Community: “Grifting 101” Season 6 Episode 9 Review

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Wait…so did we all just get grifted?

Community is a TV show for people who love TV shows (and movies, and comic books, and card games, and all other facets of pop culture). Some of its best episodes are incredibly detailed spoofs, taking on everything from sitcom tropes to 8-bit video games. Even if you’re not completely clued in on the source material, it’s usually still enjoyable to watch the Greendale gang take on their parody-of-the-week with gleeful abandon.

That is not the case with “Grifting 101.” Community has never been a series that’s tried to appeal to a broad demographic, but there are times when it gets so insular that it collapses under the weight of its ambitions.

“Grifting 101” attempts to spoof old grifting movies, particularly 1973’s The Sting. The episode comes complete with hand-drawn title cards and ragtime piano music. The gang—minus Jeff—signs up for a grifting class taught by Matt Berry’s Professor DeSalvo. Once they realize that the whole class is a grift, they loop Jeff back in to try and out-grift their grifter (have I said the word “grift” too many times yet? Just wait).

The hinderance of reference humor is that it’s only really funny if you’re familiar with what’s being referenced. I’ve personally never seen The Sting—and, to be honest, I have no sudden urge to after the gang themselves admits its not that great of a movie—so things like The African Telegram and jokes about construction were lost on me. I did enjoy smaller, broader bits like Leonard playing the bellhop who has identical suitcases, but those were few and far in between.

Really, though, what concerned me the most is that this episode is a retread of season 2’s excellent “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design,” in which Jeff creates an elaborate thread of lies to get out of taking a certain class. Both episodes involve cons upon cons upon cons, but while “Conspiracy Theories” used the confusing narrative to its advantage, “Grifting 101” just seems to pale in comparison.

The one bright spot of this episode is that it highlights another one of Jeff’s insecurities. In one memorable scene, he freaks out when Annie catches on to the fact that he’s improvising. “I need this! I need to be better than this guy,” he says, and it’s easy to believe. Last week, Jeff admitted his fear of being the last one stuck at Greendale. Here, he’s essentially saying that if he’s going to be stuck at this school, he needs to be the best at everything, even something as ridiculous as this. It’s an interesting character flaw to have, and one that continues to hint at a finality for this series.

Elsewhere, however, the characterization was weak, which is probably why this episode doesn’t match the heights of its predecessor. Everyone signs on to the grifting class way too quickly, even Annie, who should be smarter than this. Britta, meanwhile, gets several snarky lines about her parents’ money, meaning the show isn’t keeping in line with her growth from “Lawnmower Maintenance and Postnatal Care.”

Community has worked itself out of tight corners before, dealing with cast shakeups, possible cancellations, and the hazy timeline of being at a community college. “Grifters 101” is nerve-wracking in its repetitiveness, because it means the show has a whole knew problem ahead of it. Has Community run out of things to spoof? I certainly hope not. Grade: C


Some Other Notes:

– Aaaaand we’re back to super weird ending tags.

– Chang was used well this episode. I particularly enjoyed his diabetes conversation in the cold open, as well as his comment about fake grifters blood when Professor DeSalvo falls down the stairs.

– Jeff’s sound after being told “you were right” made me laugh out loud.

– Frankie, after catching everyone drinking in the teacher’s lounge: “You don’t have to teach a class, but you can’t stay here.”

– Paget Brewster  also nails her reaction when the police officer comments that her disabled sister and her “could be twins.”


By Mike Papirmeister

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