After two weeks of goodbyes, Community has to say hello the new normal of a post-Pierce and post-Troy Greendale. That adjustment was always going to be a rough one, and that's reflected in the ungainly, but not unpleasant half-hour that was "Analysis of Cork-Based Networking," in which a host of famous guest stars turned up to temporarily distract us from the shrinking core cast and provide Alison Brie/Annie Edison with the finest showcase she's had since Season 3's legendarily divisive "trapped in the Dreamatorium" episode.
Perhaps the key thing that made this a great Annie episode is that it completely ignored the Jeff/Annie faux-mance that Dan Harmon himself initiated and the interim showrunners allowed to almost solely define her personality during the gas leak year. "Networking" brought her back to her roots as a hyper-efficient do-gooder and then puts her in a situation where "doing good" meant "doing bad" in the interests of getting things done. Her goal was simple: getting the cafeteria's long-missing cork board re-hung so that notices about missing animals, ride shares and "Dan Smith Will Teach You Guitar" offers have places to go.
But accomplishing that requires that she work her way up the ladder of Greendale's sprawling bureaucracy, from the custodial department (headed up by Nathan Fillion), to the Internet gatekeeper (Paget Brewster) to the parking guru (Robert Patrick, the funniest of all three cameos) until finally reaching dear old Dean himself. Each of these folks wants something in exchange for their assistance, but rather than be driven crazy by the constant horse trading -- as her wizened, cynical cohort Professor Hickey assumes she will -- she masters the art of the "favor" with all the flair of a New Jersey politician. It's a fun transformation to watch and Brie plays it to the hilt, also generated a nice comic chemistry with Jonathan Banks that's substantially different from the relationship she shared with departed old crank, Chevy Chase. Unlike the Dreamatorium episode, "Networking" doesn't end with Annie making any grand self-realizations or decisions about her future, but that doesn't really matter -- it's just nice to see her be herself again.
With Brie occupying center stage, the other regulars were shunted off to side storylines that, while amusing, were less rooted in sharp characterizations. Jeff and Shirley joined Chang and John Oliver's Professor Duncan in planning the upcoming school dance, ditching an accidentally insensitive "Bear Down" theme in favor of jerry-rigged "Fat Dog" décor, complete with a fake novelty dance, a fake Wikipedia entry and a fake phrase ("Fat dog it!") that will inevitably replace "Treat yo self" as the premiere Twitter hashtag. Meanwhile, Abed struck up a cute flirtation with a deaf student that Britta britta'd when she decided to enlist his crush object as a soldier in the spoiler war they'd been engaging in over the HBO series Bloodlines of Conquest. The upside of that broken romantic connection is Brie Larson (one of the few elements from the gas leak year that Harmon opted to keep) re-entering the frame as the super-cute coat check girl who he cozied up to, but then never called. (As for Abed's heterosexual life partner, a news crawl helpfully informed us that Captain Troy and First Mate LeVar are currently being held hostage by pirates so… paging Captain Phillips?)
As the previous two episodes showed, Community is generally at its best when the entire cast is functioning as one unit in one main storyline. Split them up into sitcom-standard A, B and C plots and you run the risk of diluting the energy and focus they have as an ensemble. But with their ranks diminishing anyway, more one-on-one time is probably going to be part of the new normal going forward. And if normal episodes of Community look like "Networking" that's not such a terrible thing, all things considered. Here's our round-up of each character's ideal novelty dance and their funniest line from the episode.
Ideal Novelty Dance: The Macarena: Annie is a stickler for rules, and the demanding (but not too demanding) Macarena steps don't allow room for any fancy improvisation.
Funniest Line: "Is that what a bulletin board is to you, professor? A piece of cork? That's not what it is to people that lose their pets, people that need rides, people whose bad bands need bad bass players."
Ideal Novelty Dance: The Bartman: Thanks to his encyclopedic pop culture brain, he'd not only know all the moves, but could sing the entire song… in Bart's voice no less.
Funniest Line: [in sign language] "I detonated a mollusk."
Ideal Novelty Dance: The Harlem Shake: Mainly because she'd think it was a political movement.
Funniest Line: "Now I feel bad. But you learned a lesson and I gave a differently-abled person a job!"
Ideal Novelty Dance: The Batusi: It requires the least amount of effort and/or sweat, ensuring that his precious hair stays pristine.
Funniest Line: "It's an expression: 'Fat dog for midterms.' Like, 'Don't sweat it -- fat dog it!' Hang out, relax, like a fat dog."
Ideal Novelty Dance: The Electric Slide: Because it's a tradition at religious events like weddings, confirmations and bar mitzvahs (not that she attends the latter) so she'd obviously have to learn it to participate in the festivities.
Funniest Line: "I must say, I don't know what we did, but we sure did the hell out of it."
Ideal Dance Craze: Twerking: Just because the sight of Mike Ehrmantraut twerking could hold the key to world peace.
Funniest Line: "I don't care enough to lie, so no."
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