Between two groups of people who want to make inconsistent kinds of worlds, I see no remedy but force. —Oliver Wendell Holmes.
If we learned anything from tonight's episode of Community, the post-production masterpiece "Pillows and Blankets," it's that when this show sets out to do something, it does it right. "Pillows and Blankets" was one of the tougher concept episodes the series has attempted, but the show pulled it off thanks to the next-level thinking Dan Harmon and his staff are famous for.
The second installment of the Abeds vs. the Troys saw the BFFs in a T-I-F-F over encroaching forts built of bedstuffs: pillows on Abed's side and blankets on Troy's. What resulted was... PILLLLLOW FIIIIIIIGHT!!!! A silly friendship this strong could only yield a silly fight this big, and as much as we love to see Troy and Abed together, seeing them apart gave us one of the series' best and most ambitious episodes to date.
The Greendale Civil War was modeled after Ken Burns' Civil War, the grand standard for public broadcasting documentaries that run into the double digits in terms of hours of runtime but feature no real footage. Essentially, Burns' epic is a strangely compelling and sneaky combination of photo-slideshow and history lecture with fake sound effects in the background, and it turned out to be the perfect vehicle for Community to break into and joyride.
Normal sitcoms are known for their actors and jokes, and that's about it. "Pillows and Blankets" proved that there's a lot of potential for humor in the editing room and a good graphics department. From the callbacks to last week's episode to the "Dan Harmon Effect" of copying the "Ken Burns Effect" (zooming and sliding still photos) to battleground maps to close-ups of text messages to stills of people texting those text messages, "Pillows and Blankets" was all about realizing a concept that has no business being on television.
Think of the contrast between Community's bottle episode "Cooperative Calligraphy" and the post-production beast that was "Pillows and Blankets." "Cooperative Calligraphy" took place in one setting with only the principal cast. That could practically be shot in an afternoon. "Pillows and Blankets" was an onslaught of scenes and still photos and emails and blueprints for a pillowman with a cast of hundreds of people and pillows involved. The call sheet for this episode must have been immense! If Community can give us something like both of these episodes in its lifetime, I'm thoroughly convinced it can also turn water into wine. Pardon me while I hyperbolize, but this is messiah-like work.
For me the biggest laughs came somewhere near the middle of the episode, when Chang brought in the Changlorious Basterds, a ragtag gang of rugrats he recruited to do his bidding. And the crowning moment was Abed's strategic counter move, unleashing Pillow Man, the fluffy headrest fight version of a top-secret Iron Man suit. Seeing Pierce rumble out onto the battlefield and beat the snot out of those kids just about killed me.
But there was a strong story buried under the piles of feathers. There was enough attention to make sure that every character had a great role in the war even though the bulk of the episode was just presentation. And at the heart of it all, we all wanted Troy and Abed to eventually make amends.
In the end that's exactly what we got as Abed and Troy realized their fight was all about how much they liked each other. And Jeff, for just a moment, stepped out of his own smug world and into Troy and Abed's mobile mental Dreamatorium, even taking the time to actually pick up their friendship hats. It was one of the most vulnerable and honest moments we've ever seen Jeff have. I guess war will do that to a man.
Study Group Notes
– If there's one complaint I can imagine people having about the episode, it's that it was too much of the same thing. But I can also see "more of the same" being an argument for why the episode was so great. I'm in the latter camp. As far as special episodes go, "Pillows and Blankets" was right up there with the best of them.
– "Pillows but no sleep, feathers but no birds. Pajamas without children, violence with no purpose. I saw mommy kissing Exxon Mobile." —Amanda Johnson, poet by choice, lesbian by birth.
– Leonard likes this post!
– That was Harmon as English Memorial, the Portuguese sailor who discovered Greendale.
– I loved seeing Chang surrender to that chick, take a huge whack to her when her back was turned, and then surrender again.
– Have you seen Ken Burns' Civil War? If not, do you think you would have liked this episode more if you had? I'm wondering if it's similar to the My Dinner With Andre spoof, which I knew about and made that episode that much better.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom