After what happened in “Messianic Myths And Ancient Peoples”, it makes sense that he’d still be his accomplice whenever he gets up to no good
⁃ This episode has the most transparent “we have no idea what to do with Chang, but here he is” energy ever, yet his over-the-top reactions are probably what i enjoy the most from this plotline. i’m always a sucker for a good table flip
⁃ The “Rowboat Cop” sequences depicting Abed’s POV are chock full of foreshadowing for future episodes like “Cooperative Calligraphy” and “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”. Community premiered at a time when DVR was becoming more widespread, which must have emboldened them to slip in as many of these blink-and-you-miss-it gags as possible
⁃ Aside from Hilary Duff’s turn as Meghan, this episode also guest-stars a pre-Veep Matt Walsh as the groundskeeper/bigot Joshua, as well as real-life-piece-of-shit Andy Dick as the little man who pilots Pierce’s drone and gives him terrible medical advice. Actually, in retrospect casting him as a devil on Pierce’s shoulder encouraging him to abuse prescription drugs strikes me as being in such outrageously poor taste on a metatextual level that i can’t believe they’d make such a cruel reference, so i’m going to pretend it was unintentional
ANNIE: Bring it in for a boob bump, ladies
ABED: It’s Wednesday, sometimes i eat in Jeff’s car. Don’t tell him
JOSHUA: But then you stared bouncing… like a baby on the knee of a goddess
TROY: Jeff… you’ve been up there for an hour
CHANG: Damn, that dis made me snarf, yo
BRITTA: Exactly like “Rowboat Cop”. Sharice is a bad rowboat. Sink her
PIERCE: i’m gonna slit your butt’s throats
JEFF (about his Ugg boots): They’re like wearing a pair of dreams
PIERCE: Tell me how to get this laid back, or i’ll kill your families!
ABED: Nice. Who taught you how to be a juice box?
JEFF: Let me buy you some ice cream. My white guilt is doing somersaults
SHIRLEY: The kind of monster that makes outlandish statements about someone’s weight. Those kinda things hurt, (intensely) even when they’re not true
GARRETT: IT’S STILL SUNNY