“Competitive Ecology” finds our study group friends once again forced to confront their co-dependent dynamic. When Professor Kane (Michael Kenneth Williams) assigns a lab assignment he first divides the study group. Naturally this move doesn’t sit well.
After wasting the professor’s time the study group is allowed to pair among themselves. This however, proves to be a terrible idea. With the pressure of a deadline hanging over them the group finds that they are spending too much time together and are driving each other insane.
Caught in the middle of the insanity, as the group attempts switching partners and continuously snipe at one another over their partnerships and petty squabbles, is an innocent named Todd (David Neher). Poor Todd is an affable young family man eager to well on his assignment. Sadly, he’s stuck with Pierce (Chevy Chase) and eventually Jeff (Joel McHale) both of whom treat him horribly despite his sweet, cheery demeanor.
The initial pairings make sense but quickly reveal problems. Jeff and Annie (Alison Brie) are partnered because Annie has a crush on Jeff and because Jeff knows that Annie will do all of the work. Neither Britta (Gillian Jacobs) nor Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) wanted to get stuck with Pierce so they pair off only to find that Shirley’s constant chirping about her baby and Britta’s general insensitivity grate on one another.
Troy (Donald Glover) and Abed (Danny Pudi) seem like an ideal pair what with living together and being best friends. Their partnership however, reveals that they are spending so much time together that they have run out of funny things to talk to each other about.
All of the various issues between the partners and between each member of the study group come to a head in the study room with a failed attempt at switching partners. The scenes of the study group tearing each other part are bitingly funny, especially when they randomly and with unneeded venom attack poor Todd.
That said, this storyline would grow tiresome if it were not broken up by a subplot and “Competitive Ecology” has, arguably, one of the funniest B-stories in the show’s three seasons. Chang (Ken Jeong) has become a security guard at Greendale and through an agreement with the Dean (Jim Rash) he’s living in a storage closet next to the cafeteria.
Chang is slowly going insane and his insanity is expressed in a Chinatown style mystery that Chang narrates in his mind. The narration is the star of this storyline as Chang paints an uproariously bizarre web of conspiracy based on the conventions of a 1940’s detective movie.
The Chang subplot is never stops being funny and Ken Jeong’s slowly melting psyche and breathless voiceover are priceless. The final moments, when Dean Pelton is forced to join Chang’s weird conspiracy, as like any good conspiracy, it goes all the way to the top, gives the story a very funny sendoff and a set up for further Chang as a detective related lunacy.
The study group’s story comes to a close in the only way it can, blaming Todd for all of their problems. The fact is, if the study group became self-aware they would likely disintegrate. Though they love each other and share a deep bond, their personal connections are tenuous; as their petty squabbles reveal.
The convenient scapegoating of Todd is the only way for the group to continue. This story of in-fighting is likely going to be the running story line of this season of Community and we have every reason to expect that show-runner Dan Harmon will find more unique and funny ways to examine the strange dynamic of characters and attitudes that he has assembled with such care and good humor.
- Professor Kane earns his place on the show with his haunting soliloquy on the newfound complexity of legos. Hearing Michael Kenneth Williams opine on how legos have changed since he was in prison, delivered with pitch perfect comic solemnity shows why the former star of HBO’s The Wire was perfect casting.
- Also brilliant was Professor Kane’s assessment of Magnitude (Luke Youngblood): “You know they’re laughing at you right? That’s my theory anyway.”
- And the Professor’s final bit of brilliance, his assessment of the study group after they’ve destroyed poor Todd and failed their assignment: “We had a name for people like you in prison; we called you the mean clique.”
- Chang’s web of conspiracy includes Arizona Matchbook Company, Greendale and Larry Bird.
- Chang’s beloved mannequin leg named Veronica shares the name of Veronica Lake an actress who starred in a number of famous 1940’s and 50’s noir mysteries.