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Note: in the paragraphs below, Subway refers to the character, and SUBWAY® to the quick service restaurant franchise with 36,491 locations in 99 countries.

Howdy, Communies! I experienced a certain degree of cognitive dissonance as I rounded up the reviews this week. I really liked last night's episode, and as a fervent Jeff/Annie shipper I was excited to see those two characters sharing a storyline, especially one that touched on their relationship, especially especially one in which Jeff said, "I don't make out with forgettable women." And my Twitter timeline was awash in people who felt the same way. But almost without exception, the reviewers considered Jeff and Annie's story as a weak story. And OK, maybe it wasn't as conceptually flashy as the Britta/Subway story, nor as dramatic as Troy and Abed's story, but that doesn't mean it was weak. Ah well, these things happen. And one day they'll pay. Oh, they'll all pay. Wait, pretend you didn't read that. Nothing to see here. Let's get rounding up!

  • Thanks to his having been provided with a screener, the AV Club's Todd VanDerWerff posted his review within a minute of the episode ending in the Eastern and Central time zones. I picture him sitting at his desk with his index finger poised above the button on his mouse, watching NIST's atomic clock so he could upload it to the AV Club servers at exactly 20:30 EDT. Anyway, he gave the episode a B+, a grade he calls provisional based on how the second half of the episode plays out. But, as he said on Twiiter, "grades aren't important." And indeed, he has a lot of good things to say about the episode. "Relentlessly entertaining," for example, and "all three subplots really have moments that pop." He particularly liked Britta's doomed love affair with Subway and Leonard's pajamas.
  • Andrea Towers of The Voice of TV also gave the episode a B+. She thought the Jeff/Annie storyline "left a little to be desired," and she's feeling conflicted about the direction she sees Abed's character going: "his detachment was played up a little more than usual and it simply made Abed seem cold and bitter." But she enjoyed the Subway/Britta romance, as well as the general trend during the third season of giving Gillian Jacobs "more chances to show off her strong comedy chops." She also liked that Vice Dean Laybourne was clever enough to use Inspector Spacetime metaphors to drive a wedge between Troy and Abed,
  • Brian Collins of Badass Digest said the episode was "a hilarious half hour and the best of the episodes that have aired post-hiatus," pointing out that it managed to be both "a nearly perfect 'normal' episode" and contain enough conceptual silliness to let it live up to "its trademarked 'like nothing else on TV' cred." He also thought it had "the best boner joke I’ve ever heard outside of a Jim Steinman song." The review also contains a paragraph contributed by Film Crit Hulk, speaking Hulkishly about how the episode approached the product placement: "THROUGH 'SUBWAY'S' HISTORY IT DIRECTLY ADDRESSES THE WAY WE COMPROMISE IN THE NAME OF LIVELIHOOD, HOW WE ESCHEW OURSELVES AND HOW WE TRY TO CONNECT BENEATH THOSE SURFACES ANYWAY."
  • Melissa Westphal was absent from the Rockford Register Star's Community podcast featured this week, leaving Will Pfeifer and Chris Soprych to go it alone. They really liked it, though not as much as "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons." Highlights included Pfeifer describing Westphal as "our Britta" and himself as "a colossal geek," Soprych admitting he's never read 1984, Gillian Jacobs being named as the season's MVP, and a lengthy discussion of Jeff & Annie's storyline that demonstrates that if you don't just brush something aside because it's not weird or dramatic enough, you can still find a lot of humor and some interesting things to say about it.
  • The other review I read that devoted more than a few lines to Jeff and Annie's story was by Jennifer Marie, writing at A Still and Quiet Conscience. But of course she would, because here on LJ she goes by jennynoname and she's one of the moderators of milady_milord. But that doesn't make her observations any less interesting! Her read on it is that Annie wanted Jeff "to realize how to apologize so that he will apologize to HER for things that she has clearly bottled up …it's hilarious that Annie masks her outrage by blaming it on 'defending her gender' when it's really about the fact that it took Jeff less than a day to apologize genuinely to someone and make up with them (even though he barely knows them), and yet, he has not done the same thing with a person who he's known for three years and has a much deeper relationship with."
  • Dave Harvey of What Culture! rated the episode 3 stars out of five. He thought it "a fairly average episode," mostly because found Jeff's plotline boring—"maybe the weakest the show has done in a while"—and thought Annie was underused. He didn't have much to say about the other two subplots—in a critical sense, that it; he recaps them fairly thoroughly—but he thought "seeing John Goodman in a big red onesie was a treat."
  • Laura Aguirre of ScreenCrave also thought Jeff's storyline was lacking somewhat—"like Kim, the Jeff/Annie subplot is pretty forgettable"—but she liked the Troy/Abed and Britta/Subway storylines enough to give the episode a rating of 8.5 of 10. She particularly liked the way the writers integrated the SUBWAY® product placement into the story and the return of Dean Laybourne, and she called Pierce's ink-drinking "priceless."
  • Derek B. Gayle of KSite TV called the episode "very, very good," adding that "there really isn’t anything particularly negative to talk about." He points to the utilization of all the major characters (except Chang) as a strength, and praised SUBWAY® for its willingness to give the show complete creative freedom in how the product placement was handled. He also mentioned Ludwig Goransson's score and how it contributed to the success of that subplot, especially the music that accompanied Britta and Subway's liaison in the pillow fort.
  • Sean Gandert of Paste Magazine gave the episode a rating of 8.9 out of 10. He argues that "Digital Exploration of Interior Design" was in many ways less accessible than last week's episode despite being far more tradition in its storytelling structure, due in large part to the degree to which all three storylines built on issues raised in earlier episodes. He's of the opinion that Community does high-concept better than it does more traditional character-driven episodes, but that this one was an exception, because of the way it embraced and referenced its own history.
  • HitFix's Alan Sepinwall, writing from an underwater hotel in Dubai, thinks "Digital Exploration of Interior Design" might have played better if "Contemporary Impressionists" had been seen in its original production order, which is to say with "Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts" separating them. "The stories weren't quite the same as last week … but the core emotional issues were close enough—and, more importantly, was the second episode in a row to feel lighter on overall laughs—that a lot of that material never really clicked." That said, he loved the Britta/Subway storyline, calling it "marvelous on several levels" and "the latest bit of evidence in Gillian Jacobs' campaign for season 3 MVP." Overall, though, it was his least favorite post-hiatus episode.
  • Matt Richenthal of TV Fanatic gave the episode 4½ stars out of 5. He congratulated SUBWAY® for allowing the show to taking product placement "to a new, absurd, hilarious level," and called that storyline his favorite of the three. He thought the Jeff/Annie story was nothing special, but he liked that the show hasn't forgotten about their make-out session back at the end of season one. With regard to Troy and Abed's story, he gives the writers credit "for actually evolving this friendship" instead of just maintaining the status quo.
  • Robert Canning of IGN TV gave the episode a rating of 8.5 of 10. He thought the way the episode handled the SUBWAY® product placement brilliantly. By portraying SUBWAY® as Subway, it allowed for a legitimate story-driven reason for a character to yell, "I love you, Subway!" He also liked how the Troy/Abed storyline "adds a necessary new dynamic to the relationship" between the two. But he thought the Jeff/Annie story was "just a bit of filler."
  • Luke Gelineau of TV Equals said "Digital Exploration of Interior Design" was "the funniest episode since the hiatus." With regard to the product placement, he thought the writers "really made it fit well in the overall tone of Community, and even said he'd welcome even more product placement if it was all done so well. He liked Britta's storyline, because he likes seeing Britta feel conflicted in her beliefs, which he says is "a nice way to offset how irritating her feelings can be in the first place." What he liked most about the Troy and Abed storyline was they way it set up what he assumes with be one of Community's "truly fantastic 'event' episodes." And he thought Jeff and Annie's story was stupid.
  • The Head Geek at Geek Furious gave the episode 95 out of 100. "The surprisingly subversive nature of the SUBWAY® story line really elevated the quality of this episode for me." He also liked Troy and Abed's story, describing it as "a deep and interesting reflection of the strength of friendship versus the need for individuals to declare themselves."
  • Andrew Lumby of The Filtered Lens says that with "Digital Exploration of Interior Design," Community is "looking exciting again." He was happy to see that the "random, arbitrary graphics that plagued the last couple of episodes" were absent this week, and thought that Troy and Abed's storyline was "done superbly in this episode," which is something of a turnaround for him because he complained last week that their story was getting too dramatic. He gave it a rating of 9 out of 10.
  • Ethan Alter writes in Television Without Pity's Telefile blog that the "third time proved to be the charm," getting the show "back on track" after the first two post-hiatus episode, which left him "mildly disappointed," with an episode that struck "the right blend of broad comedy with a light touch of tragedy." He was so taken with the concept of corpo-humanization that he assigned corporate identities to each member of the study group, which you should definitely check out.
  • I'll wrap this up by looking at the character grades Kelley Locke of Character Grades gave the characters. Troy and Abed earned a B; the duo of Pierce & Shirley and Britta both got a B-plus; Jeff and Annie—a pairing she admits she needs explained to her, so you milady_milord members should get on that—got a B-minus.

In ratings news, the return of The Big Bang Theory after two weeks of NCAA basketball did not affect Community's ratings in the slightest. "Digital Exploration of Interior Design" pulled a 1.7 in the 18-49 demo, and was once again the most watched NBC show of the evening. (The Office was a repeat.)

As always, please post reviews I didn't round up in the comments!


Apr. 1st, 2012 03:34 am (UTC)
I read that, and I don't think the story you describes—Britta and a guy whose name is a restaurant bond over a deep book—very closely resembles the story that was told. The story isn't about two people who are drawn to each other because they both read and enjoyed 1984; it's about people who attracted to each other because they share certain ideals and because they're both struggling to maintain their own identities. In Britta's case, she's pushing against the societal and familial expectation that she's destined to be a wife and mother; in Subway's case, he's trying to hold onto his humanity even after his humanity has literally been stripped away by the repressive corporation for which he works. Not coincidentally, that's also the struggle that Winston Smith goes through in 1984, so the writers chose to explicitly reference the book to make that point clear for people who've never read it or may have forgotten the details, but the story could have been told without it.

I'll grant that the story of their relationship hit a number of familiar beats, but in my opinion, you have to make certain allowances when you only have a little more than 21 minutes to tell three stories. Britta and Subway are only in five scenes together, and taken together those scenes last less than five minutes. There's only so much you can do when you're working under that kind of time crunch.
Apr. 1st, 2012 03:39 am (UTC)
Exactly, which is why I just personally feel that the time could've been spent on a better joke which wouldn't have been forced by the time constraints into something flat.

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