Community S03E11 Recap: "Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts"

UPDATE: Community's return is streets ahead in ratings!
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Community is finally back in our lives, and that means one thing. It's time for all of us to over-analyze it in our reviews! While I've been a fan of the show since the very beginning, Community has been particularly special to me in this, its third season, because this is the first year that I've featured it with regular coverage here on the site. We've reviewed just about every episode this season, so we've followed the "Greendale 7" on their journey through community college and each other. We've had the highest of highs, and even some lows, especially during the recent hiatus, and we've been there to cover it all.

I would go as far as to say that if it wasn't for Community, you wouldn't be seeing the thorough television coverage you see right now here on the site. Community's allowed me to raise my game. And while that may be a specific example of the kind of impact the show's had on one reviewer's life, I think it should be a testament to what the show means to fans everywhere. It's the type of show that allows just about every viewer to react differently to it, to interpret it and enjoy it in their own way. Personally, I love how every episode can be subtle, yet laugh out loud funny at the same time.

Tonight's return episode, "Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts", was a prime example of what this show can be at its best, but also at its most normal. The episode gave us sort of a typical plot that you'll see often in just about every sitcom. The wedding episode. One of the show's main characters is getting married, and we're all cordially invited. As you can imagine, hijinks ensue, things go wrong, and for a while, we're left uncertain as to whether the wedding will even go down. We've seen it before, and we've seen it countless times. The strength of Community is in taking this classic sitcom formula and twisting it into something completely original and compelling to watch, and something you'll keep thinking about with every new viewing of the episode.

I sat here thinking about the episode before starting my review, staring at an abnormally short list of highlights and quotes, thinking that this was "just another episode of Community." Nothing overly memorable or "different" that could wow us like Remedial Chaos Theory or Regional Holiday Music that we could sit here ogling over for an extra long review, that I could justify giving an abnormally high score when mixed with the fact that it's a return episode. Just one of the 20 episodes of the season. And if you were to head online shortly after the episode, you'd probably see an equal level of disappointment among fans that had spend the last four months hyping up this return.

But then you look past that "normal" sitcom plot, you look past the flowers at the wedding or Pierce's sandwich shop idea, or Troy and Abed trying to act normal, and you see something more. I may be reaching here, but what Community trying to be outrageously normal with its return episode? Was this just Dan Harmon's way of telling us, "hey, don't worry, we're still here". Telling us that Community will be there no matter who tries to take it away from us. Urban Matrimony was in many ways a fairly normal episode. There were no fake glee clubs, no model UNs, no parallel universes, but there was actually a message that might reign pretty deep with a lot of people. It's business as usual on Community, and a hiatus isn't going to take the people behind the show off their game just for a few jokes of being away for a while or how they might be canceled.

The best thing that Dan Harmon could have done with this return episode was to put together something that he would have done whether it would have aired in January, March, or even next fall. It doesn't matter how long the network tries to take the show off the air, Community is going to do what it does best, and that's wow us with great situational comedy, situational comedy that can definitely lean on certain tropes of the genre, but doesn't have to rely on anything other than its own wit and originality. In a way, Dan Harmon knows his show's limits. He's willing to push them when he needs to, but he doesn't need to every week. While expectations were high for the return, this was one of those weeks where he oddly didn't need to.

In the episode, Andre re-proposes to Shirley, who promptly accepts. Within days, they're ready to get married, and, because it's a TV show, they decide to hold the ceremony in the study room. Shirley obviously has a lot of planning to do, and that prompts her to cancel plans with Pierce to pitch a sandwich shop for the cafeteria at the school. Britta, who's against any form of traditional matrimony (or as Jeff puts it, "she's pro-anti") offers to plan her wedding for her with Annie so that she doesn't let go of her dream to open a business. Pierce has no idea what he's doing, but he has money, so he offers to "invest" in Shirley after he reveals that Hawthorne Wipes fired him, and together, they come up with a business plan that impresses Dean Pelton. All the while, Andre thinks that getting married again with make things between him and Shirley "normal" and that she'll go back to being a house wive so he can work on his stereo business, but this business plan makes it apparent that they're on different wavelengths, and their new marriage is quickly in jeopardy. Of course they eventually realize that change is what's really normal, and get married at their wedding rehearsal.

Meanwhile, the rest of the group is busy planning for various aspects of Shirley's wedding (which is interesting considering the bride is busy doing something else). Annie wants to put her years of scrapbooking to good use, but Britta turns out to be the one who's good at doing all the things that Annie thought she'd be good at, such as making flower arrangements. This leads Britta to realize that all the "motherly" and wife-like attributes she's been suppressing all these years are inevitably going to come out, and she's going to become the one thing she's always hated; a good wife. Jeff has equally negative views on matrimony, but his are due to his daddy issues and his father leaving his mother. He ends up in a tough spot when he's asked to give a toast at the wedding, and it leads to him basically getting drunk along with Britta and almost marrying her. At the root, it seems like both of them have an innate fear of being normal. Jeff doesn't want to accept that divorce, that heartbreak is in essence normal, and Britta pretty much doesn't want to accept the opposite.

Finally, Troy and Abed are put in their place when they're asked to act normal at the wedding. They figure that the best way to accomplish this is by purging all the weirdness out of them in the dreamatorium for 24 hours. They do so, and begin acting so normal it's weird. They get to the rehearsal wearing matching gray suits, they talk almost in a sarcastic tone. Definitely not the Troy and Abed that we've come to know and love. Eventually, after a few Inspector Spacetime references and a cameo appearance by Annie's Boobs, things are back to the true normal, which is weird for Troy and Abed (if that makes any amount of sense).

If you notice the overuse of the word "normal" above, it's not because I lost my thesaurus. It may have been a subtle message implanted into the episode by the writers. Maybe it's just me reaching. But as much as this episode was your typical sitcom-y type of show, there seemed to be much more to it. And that came in in the form of Dan Harmon picking us up, putting us in his arms, stroking our hair and telling us that everything is going to be alright. Community may have been on hiatus for four months, but it was never meant to leave us for good, no matter how bad things may have looked.

In an episode like Remedial Chaos Theory, Dan Harmon was praised to no end for creating six separate yet interconnected universes that gave us one of the most incredible episodes of television we've ever seen. Urban Matrimony may not have been as ambitious, but it was definitely as intelligent in its own way. It was reassuring, it was calming, it gave us some good character development for just about everyone involved, and most importantly of all, it was as funny as we've come to expect. And beyond that, the episode was just solid on its own. There was a strong main story that was well-serviced by several side-arcs, and while the interconnectivity of these plots wasn't on the level of the aforementioned Chaos Theory episodes, everything was surprisingly solid from a storytelling and writing perspective.

The Internet may have set expectations for the return episode way too high, but after viewing it and reviewing it, it satisfied my own expectations just fine. But more than anything, it's good to have Community back in our lives. "Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Art" gets 8.5 Inspector Spacetime references out of 10.

Bits & Pieces:

  • There's no way the Uganda reference by Britta was planted after all this Kony stuff started. It's too soon and screeners have been out there for a few days. That said, Britta would know about Kony before the Youtube video.
  • What was up with that credit scene with Pierce and the neverending ice cream? Maybe the felt there wasn't enough Chevy in the episode? It was very much what I would expect out of any Chevy Chase physical comedy though.
  • Another weird part of the episode: Jeff looking "inside himself" to a slot machine-like array of images that mostly consisted of alcohol, Annie, and Annie's boobs (the actual boobs, not the monkey).
  • So I guess Subway is sponsoring Community now? Does that mean I have to tell Miguel at my local shop that I'm buying my 12-inch cold cuts because of Joel McHale?

Line of the Night:

Quote:

"Troy and Abed being normal."

Line-O-Rama:

  • Britta's definition of an analogy: "It's like a thought with another thought's hat on."
  • "Somebody call all the ambulances."
  • "And how fiscal will the quarterly earnings be?"
  • "This may shock you Annie, but I come from a long line of wives and mothers."
  • "Or is it hardly... the space?"
  • "It's almost too conceptual to follow. But I love it."

Next Week: "Contemporary Impressionists" -- Jeff begins experiencing extreme narcissism. The group helps Abed get rid of debt by impersonating various celebrities at a bar mitzvah.