Community, Season 3, Ep. 3: "Competitive Ecology"

10/18/2011 10:57 am ET | Updated Dec 07, 2011

When Professor Marshall Kane, played by Michael K. Williams, assigns study partners for the semester and the group's first project, a terrarium, pitch perfect infighting within the study group ensues. It's one of Community's staples and the actors do it well. This week's A story was much funnier than last week's in "Geography of Global Conflict." However, much like episode two, the subplots seemed like last minute additions. Or maybe I'm just tired of all the Chang?

He spends the whole episode on a film noir kick entirely of his own making. There's a mystery to be solved. It involves matchbooks and possibly Arizona. Chang's adventure succeeds in being funny. His internal monologues are completely delusional in proper Chang-like fashion. With Dean Pelton's permission, he's been living in the school's "supply closet." The college must only have one. Considering Chang and Britta's storyline last week, I had a moment of panic when the episode opened. I thought that they'd slept together. No worries though, Chang is only sweet talking his ambitions to become a security-guard-detective to his lover, a mannequin leg, named Veronica. Of course. Silly me to think otherwise.

Meanwhile the Dean is charging a two drink minimum at the water fountains. A storyline whisper to his conflict with Vice Dean Robert Laybourne played by John Goodman. Jeff inquires why, but the Dean isn't talking. Perhaps it'll be up to the study group to save Greendale this year? Again.

Back in Biology class, the group gets partnered up with people they don't know, that is, their other classmates. After a less than lucid plea to Professor Kane they're granted the request to work with each other. They break up with their lab partners--literally. Jeff and Abed both use the excuse of having developmental disorders. It's a great hat tip to seasons past where both Jeff and Abed have often felt like outsiders, see "Contemporary American Poultry" and "Critical Film Studies." Troy's got to watch Breaking Bad and Shirley is just sorry. Then they pair off amongst themselves leaving Pierce with their classmate Todd, played by David Neher. Todd becomes one of the shows running gags and the center of the conflict between the rest of the gang. He's much like Britta and Annie's ex boyfriend Vaughn in season one. Todd is the outsider and by making him miserable they bring themselves closer together, eventually.

Soon after the initial pairing off, they come to the realization that they're probably better off with other members of the group. Troy and Abed figure that they hang out too much; Britta can't stand Shirley's unlimited collection of photos featuring baby Ben; and Annie realizes she'll be doing the work herself if Jeff is her partner. The only thing they seem to agree on is "The Todd Problem."

In the study room they make finely calculated self-serving pleas to pick different partners. Per Jeff's request, Abed creates an algorithm to decide who will work with whom. More importantly though, the algorithm also decides who gets stuck with Todd. We learn later that it's based on popularity. The fact that Todd's a war veteran and has a wife and a newborn baby elicits sympathy from no one--not even Britta. After the results are calculated and exposed, Jeff, Shirley and Britta realize that they're not the popular ones. The banter gets way more explosive. After pulling an all nighter arguing, the only thing the group has collectively succeeded in doing is completely disturbing Todd, burning a turtle and, with the exception of Annie, not completing their Biology project.

And then there's Chang. He's accidentally burned down his supply closet home and has chalked it up as another level of conspiracy. He's also back in a position of authority. This is after scaring away the head of security, Sergeant Nunez, played by Mel Rodriguez. Nunez is deeply disturbed by the state of Chang's mental health. I was sad to see Nunez go, but I'm sure that in the long term, Chang's rise to power is going to create lots of arbitrary conflict for the study group and to a lesser extent the Dean who appointed Chang as the new head of security. Professor Kane's, declaration that the group will have to share their biology grade, a bench and supplies will likely come up again. This is after Kane learns how the group broke Todd emotionally.

There it is. Chang has some power again. Dean Pelton is a terrible Dean of anything and the study group have dug themselves into a comedic, conflict filled pit of there own making. It'd be interesting to see an episode where the minor characters they've shunned over the semesters come back to haunt them.

Crib Sheet

- This episode really had me wondering about the overall character development. Jeff is way more subdued; they're playing Britta kinda goofy, it's like she's come undone; Annie is more aggressive than usual albeit it's totally attached to her academic perfectionism; Pierce isn't as combative. Only Abed, Troy and Shirley have stayed consistent.

- Professor Kane has a rant about Legos. "What happened with legos? They used to be simple?" Not sure what that means. Perhaps some pop culture folks know what that's about.

- TMI from Pierce: "I had sex with Eartha Kitt in an airplane bathroom"

- Speaking of Pierce, he had some great non-racist/sexist digs this episode. "I just worked it out...I'm more popular than someone" and "I just had a terrible nightmare that Jeff is a pompous ass."

- "You're a creationists. You're so religious. How are you going to do science experiments if you don't even believe in science?" --Annie to Shirley

-Unfortunately Shirley doesn't often have lots of funny moments, but she had a few this episode. My favorites: A community college Biology course "can't refute 2000 years of miracles," and "Britta won't dissect anything with a face."

-"Who the hell are you always texting? Everyone you know is here." --Annie to Jeff

- "This lists stinks like a butt convention" and "If loving worms is stupid, I don't want to be smart." - Britta

-"Why don't they make tires out of pavements so that you can drive on anything?" --Chang

- "Pierce wake up, Jeff is going to heal us." - Troy