Community continues to reinvent itself this week, offering its funniest episode so far this season by showcasing three of its most underrated performers — the most frequently polarizing of which, Ken Jeong, winds up stealing the show.
The Hangover star’s Ben Chang has been Community‘s wild card from the start, going from caustic Spanish teacher to antagonist for the study group to tired comic foil (the “Changnesia” storyline is one of the show’s few to wear out its welcome) to, ultimately, a begrudgingly accepted member of the team. As such, Jeong has had the unenviable task of reinventing himself each season. But this year he’s managed to subvert expectations by, for the most part, underplaying his role and keeping quiet. It’s an approach that pays off with hilarious dividends in “Queer Studies and Advanced Waxing.” Chang, ever the traveler, auditions for the part of Daniel Laruso in a local stage adaptation of that fondly remembered summer of ’84 sleeper hit The Karate Kid. Annie offers support, winds up getting herself cast in the role that made Ralph Macchio an ’80s heartthrob, and is forced to watch as the play’s director Matt Lundergard (Jason Mantzoukas) casts Chang as Mr. Miyagi and torments him so cruelly it makes one wonder if this is not yet another instance of Community flexing its newly acquired censorship-free online muscles.
Sarcasm has long been a component of TV sitcoms, most of it hackneyed, laugh-track-ready one-liners. But Mantzoukas, his eyes bulging out of his skull like an axe murderer, takes his character’s meticulously crafted putdowns to places for which awards have not yet been invented. When Annie finally has enough and defends Chang, she’s dismissed and told that The Karate Kid “is about Kesuke Miyagi, an immigrant who fought against his own people in World War II while his wife lost a child in an internment camp. Noriyuki Morita was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance. Ralph Macchio? Showed up!” It turns out that Lundergard has been Miyagi-ing Chang all along, sensing in him the potential for greatness. And when the group watches Chang perform on opening night (opposite Annie’s longtime rival Annie Kim — AKA “Other Annie” — in the film’s title role, complete with faux Jersey accent), we’re totally there as they witness, mouths agape, Chang actually rival Morita’s much-praised work in the role. It more than made up for any misuse of Jeong throughout Community‘s run. Hell, I was clapping right along with Jeff.
The show’s other two stories don’t feature the full-title bravura of the Karate Kid narrative, but they’re charming nonetheless. Dean Pelton is recruited by the school board to be its gay poster boy as it fights to prove its progressiveness while facing criticism from the media. It’s funny, mainly due to the Dean’s references to his homosexuality being only a part of a sexuality more complex than anyone can understand (after six seasons, it turns out even the Dean doesn’t fully understand what turns him on). In the end, the Dean and his appointed boyfriend Domingo outrage the public far more than Pelton’s admission of being “openly political”… Meanwhile, Keith David’s Elroy Patashnik gets a greater purpose than being a mere student when he signs on as Greendale’s new IT specialist. His first unenviable task, however, turns out to be an emotional rather than technical challenge, as he helps Abed relocate a trio of baby birds interfering with the school’s WiFi. David’s at his funniest, however, in the episode’s opening scene, as he asks Jeff if he can file a lawsuit against the folks he’s convinced stole his idea for a game called “Construction Snake” was and turned it into Donkey Kong, and thus jump-starting Nintendo’s rise to fame.
With as many laughs per minute as most anything in season 5, “Queer Studies and Advanced Waxing” has me hopeful for a more vigorously entertaining sixth season than that which we’ve seen so far, as well as more from the newly humanized Dean and Chang.
— “The ghost of your father just turned his back on you. Your ancestors are clawing their way deeper into the earth to get away from you. You’re making me embarrassed to have thumbs. I can see air quotes around you.”
— I would have felt pretty bad for Ralph Macchio’s good name as Mantzoukas eviscerates his signature role. If I wasn’t laughing so hard.
— “Why would a tree throw eggs at a snake?” “Why would a plumber be fighting a monkey?!”
— I always knew the Dean would make the cover of Latino Colorado.
Next week: Convicted prisoners invade Greendale via cutting edge technology. Abed impersonates Seinfeld. Britta throws a party. And we’re all invited!
What did you think of this week’s episodes? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).