When Community first started, Craig Pelton was a uniquely relatable queer character and a breath of fresh air. His journey of self-discovery was anything but straightforward and, while never explored in depth, resonated. As the show progressed, a lot of that unique quality was replaced with, well, a lot of gay jokes. My relationship with Craig Pelton as a character has become much more ambivalent as the show has gone on. So, “Queer Studies and Advanced Waxing” was an episode I desperately needed.
It begins with Craig being offered a position on the school board. The catch is, they’re looking for an openly gay man to help with a PR blow from cancelling a gay pride parade. Craig isn’t sure how he feels about this because he says that “gay doesn’t begin to cover it.” There’s been a trend lately of TV shows refusing to acknowledge the words bisexual or pansexual and, unfortunately, this episode does fall into that category. However, this resonated with me in a way that other shows I don’t. They really sell us on Craig’s feeling that there genuinely isn’t a proper label. I love when he says that if being gay is pulling a rabbit out of a hat, he’s one of those endless scarves. At another point he describes coming out as gay as being honest about 2/7ths of his sexuality. They also directly deal with the erasure of non-monosexuals. Jeff Winger of all people has the insight and sensitivity to say that, unfortunately, anything kind of gay is seen as gay to most people. So, Craig decides to take the opportunity because “all I have to do is pair down my sexuality to simple gayness which is already a huge part of the mix.”
There’s some nice commentary about queer representation when a gay student at the school tells Craig how much him being out means to him and the other gay students. This plot examines issues of representation I haven’t seen discussed much on TV with amazing clarity; the representation we have isn’t nearly complex enough and many aspects of sexuality and gender are glossed over, but even oversimplified representation can have positive effects. The insight is amazing and never overly expository or hit on too hard.
Along with the stellar a-plot, there’s a funny plotline about Chang being cast in a The Karate Kid episode with a tough director, played by guest star Jason Mantzoukas. It’s the most likable Chang has been in a long time and I really enjoy how they’re handling that character this season. The other plot is an intensely emotional one about Abed becoming invested in some baby birds. At one point he states that two of them died and only one is left “but I’m worried it’s becoming a metaphor for my innocence.” This plot was a surprising emotional punch to the gut.
“Queer Studies and Advanced Waxing” is a unique episode. Not in the way that Community is usually unique, with a high concept idea or stylized execution. It just has a strong point of view and a real emotional resonance that made it interesting to watch. Most importantly, it feels like they really took a lot at each character and realized what they needed to keep their development on track. Even the way we got to see a confident Britta who’s in the right and a defeated Annie– while keeping them both in character– felt refreshing and desperately needed. I hope the rest of season 6 keeps surprising me like this.