Episode 5: Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations
Episode 6: Advanced Documentary Filmmaking
By: Carlos Uribe
Community is a show about the senior year of a group of friends attending Greendale Community College.
Cooperative Escapism in Familial Reactions:
Holiday episodes can be fun but they can feel odd if they don't air in the right time. Community presents a Thanksgiving episode while people are celebrating Spring Break. It's not the writer's fault that the series premiere was delayed until the following year nor that the episode order has been a bit out of whack. This episode isn't alone as the Halloween episode also felt out of place. I'm guessing that the Christmas one will be joining them as well. So Community is celebrating Thanksgiving a few months too late but the real question is if it's any good. I'm not sure how to answer that question. On the one hand, I didn't really find it very funny. There were some good laughs in there but they were few and far between. On the other hand, the episode actually managed to nail most of it's emotional beats. It's also become more clear that the showrunners are learning how to write for the characters. So it's a step in the right direction.
This Thanksgiving episode is about family. It makes sense considering how the holiday is centered around family. Shirley's in-laws are coming to visit but she doesn't really like spending time with them. She does because they're family but she invites her friends to act as a buffer. She's hoping that if the group is there then she'll be able to tolerate her family. This makes sense and it allows the show to touch on the idea that the family we're born into isn't necessarily one we belong. The show drives this point at the end when they all talk about the “real” family they have, the one that they chose. The study group is able to act as a family unit because they're able to feel like they belong with each other. It's a nice concept and the show largely manages to succeed in making this point. It does get a little distracted with Abed's inner monologues about what they're doing. It makes sense that's how he sees the world but it felt slightly overused this episode. I'm not saying they shouldn't have been used but that there should have been more restraint in much they lasted. The ending could have also been scaled back a bit. I get the point they were trying to make-the study group is the real family-but it felt a little forced.
That's not the only point that felt forced. Jeff has a plot where he meets his dad. It's mostly a great plot. The only reason that Jeff actually goes forward with meeting his dad is because Britta showed up. This leads to a reunion scene where the two seem to be the same but they're not. Jeff might have been his father at the beginning of the show but he has managed to become a better person because of the study group. There's even a point where Jeff gives out a great speech to his father about how screwed up he was because of the abandonment. It's a speech that the show sells well but what felt a little forced was his decision to give it. It makes sense with the character and it was the right course of action but it felt a little bit rushed to get there. If it had spent a little less time in Shirley's garage and a little more time on Jeff then the show could have nailed it.
Overall, this was a great episode that almost reaches the emotional heights of the previous seasons. It still needs to work a bit on really making them stick-as well as trying to ensure that the episodes are actually funny.
Advanced Documentary Filmmaking:
I'm conflicted about the ending of this episode. On the one hand, I knew that Chang was faking his amensia. I kept expecting for the show to reveal that he still has his memories. The revelation wasn't expected. It might be predictable but it makes sense for the narrative and the character. I'm not sure we need another plot against the school partly because this season has been so inconsistently paced in the long-form. What I mean is that an episode will move forward with one plot element and the show forgets about it for a few episodes before picking right up where it left off. Two episodes ago, Chang returned to Greendale successfully. The next episode completely ignores this plot development. It doesn't even reference it. Now there's an episode completely revolving around Chang's amnesia plot? It feels like the season is skipping around from episode to episode and the thread that's supposed to keep them together keeps getting cut. This might be because the network has aired some episodes out of order but it's really hurting the season's narrative drive. This episode should have frankly been switched with the last one for it to truly fit within the season's framework. As for the actual episode, it was probably the best of the season so far. It managed to be funny while hitting some nice emotional notes before the final reveal. That reveal shows that there's a plan for the season but it's being undermined by bad scheduling.
The actual plot revolves around Jeff trying to prove that Chang is faking his amnesia. He refuses to buy into the nice-guy Kevin act that everybody else has fallen for. The rest of the characters are hoping to secure a grant so that they can keep helping him readjust to society or regain his memories. Jeff decides to pretend to help them in an attempt to trick Chang to revealing the truth. He sends Annie and Troy to investigate what Chang has been doing before he was discovered by a postman while Britta and Shirley are meant to record him through his daily life. The hope is that they would be able find something to expose Chang. Annie and Troy don't really find anything except that Chang worked for free for a trout fisherman. Their whole investigative little part of the episode was frankly the most this show has made me laugh since the third season. Britta is able to accidentally capture Chang using a phone but only after accidentally failing to record an amazing human story from Shirley. Chang ends up calling his ex-wife. This seems like solid evidence that Chang has been faking but he's able to explain it away. When the characters all learn that he's been working against the grant, they all make him into a Chang. He becomes isolated until Chang publicly forgives him. It's a great plot that frankly was funny. It even hit the emotional notes and the meta humor worked when Abed commented on how television likes to manipulate the audiences using crane shots.
This brings us to the documentary gimmick. This isn't new to Community as it has gone there twice before. The first time was simply hilarious and a classic second season episode. The second attempt was one of the best episodes this show has done. The series goes back in for the third time which would normally create huge expectations for it. How does it stack up? It's not an amazing piece of television like the first two attempts. It doesn't even get close but that's actually okay. Sort-of-the actual expectations for this episode weren't that high due to the low bar of this season so far but it managed to exceed them. It states a lot that this is the first Community episode of the season that I actually enjoyed like the old Community. It might not be as good but this is the first episode where this felt like the same old show. Was it the gimmick? I don't think so-I believe that it's because the plot was kept simple and it didn't try to overstuff the episode. This allowed all of the emotional beats to land and the comedy to really work.