Welcome to Looking Streets Behind, a weekly Community retrospective column! Each week, we’ll dive into a Community episode that has reached the 10th-anniversary milestone. This go-round, we’re delving into “Early 21st Century Romanticism,” just in time for Valentine’s Day. Wherein we learn that Jeff is not triple-platinum like beloved Canadian export Barenaked Ladies and in England, they refer to pizza as “Italian fannies.” This episode is a celebration of platonic love. Even if you can’t snag a sexy librarian, at least you still have seven lovable misfits. And Annie’s Boobs. The monkey, I mean.
So, without further ado, let’s get lovey-dovey for “Early 21st Century Romanticism.”
Now, the episode opens with Troy (Donald Glover) and Abed (Danny Pudi) fawning over the school librarian, Mariah (Maite Schwartz). Both of them are smitten. They periodically yell out “Books!” to get her attention. The Valentine’s Day dance is nigh, and both boys want to ask Mariah to said dance. Next, everyone else enters the study room. Annie (Alison Brie) and Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) are worried about Pierce (Chevy Chase). He appears to be dependent on his pain meds from when he broke both of his legs. Britta (Gillian Jacobs) reveals she’s hanging out with Page (Brit Marling), a “friend of Ellen,” as Annie so eloquently puts it.
Then, Pierce moonwalks out of the room. Annie proposes they stage an intervention for Pierce after the Valentine’s Day dance. Jeff (Joel McHale) wants no part in this. He throws a jab at the Barenaked Ladies. The rest of the crew are avid supporters of BNL, so what starts out as a conversation quickly escalates into a full-blown argument. Jeff storms out. They can keep their highly celebrated Canadian mid-90s alt-rock band!
Later, Troy and Abed ask Mariah out to the dance in tandem. She eagerly accepts their invite. Duncan (John Oliver) persuades Jeff to host a two-person hangout for the big Liverpool versus Manchester United game. He’ll see Jeff at 6:30 sharp, otherwise known as gravedigger’s biscuits. Pierce hallucinates Tiny Man (Andy Dick) at the water fountain. Tiny Man just wants him to kick back and have fun! Do more drugs!
Meanwhile, Britta asks Page if she’ll accompany her to the Valentine’s Day shindig. Annie learns from Page’s friend that, apparently, Page is under the impression that Britta is gay. Britta thinks Page is gay. Miscommunication ensues. However, both women are determined to take each other to the dance. At Jeff’s apartment, he’s preparing to watch the big football match with Duncan. Chang (Ken Jeong) knocks on his door. While his presence isn’t entirely wanted, Duncan allows it because Chang’s wearing the “proper colors” in support of Liverpool.
Next, Chang surreptitiously calls Starburns (Dino Stamatopoulos), who’s at the dance. Starburns’ sideburns are shaved into hearts, so he’s officially dubbed “Heartburns” for this Community episode. Chang reveals that there’s a party at Winger’s place. Bring the personal pan pizza and booze! Britta and Page arrive at the dance and proceed to makeout on the dance floor after busting some moves. That’s when they both learn that neither one of them is gay. They were obviously hanging out as a show of performative allyship. Even Page notes that she never thought Britta was cool, she just thought she was a lesbian.
Troy and Abed present their respective cases to Mariah so she can decide who to date. Mariah ultimately picks Troy, citing that Abed is “weird.” Troy’s not a fan of anyone dissing his man, so he leaves her for … his man. Bromance forever!
Now, Jeff’s apartment is party city. Leonard (Richard Erdman) shows up along with newbie Magnitude (Luke Youngblood). Once he utters the phrase, “Pop-pop,” the partygoers’ lives have been forever Chang-ed. Jeff discovers that Chang is attempting to move in, so he promptly gives the latter the boot. Party’s over! However, he Chang-es his mind and carries the sleepy former Spanish teacher inside. Jeff sends everyone a group text apologizing for his behavior. He professes his love for our crew. Pierce is outside, passed out on a bench. It’s clear he overdosed.
Then, the end credit scene consists of Troy handing Abed candy conversation hearts for him to consume. Abed has an eye mask on so he can’t read them. But he correctly guesses what each one says. Well, that is until the very end. Abed gets tripped up on a heart that says, “Email me.”
The one-liners and gags!
“Early 21st Century Romanticism” is, like every episode of Community, classic Community. I love the bit before the title sequence when Pierce procures a statement regarding Britta’s supposed “coming out.” However, before he can read the first word, the theme song starts playing. Jeff’s reaction is also perfect. He notes that the majority of said statement is surprisingly positive. Perhaps Pierce can be tolerant.
Here’s a fun Jeff line that resonates with me on a profound level as a self-diagnosed cynic: “Well, I don’t believe in dibs, or love at first sight, or love, or best friends, or doing things, but it’s good you brought this to me.” I also love Britta’s one-liner about BNL. “You know what, maybe we all need some space, to pull the knife out of the back of the most celebrated Canadian alt-rock band of the mid-90s you selfish, jaded ass!”
Of course, I’d be remiss if I left out Leonard’s nod to Mel Brooks with “Where the white women at?” Troy’s line regarding Mariah is a goodie too: “I wish I was a book. She could pick me up, flip through my pages. Make sure nobody drew wieners in me.” Britta and Annie’s exchange about homophobia is hysterical. “If you have to ask if it’s homophobic to ask questions, haven’t you already answered your own question?” Britta’s a wellspring of worldly wisdom.
I love the moment when someone urges Britta and Annie to kiss. Annie seems intent on giving it a go right as Britta stops her. Troy and Abed’s sweet scene about finding the right people for them is nothing short of adorable. Community doesn’t always get mushy, but when it does you melt like a piece of chocolate left out in the sun.
Here’s a fun fact: this is Magnitude’s first episode. Fun fact number two — Whenever Chang flashes Jeff’s driver’s license, it lists the latter’s date of birth as November 20, 1971. That’s Joel McHale’s actual birthday. I always knew Jeff was a Scorpio. Fun fact number three: at the time this episode aired, both Manchester United and Liverpool’s uniforms boasted red and white colors.
The gravedigger’s biscuits of it all!
Overall, “Early 21st Century Romanticism” is sweet like candy. It has the perfect balance of humor and heart. Plenty of signature Community weirdness and a smattering of sentimentality. The ending with Pierce always gets me, especially when Jeff tells him to let the group into his heart before it’s too late. This show reminds us just how vital the love of friends and family is. Romantic feelings may come and go, but good friends last forever.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an appointment at exactly gravedigger’s biscuits.
What do you love most about Community‘s “Early 21st Century Romanticism”? Sound off in the comments below! Be sure to join me next week for another installment of Looking Streets Behind, where we’ll be buzzing about “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking.” LeVar Burton will be there. Set phasers to love me!
Until then, stay streets ahead.
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