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Community has had some major hits and some wild misses since returning to NBC this spring, but the highlight of the past few episodes has been watching Abed Nadir embark on a quest to explore his humanity outside of TV and movie references. In “Conventions of Space and Time,” Abed met up with a fellow Inspector SpaceTime fan he thought might be his new best friend — only to realize he needs a guy like Troy to ground him in reality. The latest episode of Community explored similar themes, but this time Abed faced an even bigger challenge: dating.
The cast and crew have been hinting that Abed would get a new lady in his life this season. I’m not the biggest fan of Community’s romantic plotlines, as the show is full of oddballs, and oddballs tend to end up in one of two types of stereotypical romances: (1) The Odd Couple; or (2) Quirk v. Quirk.
For examples of both, think about The Big Bang Theory, a show with a large population of “weirdo” characters. Leonard and Penny are an odd couple. He’s a nerdy physicist, she’s a “normal” waitress — how will they ever get along? The jokes are nearly always about miscommunication, the product of Leonard knowing nothing about Ryan Gosling, and Penny knowing nothing about string theory. Meanwhile, Sheldon and Amy are both neurotic scientists whose quirks bump up against each other at every turn. Most of the humor that surrounds their relationship deals with their insecurities and bizarre habits being incompatible with each other.
In classic Community form, “Herstory of Dance” skewers those two stereotypes. Annie and Shirley compete to find a date for Abed: Shirley picks Jessica, a sweet and straight-edge girl from church, while Annie chooses manic-pixie-dreamgirl Kat, who asks Abed to the dance via balloon. But then, something unexpected happens. Abed finds a third girl in the coat-check room (Rachel) who instantly recognizes that he’s juggling two dates at once, and comes to his aid by handing Abed props and distracting manic-pixie-Kat with bubbles. After their mini-adventure, Rachel expects some coatroom make-out action, but Abed is still committed to the bit. He says he should choose Jessica over Kat because she “seems to be the audience favorite.” Abed ultimately realizes he hurt Rachel’s feelings, and tries to make amends by making an embarrassing romantic speech, which turns out to be mostly embarrassing and barely romantic. It works.
In 2011, show creator Dan Harmon said he researched Asperger syndrome extensively to understand what Abed might be thinking and feeling (he also discovered that he, too, is on the Asperger’s spectrum). Abed has long struggled to understand his friends’ feelings without the aid of TV tropes and movie lines. To cope with change, he’s hid himself in imaginary worlds, invented an evil version of himself, and turned all of his friends into Claymation characters. Abed is about to embark on a relationship with a sort-of normal, sort-of weird girl who will tolerate some of those quirks, but not others. That seems pretty close to real life for people with Asperger’s. Just because your brain processes information differently doesn’t mean your dating choices are limited to the saintly or the bizarre. Real people decide that it’s going to be OK to date someone who isn’t good at talking about their feelings, but is great at cracking jokes or making up stories. It’s not all “opposites attract” or “like goes with like.” There’s a heck of a lot of in between.
It’s always a pleasure to watch Community when the writers balance quirk with sentiment. In between Sophie B. Hawkins’ cameo, the Dean’s crazy costumes, and a heavy dose of Changnesia, Abed’s new relationship feels grounded in reality.