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Community wrapped up one of its longest running side plots this week when Shirley’s baby is finally born in Applied Anthropology and Culinary Arts. The episode centers entirely around the group helping to deliver the baby when they are unable to leave Anthropology class due to a race riot started by Dean Pelton.
The episode begins with another fantastic guest appearance by John Oliver of The Daily Show as drunkard Professor Ian Duncan, as he and the class take their own special version of finals. With everyone aside from Shirley and Annie getting drunk, the class has to quickly sober up when the Dean drops by with a reporter writing an article about him. The entire cold open of this week’s episode really did highlight quite how good the cast of Community is. With nothing particularly funny happening or being said, the show remains entirely watchable and even entertaining from the quality of acting alone. Now towards the end of the second season, the characters and their mannerisms are so well established that it is easy to be engaged for the full two minutes before a singular punch-line is even delivered.
After the most addictive theme song on television right now, the reporter decides to stay to see how the unorthodox testing takes place forcing Professor Duncan to head off to get the fake tests; sadly the end of John Oliver’s involvement in the episode. While waiting for his return Britta tries to impose some of her personal opinions upon Shirley with regards to childbirth, whilst Pierce pays Troy and Abed for the rights to their special handshake. Whilst again, nothing inherently laugh out loud occurs, the episode makes particularly good use of its background characters in the middle minutes. Fat Neil and Star-Burns get some screen time and the Dean is far more involved in the story than his usual fleeting appearances for one-time comic relief. Given the rich amount of very insignificant supporting characters that Community has built for itself, I hope that the writers realize that they’ve given themselves an opportunity to truly expand the Greendale universe. Although the supporting cast ironically jokes about wishing an episode would be about them for a change, which really would be an interesting take on the bizarre goings on at Greendale to see it through another group’s eyes.
When Shirley begins to feel uneasy, Chang - still adamant that his is the unborn child’s father - begins to tell the tales of “Chang babies” and their notoriety for being born prematurely. As Shirley’s gas turns into her water breaking, the study group jumps into action. All while the Dean tries to maintain the facade that he is good at his job in front of the reporter. With the group unable to leave the classroom due to the aforementioned race riot over a world food day at Greendale, Abed recalls the time that he delivered a baby in the background of an episode last year, suggesting that he is the man for the job. The call-backs like Abed’s background episode are really something that Community is beginning to use more and more as a method to include more subtle humor into the show. For the casual viewer, the moment will pass them by without them giving it a second thought. However, for us fans it's a big proponent of commitment to the show that I am really beginning to enjoy.
Uncomfortable with Abed seeing her “nethers”, Shirley insists on one of the girls performing the delivery and Britta steps in to help. Initially unable to cope with the disgusting nature of the process, Britta ultimately redeems herself and the baby is successfully born. Although seemingly insignificant, Britta’s decision to go through with the birth was actually something of a stepping stone for her character. Throughout the series she often talks a big game without ever actually delivering on the words, but when she committed to the situation and saw it through, it made her character more likable. The baby is ultimately revealed to not be Chang’s; putting to rest the imaginations of the countless fans who would have been contemplating the consequences of such a reveal and the episode ends with the Dean further being proven as a terrible person to be put in a position of authority.
When looking back on Applied Anthropology and Culinary Arts, I can’t help but to feel satisfied. The episode didn’t really deliver too much in the way of laughs, but it kept a good enough level of humor to keep you engaged while it drew out 20 minutes on a mostly singular plot point. Making the birth of Shirley’s child an afterthought in an episode would have been a big mistake, so there really was no other way that the subject could have been approached. Thankfully, the potential to use a cliched cliffhanger was overlooked here. Given how much humor and intrigue that the writers have managed to draw out of this storyline, adding the frustration of us not knowing the father for another week would have been so perfectly imperfect. You’d have hated the writers so much for doing it, but I guarantee that any fan would have been glued to the screen for the beginning of next week’s episode, that being said, they’re more than likely going to be doing that anyway, because paintball is coming back to Greendale.