Community S05E13: “Basic Sandwich”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “pick axing and electric zapping.”

For most of Community‘s run, Jeff Winger’s disdainful attitude toward Greendale often set him at (admittedly temporary) odds with his friends.  He refused to accept the fact that, like it or not, being both a student and now professor at Greendale is part of his DNA.  Given recent Internet speculation, there’s a possibility that “Basic Sandwich” could serve as a series finale to this underdog comedy, and if that’s the case, Jeff embracing this crazy place with pride feels like an excellent way to conclude his arc.  As the old saying goes: it ain’t perfect, but it’s home.

As we anticipated from last week’s bonkers set-up episode, the discovery of the treasure map led our gang to the depths of Randall Borchert’s secret lair of computer love-making.**  This wasn’t the zaniest half hour Community has put together, but I’m sort of glad; at times this season, in his zeal to reestablish the Community of old, Harmon overextended himself.  Sometimes the gimmick worked; sometimes it didn’t.  I’m glad he reined it in a bit here without sacrificing the funny because boy did this episode (like its predecessor) crack me up, and let’s be honest–even with its relative restraint–this still felt like no other comedy on television.

**Chris Elliot btw, donning the grossest beard this side of Duck Dynasty, absolutely killed it.  The man seductively licked his computer lover, Racquel (excellent name), for crying out loud!  That’s commitment!

Along the way, though, Community treated us to some hilarious sequences, didn’t it?  Professor Duncan’s electrocution and subsequent hallucination of doves (though not enough to mark the wedding of Britta and Jeff, obvi), Dean Pelton choking on an action figure’s rocket (not a euphemism), Abed’s fourth-wall shattering wink to the audience, what I can only describe as a prolonged “shush” off, and School Board Richie’s “mind robbery” of Hickey (“You’ll find a hang-glider!”) all stood as vintage moments for this show–call them canon.  Pelton was right: a one hour episode of The Office this was not.  When it comes down to it, we’re watching this show to laugh, and–if you have a pulse and a sense of humor–you undoubtedly did so.  Also, Community  answered a burning question, and Jeff and Pelton agree on its answer: Donald Sutherland.  ‘Nuff said.

But, in the tradition of the best installments of this show, the comedy had some real heft to hang its hat on.  In addition to Jeff’s aforementioned pride in Greendale, we also had some great news for those shipping the U.S.S. JeffNie.  After the school board guys and Chang*** follow our group down to Borchert’s lab and break Racquel (damn pesky pickle magnets!), our favorite computer humping scientist realizes he needs more emotion than that generated by the erotic teasing of his own nipples.  And, lo and behold, Jeff of all people volunteers to jumpstart Borchert’s disturbing sex object/miracle of technology.

***Chang, please try to rip your face off in alternating episodes from now on because that will never not be funny.

Throughout the episode, Annie struggled with the news of Jeff’s proposal to Britta,**** clearly unable to move past her own feelings for him.  So JeffNie shippers no doubt rejoiced when it was a season one callback that rebooted Racquel (“M’lord”/”M’lady.”)  Aww!  So cute, you guys.  Thanks to Jeff’s newfound font of what the pleebs call “emotions,” the group escapes and interrupts Subway’s press conference/purchase of Greendale with an announcement of Borchert’s status as ongoing stakeholder in the college.

****Though fortunately by show’s end, the novelty of the joke wears off, leading them to drop the schtick.  Phew.  Even for Community, that got weird.

Greendale saved!  Sorry, evil conglomerate.  You might have wanted to turn Greendale into a parking lot because you don’t believe in it, but as Pelton retorts, that’s just a Wednesday: Greendale is a family used to being overlooked, undervalued, and dismissed out of hand.  At this point, such scorn has lost its impact because being the underdog is all they know.  Pretty poetic, eh?

If this is the end–really, truly, the end of Community–I have to admit, I would be satisfied.  I guess it just Depends On What Fails, am I right?  Ha!  Great stinger!  Sure, I would follow these characters and their zany antics to the end of time and hope desperately that it returns to fulfill its #sixseasonsandamovie promise, but this two-part finale reminded us what makes this show so special.  Season five didn’t completely absolve its fourth season self of its myriad issues (had quite a few on its own, actually), but television is just a better place with Greendale on the map.

I hope to write another thirteen such reviews for the show, but for now, let’s not lament the possibility of cancellation but celebrate a story well-told and loaded with laughs.  Because, at its best, Community soared to mind-boggling creative heights the likes of which a network sitcom has never seen.  That’s got to mean something, right NBC?

That’s your cue, Starburns!  Fire up the DMB!


Quotes from the Refurbished Study Room

– Pelton: “Some people said he hid his money using a portal to another dimension.  Those people were on LSD.  Everyone else said he had a secret vault in his office.”

– Pelton: “Oh, look!  It’s Jeff Winger Fun Police!  He’s here to pull over our smiles because our mouths have tinted windows!”

– Duncan [recently electrocuted]: “Married?  Well then you’re going to need way more doves that this.”

– Abed: “Let me rip off the band-aid.  Dennis Hopper is dead; TV shows leave no room for theme songs anymore; Woody Allen supplied the voice of a cartoon ant.” Ha!  Excellent recap of pop culture for Borchert!

– Abed: “We’ll definitely be here next year.  If not, it’s because an asteroid has destroyed all of human civilization.  And that’s canon.” [Smiles into camera]

Community S05E12: “Basic Story”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “your ass getting appraised, insurance style!”

Now that’s more like it, Community!  This was one bonkers episode, and I loved every minute of it.  I mean, who better than Broken Lizard’s Jay Chandrasekhar to step up as director and steer the bizarre comedic sensibilities interwoven throughout?  From Dean Pelton attempting to commit suicide by vending machine to hardcore buried treasure twerking, I laughed raucously for the duration.

I consider this an even more impressive feat when considering that “Basic Story” amounted, essentially, to a set-up episode.  I mean, for crying out loud, Abed’s B-story involved him running around Greendale in a desperate attempt to manufacture some form of narrative, unaccustomed as he is to a sense of normalcy on campus.  As far as I could discern, the meta-commentary that resulted from this seemed to speak to Community‘s penchant for the wacky, to situational comedies in general that require some kind of incident to jumpstart the episode’s plot, and to “Basic Story” serving as an obvious set up.  Some great sight gags resulted from Abed’s attempt to unearth a narrative from the mundane goings-on of a “normal” day at Greendale: the pan over to a student slurping down chicken soup, a rather lengthy shot of students rifling through the library stacks, the steady cam shot tracing Abed’s frantic search for…well, for, anything.  It was all so bizarre (um, hey there, Abed with a beard, what up?), but in the world of Community, it worked.  It worked better than it should have.

Of course, Abed’s quest for some kind of story came about due to the unequivocal success of the Save Greendale Committee.  The demonologist has exorcised the gymnasium of malevolent spirits!  Vending machines are no longer death traps!  The soccer field has grass!  What else is there to do?  In other words, Annie’s bulletin board of success stories is all filled up, so all the Committee can do is savor the atypical feelings of contentment and accomplishment.

That is, until the drunk school board guys decide to try to sell Greendale off to the highest bidder.  Enter an insurance appraiser, armed with a flashy new briefcase and a rather loose definition of “dog”, and we have a story!  Unfortunately, the appraiser cannot find too many flaws with Greendale because of the Committee’s success, so Greendale actually has value!  Yay!  Unfortunately, that means it’s going to be sold to Subway for a profit and become a sandwich university!  Boo!**

**I loved that Subway would be the company to take over Greendale and not just because the library’s been renamed “Subwayary” because yes.  Subway has a unique relationship with cult NBC shows (oh hey, Chuck, how you doin’?), so it worked, again, better than it should have.

Of course, all this is back story for the true narrative we’ll get next week.  As Dean Pelton finishes crying on the floor in his tighty-whities and packing up his office (not necessarily in that order), he, Annie, and Abed find a treasure map behind the portrait of Russell Borchard, infamous maker of love to various pieces of technology and a surprising dead ringer for Chris Elliot–hey, wait a minute!  This, clearly, was the episode’s goal: put the treasure map in the hands of our beloved characters and let the hunt begin…next week.

Along the way, Jeff proposes marriage to Britta…*Dramatic tire squeal* Yeah, I know.  It’s random.  Let’s see what happens next week because, as much as I thought this episode delivered the comedic goods consistently, we sort of have to.  “Basic Story” couldn’t really stand on its own story-wise, which is fine because this is definitely one of the most entertaining (and unapologetically obvious) set-up episodes I’ve seen.

So grab your map and your Subway undershirt, and get ready!  We’ll see you next week.


Quotes from the Refurbished Study Room

– Shirley: “I got a problem.  I don’t like Abed’s problem with our lack of problems.”

– Hickey: “I’ve seen insurance appraisers bleed.  Their blood is different.  Darker.”

– Jeff: “This inspection is going to be the most boring thing to happen to Greendale since Britta dated Troy.”  Zing!

– Hickey: “If I have to come over there, there’s going to be two sounds: me hitting you…twice.”

– Dean Pelton [trying to pull vending machine on top of himself]: “Let me be one of the six this year!”

Community S05E11: “G.I. Jeff”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of being “unable to hear when you’re covered in rocks.”

Earlier in this fifth season, Community used Troy’s impending departure to formulate the basis of its brilliant Mad Max send-up episode “Geothermal Escapism.”  Remember that one?  Abed, unable to cope with the inevitable loss of his friend, constructed an altered reality wherein the college-wide game of Hot Lava became an activity of necessity because the floor had transformed, in Abed’s head, to real lava.  That was some hefty psychoanalytical lifting for a twenty-three minute situational comedy to take on, but the results proved outstanding.  It remains one of Community‘s best episodes.

This theme of actively escaping one’s problems through meticulously rendered psychotic breaks carried over in this week’s animated ep “G.I. Jeff.”  I quite liked most of it, but–unlike “Geothermal Escapism”–the attempt to connect it to Jeff’s psyche didn’t work for me.  Apparently, Mr. Winger consumed a fifth of scotch and took some Korean anti-aging pills rather than cope with the reality of his fortieth birthday.  *Gasp!*    Say it ain’t so!  Turns out, his little bender ended up requiring a brief hospitalization, during which time he imagined life as a G.I. Joe  cartoon ostensibly in a subconscious attempt to cling to his youth.


Putting aside the problems resulting from trying to rationalize this episode,** it certainly still had its moments.  But part of me wishes there hadn’t been such a clumsy effort to connect it to the Greendale reality.  I mean, right?   Wouldn’t it have been so Community just to toss this off as an unexplained standalone episode?  Now that would’ve been something!

**I don’t believe this part of Jeff’s character for a minute.  These animated installments have been Abed’s terrain for awhile now, and–while I appreciate the desire not to lay all of these “gimmick” episodes  at Abed’s feet due to his tenuous grip on reality–Jeff just seemed like an odd choice of a character to pick up that particular mantle.

But, damn, this episode cracked me up consistently throughout.  From its faux-scratches peppering the screen as a tribute to the film quality of the 80s to the poor lip synchronization, the attention to detail (something I’ve commented on before) really shined here.  Plus, what a gallery of cartoon dopplegangers!  Wingman!  Buzzkill!  Fourth Wall!  Three Kids (all the lol @ every time Shirley cried out, “I’ve got three kids!”)! Overkill! Vice Cobra Assistant Commander!  Brilliant.

I also loved the affectionate, little nods to the G.I. Joe of yesteryear.  The credits!  That theme song!  When bullets shredded Dethstro’s parachute and plummeted him to his death, I laughed.  When the camera held on the shocked faces of fellow G.I.s, I howled.  For all the bullets that flew in the original show, they never landed, and our heroes and villains of Cobra lived to fight another day.  Cobra henchmen couldn’t grasp the nuances of a finely written eulogy here because, well, no one has ever died on the show.  Until Wingman, that is!  The running gag about the characters never killing each other just didn’t get old for me, and kudos for turning suppressive fire into a Cobra massacre.  A hilarious, macabre touch.

I suppose no review of this episode would be complete without a mention of those lovingly created live-action commercials that appeared each time Wingman had a seizure at the mention of Greendale because, again, sure. The arc for the TV advertisements was great, too.  Jeff’s increasingly active control of the toys, culminating in crashing a helicopter into the little boy’s head, served as a nice coda.***

***Speaking of codas, I had hoped for a PSA, and who better to serve it in that stinger than Buzzkill?  She Britta’ed it but good, and I mean that in the best possible way.

Look, I can completely see where you’re coming from if you thought this episode little more than an extended Robot Chicken sketch.  I’d never defend this as one of Community‘s finest half-hours (I wouldn’t put it near the top twenty-five, actually), but it was funny and entertaining enough, and at least Harmon and company went for broke with it.  But from Community, would we expect anything less?


Quotes from the Refurbished (and Animated!) Study Room

– Wingman: “Your outfit is three layers of racist!”

– Wingman: “I keep having these visions…about little boys.”

Three Kids: “And are these visions something we should be sharing with the authorities?”

– Abed: “Imaginary Britta is right.  And only imaginary Britta.”

– Shirley: “This is Korean.”

Chang: “What am I?”

Shirley: “You’re Chinese!”

Chang: “I swear to God, I feel Korean.”

Community S05E10: “Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “the dingleberry smash.”

Throughout its run, the brilliance of Community has stemmed from its fearless originality.  No niche, it seemed, was too esoteric; Dan Harmon and company mined comedic gold from whichever flight of fancy they desired.  So, when a show with such boundless creativity opts to revisit an earlier conceit, it had better bring it.  Look, it might not be fair, but was there ever a point when you weren’t actively comparing this installment against the vastly superior entry from the mind-bogglingly outstanding second season?  What can I say?  It’s the nature of Human Beings.

And, in light of that inevitable comparison, I couldn’t shake the fact that this episode was just…unnecessary?  In fact, it managed to encapsulate my initial reticence upon the announcement of Harmon’s return.  Would he, to quote the Boss, relish in the glory days as a way to prove to his audience what a mess the much-maligned fourth season truly was?  Clearly, after this episode, the answer seems a categorical yes.

Now, just wait a tick.  Before you start mailing me the desiccated corpses of sky spiders in utter outrage, hear me out.  Trust me, it’s Community, so I laughed.  I laughed a whole lot.  But let’s just pause for a second and place this episode within the show’s broader context.  If this had aired last year, wouldn’t most of us have slammed it for trying too hard to recapture the comedic heights of yesteryear?  Don’t try to dodge the question because the answer is obviously yes.  We would have.  But weren’t you, deep down, trying to convince yourself you liked it more than you did?  After all, it’s Dan Harmon!

I appreciated the fact that this go-around of “D&D” centered around Buzz Hickey and applaud the desire to deepen his character’s relationship with his other son, Hank,** and Hank’s son, Sebastian.  Jonathan Banks is amazing (always has been and always will be), and I’ve enjoyed what he’s brought to this character, but the emotional core this time didn’t resound as potently here as it did in season two when playing the game meant saving Neil’s life.   We dealt with the dad issue with Jeff last season–fairly well, I thought, despite the naysaying of detractors–so what we’re left with is a recycled idea with a recycled undercurrent.  Hence my unshakeable feeling of it being unnecessary.  Plus, I’ll just say it: is Hickey worthy of our sympathy?  The guy’s funny with his insistence on punching people and hobgoblins (but no ladies bc duh) in the heart, but is he really a good dad?  I’m not so sure.

**Not the gay one.  Him he gets.  Love it.

Of course, David Cross playing Buzz’s son Hank earned this episode a few extra points because the man can do no wrong; only he could sell that sepia-toned, artistically out of focus musical number that felt like something pulled out of a cut scene from The Hobbit.  So, again, at least the episode brought the funny.  After all, with Hector the Well-Endowed reprising his role and Annie spraying down enemies with his massively imaginary ding dong, how bad can the episode really be?

As with most episodes of Community, recounting the plot machinations saps the joy out of it, so you won’t find me doing that here.  But a special shout out needs to go out to Dean Pelton.  My stomach hurt from laughing at the site of him rubbing the hilt of his sword to a picture of Jeff propped up on the windowsill.  Typing this, I’m laughing again.  And how about his positively phallic death when he forces himself on Jeff’s drawn sword?  Amazing.  That Pelton’s character is also Jeff’s character’s son only adds to the awkward Oedipal hilarity of it all.

Abed is a cruel Dungeon Master and his tightly orchestrated quest finds the gang (Crouton, Dingleberry, and Fibrosis amongst them) making their way to the Black Tower (#StephenKingReference) to defeat the dreaded Necromancer.  Along the way, Abed peppers the journey with symbolic intent: most notably, Hank literally burns a bridge that plunges the group into a river current.  The dude’s got control issues.  But rest assured, Hickey uses his own brand of acumen to get his team back on track.***  Just to reinforce the Abed’s penchant for the symbolic, both Hank and Buzz arrive at the Black Tower but their bickering provides the Necromancer with an opportunity to escape down a rear hatch.  The intention is clear: father and son are willfully blocking one another from being able to come together.  As Abed said, if they could just get their crap together, Buzz and Hank might be able to do something about their dysfunctional relationship.

***I’m going on official record to decree it the single best hobgoblin interrogation/waterboarding scene of all time.  Danny Pudi’s dual Gollum-esque performance only added to it.  Funniest scene of the episode for me, hands down.

In the end, this episode didn’t tickle my fancy to the extent that last week’s brilliant installment did.  It had its moment, but there seemed a fundamental miscalculation here; we love Community because it continues to push the envelope and surprise us.  While the mention of a “D&D” revisit sounded initially appealing, its inconsistent delivery only reinforced that aforementioned strength.  But, hey, sometimes we need to be reminded about the things right in front of our faces.  Even when those things include the massive members of Hector the Well-Endowed.


Quotes from the Refurbished Study Room 

-Chang: “Too cool for street insurance?  Excuse me…”

– Pelton: “Okay, it’s short notice, but I think it’ll be good for me.”

– Pelton [gasping for air]: “FATHER!”

– Jeff: “Go find a name that’s not just another creature’s name plus hob!”

– Hickey: “I’ve punched about a thousand hearts in my life.  I never, never missed.”

Abed: “Have you ever been a three foot tall halfling running through two foot vines trying to punch a seven foot monster?”

– Hank: “You know where he was on most of my birthdays?  I little place that rhymes with not there.”

Chang: “Times Square?”

Community S05E09: “VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing”

…an episode showing us all the importance of “a third act apology”

In the year of our Lord 1991, a little video board game called Nightmare hit the shelves and–for the luckiest amongst us–left a deep, enduring impression on our hearts.  I’m not sure how much you know about Nightmare (hint: the correct answer is you know everything about Nightmare  because obvs), so let me regale you.  At its center, the Gatekeeper presided over all, the emcee of a game with seeming never-ending rules and cacophonous jump scares.  He heckled you, you answered  “Yes, My Gatekeeper,” frantic rolling ensued, cards were drawn.  By the end of it, you’re left exhilarated and very likely without a clue as to what transpired over the course of the previous hour.

Now, this might just be the steady diet of freezer-chilled Thin Mints talking, but am I crazy to think that Dan Harmon and company had this little title on their minds when the pen hit the paper for this ninth episode of Community?  Because, you guys, in my world that is exactly what happened and so I loved this episode SO.  MUCH.

But what made this such a great episode is that, even if you are (a godless heathen and ) unfamiliar with the 90s craze of interactive video board games, it didn’t matter.  Can’t we all agree that Rachel’s anniversary gift** to Abed, a copy of the Western-themed Pile of Bullets,  seems like the next television game ripe for a real version, a la New Girl‘s “Young Americans?”

**We non-Abed human beings would consider this a one-month anniversary, but due to his relationship with Rachel being twelve times as efficient as the standard relationship, it equated to one year anniversary.  Makes sense.  God help me, in the world of this character it makes a great deal of sense.

That Annie and Abed decided to settle the argument of who should move in to replace Troy (Anthony, Annie’s brother, or Rachel) through a game of Pile of Bullets was perfect.  Also: Vince Gilligan because everything is better with Vince Gilligan!  (#ScientificFact)  Although it seemed inevitable that their competitive streaks would alienate both Anthony and Rachel seemed obvious, I was so drawn in  by the parallels to Nightmare I think I I broke my face from smiling so hard.  Abed and Annie feverishly trying to roll their “bullet number” before the time winds down?  CLASSIC NIGHTMARE, you guys!  Shouting “Bang”*** as Vince Gilligan chastises you?  We’re talking pages ripped out of the Nightmare playbook.

***Anthony’s unenthused barrage of “bangs” at the screen had me laughing so hard I needed to pause.  Which of course is a big no-no when immersed in the interactive board game experience of Nightmare.

Seriously though, watching Annie’s and Abed’s competitive natures overtake them as they essentially began to play against one another was comedic perfection.  For me, right up there with Danny Pudi’s Nic Cage stuff from earlier in the season in terms of impeccable comedy.  Um, and also wtf with that twister spin?  Hilarious.

What caught me off-guard was the way this episode became yet another echo of Troy’s absence and what an integral role he played in balancing the Annie-Abed dynamic.  With Troy off sailing the high-seas and/or disentangling himself from a piracy situation, these two need to find new ways to connect and redefine their friendship.  That means, of course, posting an ad in Craigslist rather than offering the vacancy to Britta because she would be the worst to live with.  Great stuff, and well-spotted on those unresolved issues there, Anthony.  And yes, you can go poop now.  But only when you’re done peeling those carrots!  Ha! Typical Anthony!

The A plot would have been enough to convince me that this installment was one of the greats, but then Harmon had to go an throw in a B plot about Hickey, Jeff, and Shirley stumbling across a hidden cache of Intro to Chemistry 3rd Edition (*gasp*) textbooks, and this episode soared into the comedy stratosphere for me.

Shirley once again proved her social dominance when in a scenario befitting her particular set of talents, fresh off the MeowMeowBeenz debacle of last week.  I love powerful Shirley.  She’s all about making plays, proposing using her sandwich shop as a front for moving the merch (#SerendipitousAlliteration).  And before you can say, “Hickey has questionable access to rope,” this devolves/evolves into a take on the heist movie.

Friends betray and tie another one up with rope, Britta offers to act as the go-between for a cut of the profits, Chang gets forced to make a video confessional about having stolen the books out of a deep-seated sexual predilection for licking them.  Standard stuff, in other words.****

****Of course, the textbooks are worthless because they’re missing a little thing we in the business of textbook importation call page numbers.  Apparently, pages numbers are critical or something.  (#TheMoreYouKnow)

Oh man, this one was a winner.  Seriously, it’s hands-down my favorite post-Troy episode, and not just because of my (so may say) unusual love for the interactive video board gaming subculture.  Keep these coming, Community, and you’ll be more than en route to that #SixSeasonsAndaMovie.


Quotes from the Refurbished Study Room

– Dean Pelton [after his aggressive freestyle rap]: “I don’t know what that was.  I don’t know what they was.”

– Abed: “You’re putting me on the spot.  I guess my knee-jerk concern would be that he’s a Viking and he might only use our home as a temporary based before moving inland where lumber is more plentiful.”

– Jeff: “Let’s just slow down and have a nice, long chat about possibilities.”

– Shirley [about Chang]: “He can’t leave.”

– Rachel: “I do not like this side of you, and I don’t like that side of VCR technology.  I’m glad it’s a dead medium.  That was creepy.”

Community S05E08: “App Development and Condiments”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “getting an estimate to add grass to the soccer field.”

My gripes about this post-Troy version of Community have, at this point, had their time in the spotlight, with character inconsistency and lazy subplots chief amongst the more egregious issues.  But I’m pleased to say that I will be taking an express train out of Negative Town and headed for the greener pastures of Liked It-ville!  Hurray progress!

First off, can we all just agree that MeowMeowBeenz sounds like one devilishly addictive social media platform?  That was part of the episode’s genius: taking a plausible idea to its absolute extremity in a way only Community can manage.  I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the British anthology series Black Mirror, but this sure felt like an almost direct homage to it.  That show uses our obsession with technology as the basis for its storytelling (the titular black mirror referring to the screen of any powered-down tablet or phone or computer).  And I’ll be damned if there wasn’t more than a tad of that on display here!  In fact, this reminded me of Black Mirror‘s second episode, “15 Million Merits.”  Seriously, watch the two back-to-back, and I guarantee your appreciation for Community‘s latest installment will grow manyfold.

I’m not going to dissect the plot machinations too much, though it’s worth noting how Community committed so completely (#AccidentalAlliteration) to this idea.  Because, man, things certainly escalated quickly!  Eight days into the beta test for MeowMeowBeenz, Greendale had descended into a futuristic dystopia.  The flourishes of detail–cordoned off sections for 4s and 5s, the costumes, the “inspiring” intercom announcements, the Outlands–coalesced to somehow create an almost fully realized world.  Cool.  Cool.  Cool.**  At the same time, I’m a bit over every episode ending with a #Greendalepocalypse.  Just sayin’.

**Of all the characters, I loved how the dehumanizing nature of the MeowMeowBeenz system allowed Abed to fine-tune the art of small talk.  That made such perfectly contradictory sense.  Loved it.

Let’s face it, this episode was really about Jeff and Shirley.  And Britta smearing mustard on her face because obviously.  But for reals, I loved the way Shirley dominated MeowMeowBeenz.  Her complete transformation from semi-outcast–dinner plans on Tuesday would just never work–to full on queen bee was well played because the episode didn’t shy away from the vindictiveness lurking under the surface.  The chip on Shirley’s shoulder might as well have been the Grand Canyon, as she bullied the likes of Vicky for not doling out the expected five-beenz rating to her just for entering the room.  And holy hell was that Talent Show creepy.

Meanwhile, watching Jeff’s meteoric rise through the Beenz rankings did a great job playing into his well-documented need to control, well, everything.  Along the way, he made some delightful pals named Tinkle and Mulch who seemed like real princes if your idea of royalty is linked with your idea of date rape.  Jeff’s social ladder climbing, of course, culminated in that killer stand-up routine that earned him his fifth beenz at the Shirley-hosted talent show.***  Thanks, Koogler!  You’re a delightful perv.  Don’t ever change!  But seriously, sort of change because you’re on a collision course with a lawsuit.  I’ll still totes watch your movie though.

***Apples, am I right?

After Shirley and Jeff participate in what I can only describe as the single greatest dance sequence ever committed to film (hyperbole warning), they ultimately find themselves banished to the Outlands thanks to Britta galvanizing the downtrodden 2s and 3s to revolt.  Warmed by a nearby trashcan fire, our two beloved study group members acknowledge their own foibles and gain a better appreciation of one another.  It sounds cliche, I know, but maybe it helped that the scene after this had Britta desperately smearing mustard on her face as her dynasty as Mother of Ones came crashing down?  This show!

What a wacky half hour of Community!  Seriously bonkers stuff!  But here’s the thing: when it remembers to ground itself in the character relationships, there really is no limit to the story it can tell.  I’ll follow it anywhere as long as I feel like the characters form its basis.  I certainly felt that way this week, and it didn’t hurt that Community remembered to bring the funny, too.

Also: Hickey committing to his birthday party ruse to maintain a steady influx of Beenz.  Man knows how to GET. IT. DONE.


Conversations from the Refurbished Study Room

– Jeff: “Haul it, ball it, never call it!”

– Dean Pelton: “You know what they say.  Fives have lives, fours have chores, threes have fleas, twos have blues, and ones don’t get a rhyme because they’re garbage!”

– Britta: “I’m a psychology major.  Words are my weapons.”

Security Guard: “I’m a security guard.  Weapons are my weapons.”


Community S05E07: “Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of having “all bones removed from the football field.”

While Troy Barnes sails the smooth waters the world over** as Levar Burton’s right-hand man, Community itself flounders in some choppy waters these days. (#NauticalAnalogy) While this week’s installment certainly improved over the previous one by presenting plots that were at least marginally more amusing, it’s clear that Community wants to redefine itself in these post-Troy days.  Its fully realized transformation hasn’t manifested yet–far from it–but I’m pleased to see Harmon making those first hesitant baby steps.

**Well, if episode six’s Easter egg is to be believed, maybe the waters aren’t quite as smooth as indicated, but you get the point.  Pirates, am I right?

The best thing, hands down, about this episode of Community  is that it remained true to its characters.  I griped about Britta’s bout of uncharacteristic cruelty last time, and I am relieved to report that no such nonsense rears its ugly head for this go-around.  In fact, the show went out of its way to deepen its characters–three in particular–in a way that felt honest and true.  Unfortunately, the journey wasn’t all that funny.

Take Abed, for instance.  In light of the theatrical release of the Robocop remake, having Abed don his very own Kickpuncher outfit for a Kickpuncher remake felt just about right.  The shot of him laboring at the study table by himself and muttering a clipped “Cool, cool, cool” upon completion of his outfit served as a great assurance to the audience that Troy’s absence continues to haunt Abed.  In many ways, this week’s episode stems from Abed’s loneliness and confusion that resulted from his friend’s departure. Pitting curmudgeonly cartoonist Buzz Hickey with Abed worked well for both characters.  Chained to Hickey’s filing cabinet, Abed forces Hickey to confront the fact that his insecurities prevent his duck-centric comic book from retaining any soul.*** As the man enforcing a consequence on Abed for spraying his sketches with foam from his surprisingly functional Kickpuncher outfit, Hickey forces Abed to confront an inner rage he’s more comfortable channeling into missing a movie premiere than in processing the loss of his friend. Great stuff character-wise, but a few more jokes wouldn’t have hurt.  Just saying. However, the thought of the two of them as writing partners makes me giddy. Also, Police Justice is an excellent name.

***But, guys, publishers are interested!

Other than a much-warranted slam on Dane Cook, Jeff’s plotline had even less to chuckle at aside from the initial set up: Professor Duncan’s attempted courtship of Britta under Jeff’s tutelage.  First off, eww.  Second, I appreciated the revisitation of Jeff’s not-so-dormant feelings for Britta, particularly when he sees her as a hot commodity at the barrels-of-laughs Starving Children with Cleft Palates fundraiser (they should have extra food, not less; please donate responsibly).  It seemed a foregone conclusion that Duncan would fail to woo her, but I liked that this became the story of male friends reconnecting rather than competing for Britta’s affections. It turns out Duncan just wanted to get to third base with Jeff.  What’s so wrong with that?  Humor-wise, Duncan had a line or two that amused me (stupid American steering wheels), but nothing would land in the upper echelon of  great Community quotes.

Meanwhile, Shirley and Annie spent nearly the entire episode at McDonald’s.  Did I just write that?  Ugh.  What a waste.***

***The meta-joke near the end of the episode about both of them having enough screen time earlier in the season felt like a “so-close” joke; it probably read better on the page but certainly didn’t make up for them being sidelined.

Fortunately, Chang delivered the comedy goods this week with his throw-away plotline about delivering a one-man show to a crowd of ghosts.  Or was the janitor the ghost?  Or was Chang the ghost? The madcap absurdity of this fell in stark contrast to the slower character-based beats of the rest of the episode, but maybe that’s why it came across funnier than it might have otherwise been?  I don’t know, but regardless, the button on the end of the episode: a mocking allusion to the closing shot of The Shining, with Chang in a black and white posed picture for the Old Timey Photo Club closed out the episode with a laugh from me.  Plus, I could watch Chang stumble into a room, confused and irritated, over and over again.

Diverting enough, this episode didn’t wow me with its comedy but added interesting flourishes to a handful of characters.  Now that we’re back in tune with these characters after last week’s hiccup, let’s just add more humor to the formula, shake, and serve.  I meanthis is Community, after all.  If nothing else, it deserves our patience as it irons out the kinks of a world without Troy.


Quotes from the Refurbished Study Room

– Duncan: “You know how you’ve come to respect me?”

Jeff: “Sure.”

Duncan: “Well prepare to stop.”

– Abed: “If you were a post-apocalyptic survivor…”

Hickey: “…I would raise goats, horde cinnamon, and travel only at night.”

– Britta: “I will Banksy that mother!”

– Chang: “Do you guys believe in ghosts? And if you do, do you believe what those ghosts tell you about other ghosts?”

Community S05E06: “Analysis of Cork-Based Networking”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of a “banana train.”

Let’s get this first bit out of the way right off the bat: we can agree this was quite noticeably the worst episode of Community‘s otherwise outstanding fifth season, right?  I mean, I know it; you know it.  We both love this show so much that it kind of hurts to admit it, but it’s okay.  This was a lesser episode of Community, though that’s not to say it didn’t elicit a handful of laughs.

Writing the episode that follows the departure of a beloved character cannot possibly be easy.  And when the departing character in question is a fan-favorite like Troy Barnes, the task’s difficulty must seem even more daunting.  Though Harmon did his best to show us that this show can–and will–continue without Troy, the results were muddled at best.  Take that wide shot of the study room: Hickey in Pierce’s old seat, Chang in Troy’s, and Professor Duncan cozying up next to Jeff.  Look, I’m all for an expansion of the central study group, but I’ll admit I still cringed.  The heart doesn’t heal overnight.

Unfortunately, what makes Troy’s absence so palpable in this episode is the simple fact that the script just seemed a bit…lazy?  Don’t get me wrong; I found myself chuckling during Annie’s descent into the bureaucracy of Greendale with Hickey in tow because, let’s be honest, it had its moments.  But those B and C plots?  Mildly amusing at best.  Sorry, but you know I’m right.

The episode’s predominant narrative involves Annie and Professor/Amateur Cartoonist Buzz Hickey cutting through the red tape to get a bulletin board repaired, and it’s a road paved with an almost exhausting lineup of guest stars.  Because nothing at Greendale can happen without a custodial work order, Annie and Buzz infiltrate them first.  Enter Nathan Fillion as the Chief Custodian, a slippery dude who agrees to bump up the work order (putting it well ahead of the pending one to lower the flag for Reagan’s death) if Annie can get the IT head to remove the porn filter on his computer.  Back door deals indeed!**  But faster than you can say quid pro quoturns out the IT head is sick of parking with the reprehensible lunch ladies, so she won’t turn off the blocker until she gets a better spot.

**Yes, the same Nathan Fillion that is Chang’s male celebrity crush.  I hoped they would return to this gag from a few weeks ago (seemed perfect), but Fillion had very little to do.  Too little, actually.

This leads Annie and Buzz to the head of parking, Walden (played by Robert Patrick because why not?).  He’ll agree to give the IT head the spot if the Dean appoints him in charge of all bulletin boards across campus.  You see, bulletin boards are the breeding ground of carpool notices, the very downfall of the parking industry.  Makes sense.  More than any reason I can come up with as to why Patrick took this role.  Anyhow, they wind up at the office of Dean Pelton, who agrees to Walden’s appointment as long as Annie and Buzz toast him with a salutation of “easy peasy lemon squeezie.”  #DeanLogic  Buzz refuses, accuses Annie of perpetuating the sketchy goings on of Greendale just to prove a point, and storms off.

I appreciated some of the slams on the bureaucratic nonsense of schools and liked the friendship that began to form by episode’s end when Hickey begrudgingly nailed up his personal bulletin board in the cafeteria.  I’ll allow it.  I also love that we caught up with additional departmental facets of Greendale here, but I hope this is not the last we will see of them.

Had the episode just focused on this story, I might have been a bit more forgiving.  But the whole Britta story turned out to be the absolute WORST.  Last week, she showed a depth of compassion for Abed that was truly moving.  But this week?  She resorts to buying off a girl Abed likes just to out-spoiler him (via sign language of course) in regards to a current favorite show, Bloodlines of Conquest, an obvious Game of Thrones allusion.***  It sort of undid the growth we saw in Britta last week, and for what purpose, exactly?

***Basically, it amounted to a backhanded allusion to GoT‘s infamous Red Wedding sequence, which begs the question: why bother fabricating a different fantasy show when the jokes and parallels were so transparent?  Community is no stranger to incorporating actual shows into their comedy (Troy and Abed’s obsession with The Cape springs to mind), so this just felt lazy and half-baked.

The final storyline sees the remaining characters (Jeff, Chang, Duncan, and Shirley) coming together to plan a theme for the Midterms Dance.  I couldn’t motivate myself to care one little bit, though Garrett screaming, “It’s a bear dance!” at the episode’s conclusion almost (almost) made up for it because if Community had an episode featuring Garrett screaming for its duration, it would be amazing.  Dude is hilarious is my point.  But the rest of the plot?  I suppose if you find Chang’s theme inspiration being drawn from a bear attacking a children’s birthday party funny, then it was.  Not so much for me.

Hey, look.  Not every episode can be a home run.  Sometimes, you need one that bunts a ball foul for its third strike to make those actual home runs more exciting.  #BaseballAnalogies  After a string of solid installments, it’s just a shame that Community  went into its Olympics break with such a weak one.

Oh well.  I have absolutely no doubt that it will recover.  Harmon always does.


 Quotes from the Refurbished Study Room

– Professor Duncan: “They really get the incest right!”

– Professor Buzz Hickey: “Welcome to the labyrinth, kid.  Except there ain’t no puppets or bisexual rock stars down here.”

– Dean Pelton: “Man, this got Sorkin-y.”

– Annie [about what she wants allowed through the blocker]: “EVERYTHING!”

Community S05E05: “Geothermal Escapism”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of being “a school on 911’s blocked call list.”

Saying goodbye to Troy was never going to be easy.  Even though, going into Community‘s fifth season, we knew this day would come, the foreknowledge did not help me to prepare adequately for the departure of my favorite character.  Last week, the narrative twist that turned Pierce’s death into a set-up for Troy’s exit blindsided me.  And then, Abed’s insistent “cool cool cool” gut-punched me.

In many ways, this episode is a direct response to those closing lines from last week.  That Abed’s parting gift to Troy, a school-wide game of Hot Lava with $50,000 on the line, becomes an astute insight into the psychology of letting go proves that Community is so much more than a joke-machine.  You listening, Big Bang Theory?

I’m not going to belabor the plot machinations of the episode’s first three-quarters too much.  While I enjoyed the Mad Max and Waterworld (lol because why not?) homages throughout, having another parody/spoof so soon after episode three might have undercut its impact a bit.  Great opening credits, plenty to laugh at**, but not a whole lot to really break apart.  As the saying goes, if you have to explain a joke, it stops being funny.

**Professor Hickey deserves the #FTW here.  From his amazing entrance on that makeshift tank mowing down Chang’s Locker Boys gang to his lamentations about his “getting gay married” son’s expensive wedding, Jonathan Banks continues to kill it.

What is worth mentioning is the way the story develops this entire mythos around it, with a new lexicon (floor strider, chair walker, sofa hopper), a quasi-religion, and even a MacGuffin (the orb) all contributing to the overall tone here.  Just further proof of Harmon’s do-it-right-or-don’t-do-it-at-all attitude.  Love it.  Also, so many chair puns I couldn’t even keep track, though the sparring words of “chair to dance?” still ring in my ears.

Oh, and Magnitude playing a post-apocalyptic version of steel drum on Shirley Island?  His journey to that point could have been a subplot in and of itself.

But, as we all know, the story of Troy’s exit had to be the story of his friendship with Abed because, as we expect, it hits him the hardest.   Troy puts it best to Britta, “No one gets Abed.  I got him a little.”  There is something incredibly moving about Abed telling Troy that, for him, the floor really is lava.  It’s his way of processing the emotional reality of his friend’s departure–he can’t let go of Troy, so he devises a game where he cannot relinquish his literal grip, either.  Wow.  So this is what you call a half hour situational comedy, huh?***

***Though Abed’s slow motion fall into the lava to the swells of classic music makes sure things don’t get too serious because this is Community, after all.

The fact that Britta then saves the day with psychology of all things (!) makes me question if perhaps we need to re-define the term “Britta-ed it.”  She and Troy devise a scheme to reanimate and clone Abed (who fake died in the lava pit because obviously), so his clone version can be the one to say goodbye.  To make it even easier on Abed, Troy (admitting he’s as afraid to go as Abed is to lose him) does a backwards free-fall into the lava himself, so that, in the end, it’s just two cloned versions of best friends parting ways.  In any other show and with any other set of characters, this would sound ludicrous.  But for Troy and Abed, whether they’re “in the morning”, “shooting lava”, “sewn together”, or “in slow motion”, this makes absolute sense.  And it’s also incredibly sweet and, somehow, moving?  Dan Harmon, you rascal!

Well, if you managed to keep those eyes dry up to this point in the episode, then the final sequence might have reduced you to a blubbering mess.  (Shut up, you’re the one who’s crying…)  I mean, sure it was a bit predictable, but don’t we sort of expect a scene where the departing character says one final thing to each of his friends?  I thought so.  In this case, predictable’s fine.

Troy wishes he hadn’t ignored Annie in high school so that he could have had four more years of friendship, tells Britta she’s absolutely amazing, labels Jeff the coolest guy he’s ever met, and reminds Shirley she’s not the mom of the group but one certified bad-ass.  And then he shares a final hug with Abed before climbing aboard the Childish Tycoon****.  A final parting gift?  Co-captaining his ship with, of course, Levar Burton.  Fortunately, this meeting goes a little better than the previous one.  And by a little, I mean a lot.  At least Troy can, you know, speak to the man.

****A clever meta-joke referencing Donald Glover’s decision to leave the show in pursuit of his hip-hop career as Childish Gambino.  By the way, the dude can rap; if you haven’t, check out his albums.

In the end, Troy Barnes, whose dim-witted hilarity proved a source of consistent laughter over the years, leaves big shoes to fill at his seat of the study table.  But with returning gags, as well as an honest treatment of his central friendship with Abed, this proved a wonderful send-off that ultimately rendered my initial hesitance moot.  I’m not sure what a Troy-less Community will look like, but I take solace in picturing Mr. (or is it Captain?) Barnes listening to “Come Sail Away” on an unending loop as he cuts a swath through the Pacific Ocean, firing a barrage of questions to Burton.  Maybe somewhere around Indonesia they’ll get to the bottom of that whole Star Trek misnomer.

#BonTroyage indeed.


Quotes from the Refurbished Study Room

– Jeff: “Do you get kickbacks from Big Buzzkill?”

– Prof. Duncan: “My self-published novels aren’t going to publish themselves!”

– Vicky: “My name is Vicky!  Tell my story!”

– Troy: “I had a dream like this, but it was sexual!”

– And, for a final time: “Troy and Abed in a buuuuuubble!”

Community S05E04: “Cooperative Polygraphy”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “having the heart of a hero.” 

Dan Harmon, you scoundrel you!  In another ridiculously strong entry in the Community cannon, Harmon proves that all a show needs is strong writing and compelling characters we care about.  We love the gimmick episodes that seem to come from left field (like last week’s lampooning) and mine unexpected comic territory, but here–in what amounts to a bottle episode–we have more than the trademark hilarity; Harmon doesn’t really truly reveal what this episode is about until the final third. In a twist that blindsided me, the episode’s true intention is to land an emotional sucker-punch to the gut, though not in the way  you might expect.

Last week, I lamented the way the episode seemed to shoehorn in the revelation of Pierce’s death.  I can accept the reality that its inclusion in last week’s episode was likely the result of the shortened episode order and resulting narrative crunch.  But this week, we pick up with the group entering the study room dressed in wizard-like garb that seems like the cast-off costumes from a botched Devo music video.  Evidently, Pierce died as he lived: embroiled in the Laser Lotus cult.  As they decompress over the bizarre funeral service (lots of beeping and persuasive literature), a team of investigators descends upon our mourners, led by Mr. Stone (a phenomenal Walton Goggins, playing this part as straight as an arrow).

This might surprise you, but Pierce remains as kooky in death as in life.  You see, Pierce left instructions with Mr. Stone that, upon his death and regardless of its cause, he was to lead an inquest into his possible murder by the hands of at least one member of the study group.  The catch?  Those who pass all stages of the lie detector test are subject to a considerable bequeathment.

Let the bottle episode begin!

Every family or group of friends has an instigator, the one to stir up trouble.  For the study group, that person was Pierce.  And faster than you can see the color blurple, Mr. Stone (acting as Mr. Hawthorne’s proxy) sends the group into a tailspin.  Hooked up to lie detectors, it’s all “You don’t plan to include us in your Zombie Apocalypse emergency plan?” this and “You’ve been using my Netflix account this whole time!” that.**  Before long, Shirley confesses to tampering with Britta’s beloved “Helen of Soy” sandwich, Annie admits to drugging her friends with a teensy weensy bit of methamphetamine during an arduous study session, Chang unburdens himself and confesses to using his body like a one-man jungle-gym all over Greendale, and—most egregiously—Troy and Abed’s secret handshake is revealed as a copycat.

**For the record, I’m totally with Jeff on this one.  The Grey is a great movie! 

This section of the episode had one belly-laugh after another and would have been satisfying if the entire story revolved around these guys gathered around the study room table, one-upping each other with their deceit.  But no, this episode had a trick up its Level 5 Laser Lotus cloak.

Speaking through Stone, the ghost of Pierce Hawthorne gets to the emotional core of this episode when he begins passing off his possessions to his friends.  Sure, that meant a round of sperm-filled canisters, but it also meant some other symbolic tokens.  Britta’s passion inspired Pierce, so he bequeathed an iPod Nano to encourage her to take life a little less seriously; Shirley’s strength of character and business acumen intimidated Pierce, so he gives her his Florida time share to allow her time for herself and her family…***

***I started to see what was happening  around this moment in the episode, and suddenly it all hit me.  This whole set up, Pierce’s death, it was all leading to….There was a reason why Troy was at that end of the table…I couldn’t get a grasp on my thoughts because of Dan Harmon, you devious such-and-such.  This entire time, we were being set up to initiate Troy’s departure from the study group.

…Annie was always Pierce’s favorite, so she receives a tiara that reminded him of her, Jeff gets some Scotch so he wouldn’t have to drink from the other canister (aww, that’s so Pierce), Abed remained an enigma to Pierce, so he just receives a receptacle full of Pierce’s genetic fluid, and then it comes to Troy.

Pierce really had a soft-spot for his once-upon-a-time roomie (who doesn’t?), so it comes as no surprise that the lion’s share goes to Mr. Barnes.  In addition to now owning 14.3 million dollars in Hawthorne Wipes, Troy has an obligation: to have the life that Pierce, in his youth, threw away.  Troy’s financial dreams can come true only if he agrees to sail around the world, an opportunity Pierce’s father insisted upon but Pierce blew off.  Of course, Troy accepts, shocking the group and even leaving Jeff Winger speechless.

I’m not ready to say goodbye,**** but this is such a great way to write off this beloved character.  Troy, the perpetual collegiate child, needs to grow up; that Pierce is, in his death, a catalyst for this inevitable change just feels perfect.  And when Community nails this blend of comedy with its earnestness of character, it is not just the best comedy on television, it’s one of the best shows on television, period.

****Troy and Abed are in mooooooooourning indeed… 

But Harmon uses the final minute of this episode for the true coup de grace.  The stunned study group looks to one another for comfort, for understanding, for something.  None exists right now; like a family, sometimes we have to say goodbye before we want to.  Throughout the episode, Stone’s team would intervene when one of our merry band lied.  So breaking the silence, Abed says, of Troy’s impending exit, recycling a tried-and-true catchphrase: “Cool.  Cool cool cool.”  And, from the background, one of the investigators chirps up: “That’s a lie.”

Mic drop.

Well done, Mr. Harmon.  This was one of Community’s finest outings to date.  Although I will miss Donald Glover’s Troy, I cannot wait to see how this show will outdo itself because it’s been doing just that since Season 5 began.

Quotes from the Refurbished Study Room

– Abed [on catfishing Annie]: “I did what I did in the name of breakfast.”

– Britta: “You exploited me and had me believing in a slightly more magical world!”

– Troy: “I’ve never been to Legoland.  I just wanted you guys to think I was cool.”

– Britta: “If I wanted the government in my uterus, I’d fill it with oil and Hispanic voters!”