Friday, May 18, 2012

Community Season 3, Episodes 20-22

The first of last night's episodes, "Digital Estate Planning" is exemplary of one of the reasons I love this show: there is no other comedy on television that so thoroughly and successfully reinvents itself from week to week. Last season it seemed as if Dan Harmon was trying his hand at every genre he’d ever wanted to write and produce (horror, western, fantasy, science fiction, conspiracy thriller, documentary, drama, not to mention the parodying of television staples like clip shows, bottle episodes, and Christmas specials), and we got a bit of that again this week, when he turned his show into a video game (there have been other instances this season as well: musicals, Ken Burns documentaries, and forking plot narratives, to name a few). The episode finds the study group playing a 16-but era video game for Pierce’s inheritance, and it’s both a funny homage to video games and another opportunity for the show to display its excellent grasp of its characters. One of my favorite gags is exemplary: Troy’s jumping animation is a somersault, while the others just have a normal jump, and he uses it far more frequently than the others. His avatar can hardly sit still; he even jumps around as other characters stand and talk with one another, which demonstrates his excitement over not only getting to play a game, but getting to play as himself. This is a joke that stems from the nature of his character, and it simultaneously makes excellent use of this particular episode’s premise. In many ways, Troy can be very child-like, so of course he’ll play a game in a relatively child-like manner. The episode is chalk-full of these kinds of character-based jokes that also take advantage of the video game premise. The show routinely excels at this particular brand of comedy: no matter the particular hat it’s wearing in any given episode, it manages to be both aware of television and movie tropes and to embrace them at the same time. Often it seems as though each episode is an answer to the question: “How would these characters behave if they found themselves in an X show?” where X is the genre or convention of the week. Very rarely do I find the answer to this question unimpressive. My only complaint is that the last three episodes never acknowledged Jeff and Annie’s promise to sleep together in the musical number of the season premiere. Thankfully, there will be another season to resolve this and other character developments.

Other thoughts:
- I was happy to see the return of Evil Abed in the season finale. Harmon once said he wanted to take Abed in a darker direction this season, and he certainly accomplished this by emphasizing the ways in which Abed's limitations strained his relationships in the study group (especially in his fight with Troy), but it was also amusing to see Abed literally become evil, and what he thought this entailed. It was also a nice touch that after her traumatic therapy session with Evil Abed, Britta told Annie that she was thinking of dying her hair. This is precisely what Britta did in the actual darkest timeline from "Remedial Chaos Theory": she dyed a blue streak in her hair.

- Chang's been taken to a pretty broad place at this point. I wonder if he'll stay this way next year or if he'll be reeled back in somewhat.

- I also wonder if they'll take Britta and Troy any further than goofy grins and affectionate hugs. The show has never seemed terribly comfortable dealing with potential romantic relationships between its regulars, but I would be interested to see how either of them behave with a more long term romantic partner.

- Donald Glover's offhanded delivery of Troy's line about being the AC school's messiah was hilarious.

- I also enjoyed Annie and Shirley's accidental murder spree in the blacksmith shop. We've seen Annie transform into strange versions of herself over the course of the show's run, given the right circumstances (a security guard in season one, a tough as nails heroine in the first part of the season two finale, a crazed assistant to a mad director in the Apocalypse Now homage from this season, etc.), so it was funny to see it happen again, but unintentionally.

- On the whole, I found season 2 to have a greater quantity of outstanding episodes, but this season certainly had its moments as well. To my mind, the ones that compare most favorably include "Remedial Chaos Theory," (the forking plot episode) "Pillows and Blankets," (the Ken Burns episode) "Virtual Systems Analysis," (Annie and Abed in the dreamatorium) "Basic Lupine Urology" (the Law and Order episode), and "Contemporary Impressionists" for Britta's Michael Jackson alone. Others had their moments, however (the Britta-Chang rivalry in "Geography and Global Conflict" was pretty hilarious, as was Britta's brief romance with Subway in "Digital Exploration of Interior Design." Britta was on fire all season, really).

UPDATE: it looks like others out there agree that the video game was supposed to be 8-bit, rather than 16-bit, although it looked more 16-bit to me. Also, Sepinwall points out that Annie sort of got over her crush on Jeff in the dreamatorium episode. Maybe I'm just a shipper.


  1. I liked this a lot. The videogame episode is fantastic (with baby-slave Abeds saying "coolcoolcool"), and I also loved the Law and Order one, and the moment when the fake psychiatrist makes them believe they were in a mental institution all the time and they're reliving things like the elastic bed (I don't know if that's its name), paintball and other crazy things from that perspective.

    (It's good that you added the UPDATE because you had written 16-but, at least it was with a single t)

  2. Ha, yeah "16-but," as if there were 16 reservations about the game. I liked that moment when the psychiatrist says that Greendale is a mental institution, but I liked even better when everyone came back into his office to tell him how stupid that idea is, and how they all have photos, e-mails, etc. on their phones.