Surprise, surprise! I didn’t hate “Applied Anthropology and Culinary Arts.” In fact, I didn’t even dislike it. That’s not to say that it was a great episode or even a good one – I didn’t laugh at all – but for the first time in a couple of months, Community didn’t fill me with barely repressed rage.

I’ve never been a fan of episodes centred around births. They tend to dial every character’s emotions up to 11, and the actual birth process is almost always accompanied by a lot of yelling and general insanity. “Applied Anthropology and Culinary Arts” was unable to avoid the second problem, but it neatly sidestepped the first. For the first time in a long while, everyone seemed to be acting like a normal human being (except the dean, of course), and I appreciated that Shirley didn’t fly into a rage at Chang’s behaviour. Initially, I was a little put off by what seemed to be another plot about how Britta is a phony who ruins everything, but one magical Jeff Winger speech later, the plot took a turn towards letting Britta actually accomplish something.

The subplot about Abed and Troy’s handshake was totally silly, and perhaps even a little too frivolous for this show, but I appreciated that it was low-key and that it didn’t remove Troy, Abed, and Pierce from the birth plot. I was a little uncomfortable about the return of Pierce’s evil side, but at least it was played for laughs.

What might have worked less well was Andre’s return. I’m still not sold on the idea of Andre being a changed man. To a large extent, though, this episode can’t shoulder all the blame for has been a poorly-executed plot line, and for that reason, I won’t dwell on it here.

But most importantly, I can’t stress enough how refreshing it was to have an episode without cheap gimmicks or irritating meta-humour. The show works so much better when it’s just telling a story as opposed to trying too hard to be clever. The season sorely needed an episode like this. Unfortunately, the jokes in this one just didn’t land, so I can’t call it a return to form, but at least it was a step in the right direction. True, I’m damning Community with faint praise, but after how much I’ve hated the second half of the season, this is the best that the show can hope for.

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