Community: Once, Twice, Three Times a Comedy
Note to Community fans from the future reading archived internet stories on what has become the greatest cult comedy of all time: While you viewed episodes of Community by hyperloading them onto your opto-discs, we primitive beings watched episodes as they aired on a contraption called a television, as dictated by an evil company known as NBC (don't worry about that, though, there's no way it's still around in your time). Therefore, we wrote reviews after each night on which the show aired. In this instance, NBC aired three episodes for some reason, therefore we have only one write-up for the final three episodes of Season 3. P.S. How was Season 14 of Community?
Longtime Community fans are used to ingesting the show in single scoops, once per week, with a six grueling days between each serving. That's just how it goes. But last night, NBC decided to air a trio of episodes over two hours, and for me at least, it provided a completely different way to watch the show. I imagine it mirrored the way latecomers to the series probably watched it on DVD, grabbing big handfuls at a time. But for me, this was the first time I've ever seen new episodes back-to-back. And you know what? It was awesome.
"Digital Estate Planning," "The First Chang Dynasty," and "Introduction to Finality" were so completely different from one another that to the untrained eye (ear?) of a blind person, they would have appeared to be from three separate shows. That speaks to the boundless creativity of Community, a weird show with a fondness for gimmicks and a soft heart at its center. And seeing all three episodes back-to-back-to-back gave me a new appreciation for the comedy.
You're familiar with Neopolitan ice cream right? It's that weird layered mix of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, and when it gets to a plate, there's a flavor for everyone. Some people like chocolate, some people like vanilla, and some weirdos prefer the strawberry (who are you people!?!?!). Last night's Community block was like that, except instead of loser strawberry, there was delicious mint chocolate chip to go with the vanilla and chocolate. (Feel free to substitute your own favorite ice cream flavor for the purpose of metaphor.) There was something for everyone, and as yummy as the episodes were individually, they were even better together.
It's incredibly hard for a comedy to air three strong episodes in a row, but Community rocked it last night with a trio of winners. But it was how the show did it—with a gimmick episode, an homage episode, and a heartfelt episode—that really made it a highlight of the series' career.
Digital Estate Planning
A few of you might remember me from my days at GameSpot (anyone ever watch "The Last Word" with me and Tor?), so let's just say I've spent my fair share of time soaking my eyeballs with drops so as not to blink while hiding behind a game controller during a marathon session. Considering Dan Harmon's fondness for video games, it was only a matter of time before the 8-bit world of "Digital Estate Planning" came to life.
Yes, it was probably the most forced entry into a story ever (Pierce's inheritance being determined by all the characters playing a multi-player, old-school video game is one of TV's all-time "let's just get on with it" premises), but once the show got into "Journey to the Center of Hawkthorne," did we care how they got there? No. We just wanted to see pixelated Annie look all adorable.
But what made me really proud of Community was how this episode handled video game culture. Most of the time, games are portrayed by television as though a roundtable of grandmothers storyboarded it up, but "Digital Estate Planning" nailed the multi-player gaming experience, because most of Community's creative team have played their fair share. For example, I play games exactly like Troy, which is to say like a hyperactive kangaroo or Chinese acrobat on crank. I hammer that jump button 'til it wears out, I like to put things on NPC's heads, and I will break every jar, crate, or barrel in sight. (Troy and I would take hours to get out of a single room, but we'd have a blast.) And occasionally, I'll freak out after accidentally killing a random character and go on an impromptu genocide spree. It happens, and those little details of the gaming experience added a ton of cred to the episode.
Giancarlo Esposito was great as Pierce's rival, and the revelation that he was Pierce's half-brother from his father's inappropriate relationship with the nanny's hot cousin—not to mention Pierce forfeiting his inheritance—was a pleasant surprise.
– I laughed every single time they showed Pierce running into a wall.
– Abed found a new girlfriend!
– Did anyone catch one of Abed's first dialogue options with Hilda? "I want to wear your skin." Save the game right there, then select that option. That's what I would do.
The First Chang Dynasty
This was probably my favorite of the three episodes, because it was just bonkers crazy. "Loooooove is not admissible evidennnnce!" It was, for the most part, an homage to heist movies like Ocean's 11, but it reached new levels of hilarious absurdity—one of Community's greatest strengths. I know I've questioned the Chang storyline in past episodes, but in order to make it work, Community needed to go balls out and make its ridiculousness so ridiculous that we had no choice but to become willing captives in a world where an Asian security guard took over a community college by kidnapping its dean and replacing him with a puppet deanelganger/doppeldeaner/deanerchanger.
This was the type of episode where you're either all in and love every minute of or you're super freaked out. If you're in the latter group, you need to lighten up! There's plain crazy and genius crazy, and harnessing absurdity to create an episode like "The First Chang Dynasty" takes that rare genius type. By all accounts this should have been a disaster, but Community continues to carve out its own flavor of comedy that's so chaotic on the outside but is actually built with extreme precision.
I had wondered how the series was going to go back into Troy's air-conditioning school story, and it got back into it quick. His departure was SAD, but Community was able to make it heartbreaking AND funny at the same time. This would have been a pretty devastating way to end the evening, but thankfully it wasn't over yet.
– Why does goth Britta look so hot? I think I might be completely obsessed with Britta. Although the life-sized posters I've made of her tell me I'm not and that it's perfectly healthy.
– Chang's story about eating his twin sister in utero killed me!
– "It is hard out there for a fake Moby!"
– Dean at the rave. Wow.
Introduction to Finality
If this had been a series finale, would anyone have been disappointed? (I mean in the context of it being a final episode, not in the sense of there being no more Community coming. That would be sad no matter how you slice it.) Community is always at its best when it puts the focus on the gang's friendship and culminates in an awesome speech by Jeff. Check and check!
What made this episode work particularly well is that the gang was completely broken up, with each character lost in his/her own way (except for Annie, who was surprisingly sidelined for the most part). Pierce and Shirley were at odds. Jeff just wanted to study and ended up battling his old nemesis. Troy was struggling with the air-conditioning school. Abed was checked out from reality as a result of Troy's absence. And Britta was crushed by Abed's mind games.
But everyone must be pushed apart in order to bring them back together. In what was one of Community's greatest moments ever, Jeff's speech at the end—about helping others and propping up those in need—is what Community is all about. And the final montage showing so much character growth—Jeff looking up his father, Abed dismantling the Dreamatorium, Shirley and Pierce getting their sandwich shop—was beautiful, plain and simple. Are comedies supposed to do this?
– "Jeeez Dennis, are you on coke? Take that crap off and sit down." Probably my biggest laugh of the evening.
– Pierce's bookcase disguise may have been my second biggest laugh.
– Starburns is aliiiiiiiiive! And completely unrecognizable.
– Big WOW on Leonard's roommate. So funny.
Seeing each of these three episodes on their own would have been great. But did NBC actually know what it was doing when it put them all together on the same night? The evening was greater than the sum of its parts because it showed off what Community does best, which is everything. I'm speechless. Now let's all go get some yard margs.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom
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