Throughout the second half of Community‘s first season, I wondered when the series would finally step outside Greendale and tell other stories. It wasn’t that I didn’t love what was happening inside the walls of that zany community college, I just wanted to see what Dan Harmon and company could do outside of it.
Turns out I was too impatient with that development and Harmon had a good plan all along. Because he decided to save that card until this season, “Accounting for Lawyers” exists as something of a “new” development for the series when in reality it’s less offensive than a number of other tactics could have been. Second seasons usually try a few approaches to spice it up. First, series often go back and tell us way more about the characters before we met them in the established-by-S1 community. Secondly, there’s a desire to add more characters or something else new to get more eyeballs.
By moving outside of Greendale, Community is able to satisfy the first and second options with relative ease, while of course being damn funny in the process.
What’s really interesting about “Accounting for Lawyers” is that it proves how messed up the people in the study group are without the overarching bond of said group and Greendale. The episode starts off emphasizing Jeff’s quick devolution back to his scheming, nasty self when hanging out with an old lawyer buddy Allen (the always fun Rob Corddry), but once the rest of the group tries to save Jeff from himself, they fall under the same sort of spell. Britta is willing to have sex for a condo, Pierce is enchanted by a country where you can hunt people, Shirley is ready to sue her ex-husband’s new lady friend and Troy, Abed and Annie completely transform into people who like to do B&E’s and in Annie’s case, chloroform people.
And I think that’s why this group dynamic works so well: Without Greendale and the structure of their study group dynamics, these people completely lose control and turn into generally awful people (except maybe Abed). Jeff is the head to this monster, cut it off and things so south quickly. It’s something of a dim picture, but I think it works in the context of the episode.
What doesn’t work, however, is Jeff’s final speech at the break-dancing competition. At the Flow Conference I attended late last week, there was a panel discussing TV comedy and there was lots of discussion about the sappiness of today’s sitcoms (something I’ll be writing about here soon). Throughout that panel’s back channel conversation on Twitter, I defended Community‘s endings because they almost always feel earned because the characters are so believable and the relationships so natural, despite the popular culture references that lace their conversation.
However, the speech, and really even the “I caught something at Greendale” line to boss Ted (Drew Carey) were a little cheesy. I don’t know if it was because I had the panel in the back of my mind or what, but it felt kind of lame. Still only one blip in an otherwise fantastic second episode back.