As this season has made abundantly clear, the current writers of ‘Community’ are at their best when they focus on Greendale. Thursday’s episode, ‘Herstory of Dance’, proves that assertion ably. It also puts the absurdity on the backburner in favor of real character moments, and in the process ends up being one of the best episodes of the season.
The dean (wearing his most ridiculous costume yet) decides to put on an old-fashioned Sadie Hawkins dance. Britta, annoyed at the archaic vision of gender roles that the dance promotes, chooses to host her own dance. In a slip of the tongue, she name-checks ’90s singer Sophie B. Hawkins instead of women’s rights activists Susan B. Anthony. Incensed that everyone thinks she’s a failure before she even starts, Britta decides to run with it and host a Sophie B. Hawkins dance.
Abed, in an attempt to grow, agrees to let Annie and Shirley set him up with blind dates. The idea is to choose the one he likes best and go with her to the dance, but Abed, unable to resist a good trope, agrees to go to the dance with both. Once there, he finds a surprise helper in the form of the coat-check girl, Rachel, played by the talented and delightful Brie Larson of ‘21 Jump Street‘ fame. She takes a shine to Abed, but he ignores her, intent on enacting TV tropes, not movie ones. When Shirley and Annie realize what Abed’s doing, they admonish him and explain that real people have real feelings that can be hurt. Realizing that he unintentionally hurt Rachel, Abed makes a public speech that wins her over. Larson makes a great addition to the cast, and plays wonderfully off Abed, buying into his craziness with a restrained glee that’s great to watch.
Jeff tells Britta that if she’s hosting a Sophie B. Hawkins dance, people are going to expect Sophie B. Hawkins to show up. Instead of admitting her mistake, she takes unexpectedly persuasive advice from Pierce and keeps up the lie, even after Jeff finds a Craigslist ad asking Hawkins or a convincing Hawkins impersonator to come to the dance. However, Pierce also unexpectedly saves the day by booking the singer through his business connections with Lilith Fair, thus sating the enraged crowd who were about to turn on Britta.
The triumph of ‘Herstory of Dance’ is that it feels like the writers are finally taking chances with the characters. Abed and Britta haven’t felt this three-dimensional in a long time. Britta has especially gotten short shrift, becoming the butt of endless jokes. Here, she finally redeems herself, and when Jeff congratulates her, it feels genuine. Similarly, Abed is given room to grow without completely undermining the core of his character.
The only misstep in this episode is Troy, who helps Britta out with her dance, but attempts to do every task in a wacky way. His antics feel tacked on and tired. Annie and Shirley aren’t given much to do either, but at least they don’t get in the way of the story the way Troy does.
Still, despite the slight road bump, ‘Herstory of Dance’ is an episode worthy of the name ‘Community’.