I’ve been having lukewarm feelings about Community’s post-Christmas run, and “Early 21st Century Romanticism” was no exception to that trend. Some parts of “Romanticism” were good, other parts weren’t so good, and the episode didn’t really gel.

Community is normally good at separating its characters and putting them into non-intersecting plot lines. It’s something that the show often did during its stellar first season, and Community could do it adroitly. (“The Politics of Human Sexuality” and “The Science of Illusion” are good examples of this.) But “Romanticism” was built around four largely unrelated plot lines that forced the characters to reside in their own little bubbles.

Troy and Abed had a fun little plot line about asking a cute librarian to the Valentine’s dance. The librarian ended up picking Troy over Abed, but then Troy realized that he had more in common with Abed than he did with the librarian and that he was attracted to her only because of her cuteness. I enjoyed this subplot, and I liked the “aww” moment at the end when Troy hugged Abed.

The Lesbian subplot was less successful. It wasn’t funny, and it was totally predictable. Moreover, I already understand that Britta is a phony and that Annie is naïve. There was nothing I didn’t already know about Annie and Britta in this subplot, and I would like to see some new character beats for them, especially for Britta, who hasn’t had much to do this season.

Jeff’s plot line was by far the funniest. Duncan had a lot of great lines, and I laughed out loud at Magnitude’s introduction. It was also a great plot line for Jeff’s character, as he finally realized that he depends on the study group as much as they depend on him. The only part of it that didn’t work was the ending, which was too sentimental, even for a show with as much heart as Community. It ended with a shot of Pierce lying on a park bench after overdosing on painkillers.

Which brings me to Pierce’s plot line. Pierce’s hallucination was quite funny, but the rest of the plot line didn’t really work. It was strange to see the rest of the study group treating Pierce as if he hadn’t been totally out of line in the last couple of episodes. Rather, they treated his behaviour as if it were simply curious and worrying, not execrable. There’s also a larger problem with this plot line, and it’s one that I’ve had with this season as a whole. Community has never shied away from tough emotional issues, and it has been able to confront them without turning into an after-school special. But this season, the show has dealt with divorce, depression, death, alcoholism, suicide, and now, addiction. That’s too much. The issues are beginning to overshadow the characters. Community used to be about a bunch of misfits trying to find themselves. Now it’s about the issues that they face, not the misfits themselves.

Community can never show us what aspects of Pierce’s personality drove him to pill addiction. It’s not equipped to do so; that would be too dark for the series. But it can show us the addiction itself, as well as its consequences. Pierce’s character has been buried under all of this. Community has bitten off more than it can chew.

I appreciate that giving Pierce a plot line that forced him to be alone for the majority of the episode reflected how lonely he felt. Unfortunately, it also made the episode feel disjointed. The four non-intersecting subplots never meshed, and the very hilarious Barenaked Ladies argument in which everyone participated at the beginning of the episode wasn’t enough to make the subplots feel as if they couldn’t have been shuffled around to any other episode.

Overall, “Early 21st Century Romanticism” was a somewhat entertaining but relatively lackluster episode; not a great performance for what was once the best comedy on television.

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