Is Todd..."Whitney"?Sometimes in the realm of TV-watching, people get theories in their heads that maybe something is going on that nobody is noticing. On my esteemed colleague Tara Ariano's (and friends') excellent podcast, Extra Hot Great, hosts and fans defend themselves and their pop culture theories in a segment called "I am not a crackpot."
Over here on The Set, we do the something similar to share our TV paranoia in a feature called "Hear Me Out." This is the first one. Please, hear me out on this: I REALLY think that last night's "Community" was about dissing NBC's new Thursday night comedy lineup, especially the new odd one out and comparative ratings giant: "Whitney." This is my argument.
First, an episode synopsis: The episode, "Competitive Ecology" had two plots: one was about the main group being forced to pair up to be lab partners for their new biology class. When they realize they have an uneven number of members, the group must come to terms with the fact that one member will be paired with a student we've never seen before: Todd, a harmless new father who reacts to everyone's constant insults with the phrase "none-taken!" The second plot concerned Chang (Ken Jeong), now a Greendale security guard, in a noir-ish state of paranoia as he sees conspiracies everywhere and tries to achieve the imaginary rank of detective.
Here are the reasons why I STRONGLY and truly believe this episode was about either "Whitney" directly, or, if Dan Harmon and co. are charitable, TV programming decisions in general (it also would have worked with last year's odd-show-out "Outsourced.")
1. "The Todd Problem"
Throughout the episode, Todd is called a "random," a "non-grouper," and a "stranger." His reason for even being in the group is random, just like 3-camera, audience-laughter-dependent sitcom "Whitney" more or less randomly appeared on NBC's Thursday night lineup when "30 Rock" had to take time off to accommodate Tina Fey's pregnancy (something the creators of this episode knew about long before they went into the writers room.) Members of the group say things like (to Jeff) "Maybe nobody wants to carry you all year" (referencing the fact of "Community"'s low ratings) and "We're going to be stuck for a whole semester with this random, this non-grouper, Todd."
2. "We're just supposed to trust your algorithm?"
This clip shows the moment when I paused the show last night and shouted to whoever would hear (there were people there, I swear) "This is about 'Whitney'"! As far as I'm concerned, this clip seals it: Abed makes an "algorithm" to pair members of the group together, saying he put the most popular with the least popular: "I figured it would maximize each partnership's audience appeal" (a common TV programming trick, of course, but always evident on NBC Thursday nights):
3. Chang's B-plot as a paranoid detective.
There's no need to illustrate this with a clip, but Chang's role in this episode was as a conspiracy theory-spewing nut who says things (in noir-tradition voice-over) like "Maybe I was crazy, or maybe I was finally sane," and "This conspiracy goes all the way to the top." His plot was kind of extraneous and I think served only to be a clue that there was more to this episode than met the eye!
4. The ending!!
As the group squabbles over a microscope, Jeff announces: "I think I it's pretty clear what disturbed the balance in our ecosystem." The group members venture guesses:"Ranking one person above another?" "Letting our differences get the best of us?" "Racism?" "No. Todd!" (The "racism" line seems like an "Outsourced" red herring itself!) And like a sleeping, eavesdropping giant, Todd looks up, and we see who the show is trying to tell us will win, or whatever. It's the terrible-but-much-better-rated Todd/Whitney!:
5. The fact that this kind of thing has been done before, and if anyone would do it again, it would be Dan Harmon.
Remember that episode of "Seinfeld" ("The Butter Shave") where Jerry gets mad that every time he opens for a certain other comedian, that comedian kills because of Jerry's lead-in? That was another entire plot on an NBC Thursday night comedy about NBC's programming of Thursday night comedies, and that was back in the not-so-meta '90s! "Community" showrunner Dan Harmon has already been on the forefront of TV's meta storylines for years (remember the Bottle Episode?) If anyone would do an entire episode about the choices of programming executives, it would be him.
Thank you for hearing me out, and I rest my case.