The Wife:

So far, I like Community. I’m watching it because I like Joel McHale, and the smarminess of his Soup persona translates nicely to Jeff, the lawyer who returns to community college rather than face disbarment, who is just as much of a lovably smarmy asshole as McHale is on the The Soup.

The setting allows of a typically zany supporting cast, each one of them desperate for some kind of validation in their lives (as that’s kind of what community college is for). There’s the popular high school girl trying to make a fresh start, the jock who can’t let go of his high school pride, the mother trying to reclaim the education she never got, the hipper-than-thou girl who’s trying to do something with her life for a change, the kid who clearly learned more about pop culture over the course of his school life and therefore didn’t meet any expected learning results and the senior citizen trying to reclaim his youth.

This is probably why I never attended study groups.

This is probably why I never attended study groups.

I like all of them, but so far my favorite character is pop-culture obsessed Abed, who spent the entirety of the first episode misunderstanding subtlety and comparing Jeff’s plight to Michael Douglas roles.

“I thought you were like Bill Murray in any of his films, but now you’re more like Michael Douglas in any of his films.”


“I’m sorry I called you Michael Douglas and I see your value now.”

Another highlight of the pilot was John Oliver’s role as an anthropology professor trying to blackmail Jeff into getting his BMW in exchange for a year’s worth of answers to every test Jeff will ever take. Oliver plays the role with a Maxwell Smart-esque edge: the smart guy who makes too many idiot mistakes for you to actually think he’s smart. Case in point: “Con-4-s-8-tion” is his version of an abbreviated text.

With Jeff’s plans to cheat his way through community college falling apart before his eyes, he actually has to socialize with these losers from his Spanish class in the form of a study group and form some sort of community if they are all to survive and graduate, which sort of works out in his favor as, at the very least, it means he gets to spend time with love interest Britta.

In the next episode, Jeff switches assignment cards with Abed so that he can work with Britta on a Spanish project, but she has switched cards with Chevy Chase’s aging hipster Pierce simply so she won’t have to work with him. Rather than take the necessary 10-20 minutes to complete the simple assignment of creating a conversation using five stock phrases the class has learned from Senor Chung, Pierce goes balls-out and creates an epic, multi-page conversation that means very little and contains several anti-Israeli diatribes and a bunch of other vaguely racist shit.

Jeff tells Pierce off about the project and refuses to work with him, but Pierce wants to do the presentation as he wrote it. When Britta tells Jeff that she switched cards with Pierce because he paid her $100 just so he could work with Jeff, his Grinchian heart melts a little bit and he volunteers to do the project with Pierce as written. What follows is a hilarious, silent montage of each segment of the performance, which involves puppets, near minstrelsy, flag waving and silly-string wars. As triumphant as the finish is, Jeff and Pierce both earn Fs from Senor Chang. Jeff actually earns an F-minus.

But Jeff learns to be selfless, and that’s a more worthwhile lesson than anything in the B-plot, which sees Shirley and Annie hearing about one horrible global atrocity from Britta and deciding to become globally aware by setting up a protest rally about the death of a Guatemalan journalist. It tastelessly includes a piñata effigy of the dead man . . . who was beaten to death, as Britta points out, which Annie feels is part of why the piñata is poignant.

My problem with the B-plot isn’t its purpose, which is to mock collegiate organizations that rally around every cause without really understanding what that cause is and to demonstrate that “raising awareness” isn’t really doing anything, but its lack of growth for Shirley and Annie. Yes, through their actions Britta realizes that she is also one of those people who is all talk and no action and that she should actually do something other than being cool and bitchy, but Shirley and Annie don’t grow by this. I hope they do. Britta, Jeff and Pierce are all people. I’d like to see the rest of the ensemble become more than a source for jokes.

Stray thoughts and funny things:

  • Abed’s text misunderstanding in the first episode was funny.
  • I, too, question the validity of the library PA system.
  • Did anyone else notice that all of the flag cards in Mr. Chang’s Spanish class were Italian flags?
  • “In Spanish, my nickname is El Tigre Chino, because my knowledge will bite her face off!” — Senor Chang
  • Pierce: To the empowerage of words!
    Jeff: To the irony of that sentence.
  • “And this isn’t a school newspaper, it’s a real paper! There’s a Marmaduke in there.” — Shirley
  • Joel McHale is pretty well-built in the chest and arm area, is he not, ladies? I think Abed for coveting his dress shirt.
  • I would like to see Joel McHale and Lou wear those mini sombreros on The Soup one week.

The Husband:

So far I very much dig the wry humor and laid-back energy (oxymoronic, I know) of Community, but it’s still stuck in a Bill-Murray-in-the-70s type humor which results in smirks and knowing nods instead of outright laughs. There have, of course, been big laughs (Abed’s Breakfast Club outburst, for one), but I feel like I’m forcing myself to laugh at certain points. And I don’t want to force myself to do anything.

McHale is a great personality, and the second episode showed that it won’t be long before I can actually relate to Jeff as a character, but the snark might be, in my opinion, laid on a little too thick. It distances us viewers from the other characters, because he distances himself from them. I mean, even buffoonish Michael Scott has a heart. True, it took him a couple seasons to really find it, but as Community doesn’t have a big pedigree to its name, I’m not sure if viewers will wait that long.

Basically, there is a way to have your snark and eat it, too.

I do very much like the study room in the library, though. Every good sitcom needs its main room for the characters to congregate, like Sunshine Cab Company on Taxi, the newsroom on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the hallway on Saved by the Bell (and yes, these are three of the shows I recently watched in my chronological journey through American sitcoms thanks to my workplace, Hulu and Netflix), as well as every single family sitcom that revolves entirely around the living room. It gives a nice air of familiarity.

The Wife:

You know, I really like this show, a lot. I really do. But I realized when watching this immediately before Lost‘s premiere that Fringe, while a good show and an entertaining show, is never going to be a show that moves me in any way. I have openly wept numerous times during Lost. Charlie’s death. The majority of “Greatest Hits.” “The Constant.” “Ji-Yeon.” Those are only a few of the moments I can recall that I’ve cried watching this show. Hell, I even teared up a little bit hearing Sun’s primal scream during the “Previously On” segment prior to the premiere. I find that while Lost is steeped in complex storytelling and mythos, it also manages to find stark human drama and create characters that are endearing and relatable, people you feel for. Fringe has only made me feel even remotely this way once: in “The Equation” when Walter must brave a return to St. Claire’s (Husband Note: No relation.), the asylum that imprisoned his mind for so long. I am moved to tears more routinely by episodes of Criminal Minds than I am by Fringe. (Seriously.)

Fringe is very cool. I’ll give it that. But it just hasn’t found a way to actually capture my heart along with it. Why do I bring this up? Because it’s really hard for me to care that Olivia’s gone missing without some sort of emotional investment in the show. And sure enough, it turned out to be not something I had to worry about at all, because after an icky spinal tap performed by someone wearing wingtips far too nice for a secret warehouse lab to be his primary place of business, Olivia managed to trick her captors into loosening her bondage for a drink of water, which she quickly turned into a bad-ass brawl, begun by smashing a glass beaker against a man’s head. I appreciate, on the one hand, that she’s the kind of woman who doesn’t need saving – a real feminist heroine – but being able to get out of situations so easily really downplays the drama and makes it harder to connect to her at times. Anyway, on her way out, she notices some spiky slug-looking things and then steals her clothes, some yellow stuff in a vial, a thermos in which to keep it cool and a leather jacket that conveniently has the keys to an SUV in the pocket. From the car, she calls Broyles to let everyone know she’s alright and orders agents to help her raid the lab in which she was held. But when the agents arrive, they aren’t who she expects. She gets knocked out, but not before being able to clandestinely bury her yellow stuff-ed thermos, and wakes up handcuffed to a hospital bed.

I actually would like to see a girlfight between Olivia and Buffy. Takers?

I actually would like to see a girlfight between Olivia and Buffy. Takers?

Her new captor is Stanford Harris, a man she once put behind bars back when she was a lawyer (who knew!) for some serious sex crimes. Harris, it seems, has been hired as a consultant for the Bureau to review fringe division. He thinks the whole thing should be shut down, questioning Broyles’ leadership and Olivia’s sanity as judged by the company she keeps: a traitorous dead man (Scott), a criminal (Peter) and a lunatic (Walter). It’s like a very dark version of The Breakfast Club, where I bet Olivia is The Jock. Harris tells Olivia that she is not allowed to investigate her own abduction, but I don’t think he knows how much rules mean nothing to her.

Released from her second bondage, Olivia returns to work the next day and Francis tells her that the entire building was clean by the time agents arrived. Even the SUV and the phone she called from were devoid of all fingerprints but her own. Their meeting is interrupted by the arrival of Rachael, Olivia’s sister, and her daughter. My husband recognized the actress playing Rachael sooner than I did, but the minute he said Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, I couldn’t get the image of Ari Graynor chewing toilet-gum out of my head. Rachael’s visit is unexpected, and she’s apparently going to be hanging around for a little while. Maybe if I learn more about Olivia and her sister and they have some kind of human relationship I can invest some kind of emotion into this show. We’ll see.

Olivia proceeds to covertly investigate her abduction, leading Walter and Peter out to the site where she buried her thermos so that Walter can test the yellow material. Olivia asks a lot of questions. In fact, it’s like she’s a question machine. Meanwhile, at Boston College, an epidemiology professor collapses in the middle of his lecture . . . and then one of those weird icky slug things crawls out of his mouth. I love Walter’s wistful reaction when the team heads over to investigate:

“At least he died teaching.”

Walter also gets wistful about Ebola, but turns out to be really good at trapping rouge spiky slugs that move nearly too fast for infrared cameras. He’s like a slug-catching superhero. Back at his lab, he plays with his new slug friend, which makes him want to eat a cheesesteak really badly for some reason, before he realizes that the slugs are identical to the yellow material Olivia stole from her captors.

Olivia questions Prof. Kimberg’s TA, who claims nothing was odd at all, which Olivia recognizes as an admission that the TA was having an affair with Kimberg. She then reveals to Olivia that Kimberg was up for a job at the CDC working in preventative epidemiology. In other words, preparing for the absolute worst should a pandemic occur. But Kimberg was not the only one up for the job. Another professor, Russel Simon from Cambridge, was also hired. The FeeBees bring Simon in for questioning. Loeb takes Olivia aside and tells her that he will personally investigate her abduction, which is really convenient, because he wears very nice wingtip shoes. While questioning Simon, Walter discovers that the yellow stuff Olivia found is administered through liquid, activated by stomach acid. Once activated, it grows into a slithery slug thing that suffocates the victim from the inside out as it tries to escape the body. Moreover, that sluggy guy is just a giant single cell of the common cold. My mind: blown. Also, kind of creeped out. As that revelation comes to light, Mitchell Loeb manages to sneak in to Simon’s interrogation room to provide him with some cold slug-laced water, killing the guy within minutes.

At home, Olivia cooks dinner for her sister and her niece, and Rachael mentions something vague about having an ex who sucks, which is something of an explanation for her presence in Olivia’s home. I’d like these humanizing moments a lot more, if it didn’t seem that Rachael and Olivia were raised by completely different parents. Maybe Ari Graynor’s presence will help reveal a different side of Olivia over time. I understand why Olivia is such a hard-ass, what with that scary step-dad she had to shoot that one time. She needs to front in order to not hurt so much. But my question is this: did scary step-dad not have any affect at all on Ari Graynor? She seems so sweet and nice and, hey, maybe a little bit fun, even. There’s got to be some of that, something of a normal person, locked away inside Olivia. I hope we find it soon.

Finally, Olivia notices while talking to Loeb that he’s wearing the shoes that she remembers from her spinal tap. She tells Charlie that she suspects Loeb and asks him for his help bringing him in under Harris’ watchful eye. Francis, in turn, asks Peter to help him wiretap Loeb. When a government agent does it, it’s definitely illegal, but when a criminal does it . . . its still illegal, but not so bad on the reputation. Meanwhile, Olivia visits Loeb’s wife and lets her know that she suspects someone – and she’s not naming names – is a double agent. When Olivia leaves the room to rifle through Mitchell’s things, Samantha calls her husband from the kitchen. Mitch tells his wife that her only option is to kill Olivia. Peter breaks through on the phone line just in time to hear the murder plot and calls Olivia, who has found evidence that Mitchell is manufacturing the slugs, to warn her that Samantha is on her way to murder her. Olivia sneaks up on Samantha before Samantha can try anything. The two engage in a wicked girlfight that ends with a GSW in the middle of Samantha’s forehead.

While all of this transpires, Loeb has gone missing. Peter suggests that, since Mitchell doesn’t know his wife is dead, they send him a text from Samantha’s phone asking him to go to the location where they will eventually apprehend him. This works, and Olivia cold cocks him, just for funzies. In custody, she grills him about who he’s working for and what he’s up to, but he refuses to talk until he can talk to Sam. Olivia figures that the only way she can get information out of him is to use Sam, so she shows Mitchell the pictures of his dead wife.

“Do you wanna know how pulled the trigger? Mitch? You’re lookin’ at her.” – Olivia

Overcome with grief, Olivia gets Loeb to confess that he killed the two professors, but then he reveals that he did it to try and save Olivia and that she has royally fucked up the balance of the epic battle being waged in the Fringe universe. He asks a question that I don’t think any of us know the answer to:

“Do you even know who you’re up against? Who the two sides are?”

I’m willing to bet that one side is Massive Dynamic, but as to the other, I have no idea. I also have no idea why they needed to give Olivia a spinal tap during her abduction. I don’t think this episode was anywhere near as satisfying as some of the last arc before the winter break were.

The Husband:

So here’s the real difference between Fringe and Lost, as far as relatable characterizations and moving stories are concerned – Lost is a science-fiction mystery adventure show, but it’s a character drama first and foremost. Hell, the entire first season, where virtually nothing actually happens, is pretty much just getting us to understand the characters, their motivations and their connections, and only then does it go off into Crazyland. Lindelof and Cuse understand the fundamentals of good comic book storytelling – and, well, regular literature, too – that makes you relate to the characters first in such an extreme way that you as a reader/viewer will follow them into hell.

But Fringe is a procedural, even if it’s far grander than, say, crap like Law & Order and CSI. While Walter, Peter and even Olivia now are very quirky and dynamic characters, they come across more as pawns in the grand scheme of things. Stark human drama? Not this one. Lost started off as bare-bones, and the only thing onscreen were characters, and its slow burn is a wonder to behold.