COMMUNITY Season 6 Episode 8/9/10 Review, “Intro to Recycled Cinema”/”Grifting 101”/”Basic RV Repair and Palmistry”
It’s a threefer, ladies and gentlemen!
After finals and other projects got in the way (including an upcoming web series and this huge Age of Ultron review), I have fallen tremendously behind on my coverage for what just might be the last season of Community ever. As it would be totally unacceptable for me to just skip over the episodes I have missed, I am going to try and hit up all three of the episodes I have flown by in one big, rock solid review.
I’ll get back to more timely coverage in the last three episodes of the mythical Season Six. This much I promise you.
Season 6, Episode 8: “Intro to Recycled Cinema”
Only Community (and I mean only Community) could finally figure out how to use its most troublesome character in Episode Four of a season and completely burn through the possibility of that plot four episodes later. I honestly don’t know how Dan Harmon does it.
Chang has given Community’s writers trouble since he stopped being a Spanish teacher five seasons ago. A few episodes back in “Queer Studies,” it seemed like they might have finally nailed it: Benjamin Chang the actor. His plot with Jason Mantzoukas producing a Karate Kid stage play was gold, and there was at least enough oil to be mined from that plot to last them the rest of the season. But, in traditional Harmonian fashion, that potential energy is completely tossed away in its second appearance. Already Chang has achieved immense, alienating success and left the group to pursue his Higher Calling out in Hollywood, California.
This leaves the Save Greendale Committee with two things: a sense of personal failure, and one scene of Chang footage from a cop movie Abed was filming with him before his meteoric rise to fame. So the gang gets together for one of its typical capers and cobbles together a bit of a Guardians of the Galaxy spoof using what little of Chang they have.
The results are occasionally funny and a bit all over the place. Alison Brie and Keith David get the best bits here as they play off of their respective archetypes. Annie has taken another genre-inspired opportunity to show off some skin, and Keith David uses his inborn gravitas and golden voice to get some solid laughs out of Minotaur Man. And lest we not forget Garret in his star-making turn as Glib Glob (the CGI catchphrase machine that the crew believes will be the next big Groot). There are some decent moments here and some solid laughs throughout, but it never comes back to a cohesive whole.
I would blame most of this on the strange decision to make this episode about Jeff at the end. The episode spends most of its runtime as an Abed story. As the pressure mounts and he is forced to compromise more and more on what little of his artistic vision he is even allowed to have, it all seems to be moving towards a moment for him to stand up for art, much in the same way he did back in the great Pillows and Blankets War of 2012. But no, at the final act break this becomes a story about Jeff’s insecurity as he grabs Abed’s computer, afraid that his standout scene is about to cut for the sake of time. Jeff can’t deal with how popular/hot Chris Pratt has become so he has a breakdown that involves watching terrible (and true-to-life) editing tutorials on YouTube. Abed swims in through the Frisbees to deliver a speech that sounds so much like it should be routed in the opposite direction. I do miss Jeff and Abed interplaying, as it seems like it doesn’t happen as much as it used to, but the whole final act of the episode just feels off. But I suppose the profundity of Annie reaching down her shirt and pulling out a laser bomb can never be understated.
Final Grade: B-
Best Line: As much as Jeff’s arc seemingly comes out of nowhere, I did laugh pretty hard at Jeff’s inability to process Chris Pratt’s body. “I watch Parks and Rec. It doesn’t make sense.”
Moment of Brilliance: I am a big fan of Steve Guttenberg’s intervening (and easily-impressed) plot motivator guy.
Season 6, Episode 9: “Grifting 101”
I have never seen The Sting. I have only a passing idea of what The Sting is. This might be the reason for my collective shrug at this episode.
There are some great moments to be sure. I did like the briefcase passing, and when the gang sits down to watch The Sting and don’t quite comprehend how it can help or even really what happened. It’s just sort of what we like to call “an episode.” Or, “one of the regular ones.” Not every episode of Community can shoot for the stars. Sometimes you just leave the Community writers’ room, go home, find that The Sting is on television, and decide that that would be a funny episode of a TV show. And it was.
The intentional predictability of this episode is its greatest blessing, and what holds it back a bit (if that makes any sense or is at all possible). Like Jeff, we know what’s going to happen this week. As soon as someone proposes that the gang take a class on Grifting, we know that the class is going to be a grift, and then they’re going to grift the teacher back, there will be some twists and some turns… It sort of writes itself, really (though I’m sure the Community writers’ room would take great offense to that). What “Grifting 101” lacks in surprise, it must make up for in execution, which it mostly does. Matt Barry makes for a fun, one-time adversary. And the regular cast comes ready to play, as can be expected. Episodes like this really come down to how much you laugh and I laughed about this much:
Final Grade: B
Best Line: I would post the entire exchange about fake grifting names here if I could.
Moment of Brilliance: “Watching The Sting”
Season 6 Episode 10: “Basic RV Repair and Palmistry”
If there is one lesson that can be gleaned from FX’s surprisingly protracted comedy Archer, it’s that when all else fails just put all of your characters in one place and let them bounce off of each other. Episodes like this (essentially bottle episodes) are dependent on the strength and voices of the characters involved, and Community fans know they need fear little where that department is concerned. Though this episode may pale in comparison to the last time the Study Group was locked in an RV—The Kentucky Fried Chicken Eleven Herbs and Space Program—it still offers up a solid enough platter of laughs to be more than worth our time.
Ostensibly a parody of “Specific Amount of Time Earlier” episodes popularized by shows like Breaking Bad, “RV Repair” makes a strange mess of that whole situation. Instead of just being a straight-up parody of that TV Trope, we get things through Abed’s warped perspective. Apparently Abed believes that when shows and movies use that device the characters are actually traveling back in time? Like, he truly doesn’t understand what that means? I suppose it’s possible, but that seems much more like a Britta moment than something Abed might be susceptible to (though Britta does get a solid chance to mess up Abed’s visions of the future).
Not to make a review of a solid ensemble episode all about Abed, but the guy does really seem to be slipping lately, doesn’t he? This is an episode where he truly can’t distinguish life and fiction. Jeff is right to be frustrated. The rules for Abed are more fluid than they used to be. That’s not abnormal for a show this late in the game, but it just seeks to confuse episodes like “RV Repair” that lean so heavily into the “Abed thing.” The best Abed is the one who uses his Encyclopedic knowledge of and never-ending love for movies to motivate the world around him. Abed sees himself as a paintball rebel? Steal a vest and turn into Han Solo. Your friend Jeff not talking to you much anymore? Time for a My Dinner with Andre homage. There are tons of other great examples like these (Lava World and otherwise) that show the best of Abed and his way of processing the world. It’s one that I am a bit too familiar with. But it has always been important to distinguish that Abed does know the difference between TV and real life, no matter how much he may use it to understand the world. But as time wears on, and finding situations in which to stick the Study Group becomes harder and harder, the rules of Abed become more stretched to fit the needs of the show he so believes that he is on.
But whether or not the Abed stuff rings all the way true, there is still a lot more to be found in the episode. Elroy and his talk-thinking are great. The tangled mess of charging phones is aces. Frankie and Annie calling the tow company using the same insane strategy is another solid example of Community’s new, more winding sense of humor. There’s a whole episode around Abed’s attempt at flashback humor, an episode loaded with pettiness and wit-infused yelling. I had a good time.
Episode Grade: B+
Best Line: Every line when Elroy fears the group may be charging their phones in the broken-down RV matches the last, each with an equally funny pregnant pause.
Moment of Brilliance: Matt Besser’s end tag of the man who wants to buy a giant hand to reach out and catch the son he lost to a giant kite is my favorite Communtiy tag in a long, long time.