Community’s “Grifting 101” was certainly a departure this week, as the gang begins looking through new classes to take with one another. The first class everyone finds a similar interest in is — you guessed it — “Grifting 101.” The formula for this episode does make it intriguing to watch, if only to see who exactly is grifting whom, but I think that some of the pacing issues here could have been handled with a shorter run time overall. If they had cut about five to ten minutes, I think the show would have found its sweet spot — ironic, as I’ve praised the show in previous episodes for longer running times. The gang immediately believes Jeff to be jealous over the possibility of someone gaining more attention than him with the arrival of this new class, and they’re right of course. Jeff Winger is always at his most humorous when competing with someone else to be in the spotlight, to really push his vanity to the forefront.
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk at length about this week’s guest star, Matt Berry as the Grifting 101 instructor, Richard Del Salvo. The British comedy star most noted for his performances on the IT Crowd and the Mighty Boosh (Editor’s Note: And my personal favorite, Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place), Berry jumps into his role with all guns blazing as he attempts to take Greendale for a ride. Starting his class by requiring that each student purchase a ludicrously expensive briefcase, along with $5 individual stacks of fake money to fill said briefcase, Berry’s dry wit and delivery is infectious here as he foils the gang seemingly at every turn. I’m not sure if Berry is only scheduled to appear in this one episode, but I almost wish he had been contracted to be an “antagonist” for the gang to have to foil each week. Though to be fair, Berry can tend to steal the show, so maybe giving the Greendale crew time to form bonds with the new members was the way to go.
Jeff finds himself sharing an office with Del Salvo, but an attempt to be friends with the Professor of Grifting only creates a rift between the two, and a grifting war starts. This is where the most intriguing part of the episode really takes place as you’re left wondering what is a grift, who’s in on the grift, and where everyone will eventually end up. It almost seems similar to Inception in that regard, as the main cast needs to go deeper and deeper into the “grift” in order to reach their objective. While the grifts such as “the African telegram” and “the lottery ticket” are all in good fun, I thought they could have been a bit funnier in their delivery, especially with the encounter in the teacher’s lounge where Jeff merely walks backwards out of the room, defeated. I also have to make note of the gang, defeated, deciding to watch the movie The Sting in order to get the upper hand. While the idea is sound, I think it could have been implemented a bit better, as it held a little too long to sustain much humor.
“Grifting 101” had a very unique theme in that showrunner Dan Harmon takes the idea of this being a Vaudevillian performance and runs with it, transitioning set pieces with oil paintings of the gang and playing piano music in the background. This certainly is played for some laughs near the conclusion of the episode with the grift being revealed in all its glory, and the students of Greendale participating in a “briefcase parade” in order to pull a fast one on Del Salvo. Prior to this, Britta had slugged the Professor, leading into him comically prat falling down a flight of stairs, asking the school for “hush money” so he wouldn’t sue. This was all a plan created by the gang of course in order to set off the series of events that led to the episode’s conclusion.
In terms of the group dynamic, this episode provided a good balance, giving nearly everyone something to do. The show still recognizes the strength in having Keith David as Elroy on the team, giving him some fantastic one-liners along the way (“I’m judging you, and my dining room table folds down from a wall!”) Chang is even given some good play here regarding his confusion about what exactly diabetes is, as well as the realization that he cannot in fact be trusted. Both made from some nice chuckles. In the case of Frankie, I think I have a better understanding of her character now and how she fits in with the gang. As the Dean’s right-hand woman, I think that her place would be better as a rulemaker and sometimes antagonist for the group, rather than being one of them at the study room table. She works best in small doses, and specifically as a way to move the plot along.
Overall, I would say that this episode was just ok. There were a few bits and pieces missing from the entire outing that could have been fixed with some tweaks, and I’m honestly questioning as I type this whether having more of Matt Berry or less of him would have helped the episode more. While it was a unique experience, and certainly a perfect example of what makes Community Community, there were a few too many cracks along the way.
Episode Rating: ★★★ Good
– Fantastic use of Leonard in this episode, acting as a bellhop to impede Del Salvo’s path, ending with him giving the middle finger to the professor.
– The final scene of Ryan Ridley, “The Guy from Jeff’s Gym” landed kind of flat with me. Funny idea, but didn’t have the punch that “Knee High Mischief” did.
– Jeff: “You may say that working here gave me diabetes.”
– Salvo: “Pass them like your sister’s dying!”
– Britta: “Was Sting even in it?”
– Chang: “Because I can’t be trusted!’