There’s been two distinct motifs in the first four episodes of Community‘s fifth season that come together for a brief moment in “Geothermal Escapism”, when Britta and Troy are trying to revive Abed, whose fallen into the fake lava (long story short: the school’s playing Lava Floor in honor of Troy and Abed’s friendship) that he sees as being real. Britta suggests to Troy – understanding that engaging Abed’s alternate realities are more useful than rejecting them, shown best way back in season two’s “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” – that they create a perfect clone of him, Dr. Who-ing him (or Inspector Spacetime-ing him, if you prefer) for the next journey of his life. Like “Repilot”, the moment is all about redefinition, about moving forward in life – but with the impending departure of Troy Barnes (and by definition, Donald Glover) weighing over the episode’s events, it gives them a whole new emotional meaning.
The first piece I ever wrote for Sound on Sight was about Chevy Chase’s imminent departure from Community, and how his exit denied the show the opportunity to reconcile its main conflict: Jeff Winger’s conflict with his father (and by proxy, himself). When season four actually tried to bring Jeff’s father into the fold, it ignored the fact he already had a father, an old man with a lot of money and daddy issues of his own – and thanks to Chase’s limited availability, left the writers no option but to push an increasingly senile character to the background. It appeared Community had forgotten about Pierce – but Dan Harmon didn’t, even with the knowledge Chevy Chase wouldn’t return (save for his cameo in the season premiere, of course). After three episodes of dancing around what happened to the heir to the Hawthorne throne, “Cooperative Polygraphy” (the spiritual sequel to “Cooperative Calligraphy”, trading in a pen for Pierce) serves a lot of important narrative purposes, giving Pierce a memorable send-off while reminding us all why we love these characters so much (a lovely little palette cleanser after the ugliness of last season).
“Basic Intergluteal Numismatics” is a very… weird episode of Community. It’s not quite a traditional concept episode (by this show’s terms, at least), inserting homages to everything from The Profiler to Unsolved Mysteries and 1970′s detective shows into a story about The Ass Crack Bandit of Greendale. And that’s just the first act: by the time “Basic Intergluteal Numismatics” reaches its climatic moments, it’s shoving in the death of Pierce Hawthorne and some completely random Jeff/Annie material like it was season two all over again (not to mention putting every other member of the study group in the background for the entirety of the episode). And yet despite all those oddities, “Numismatics” is clever and charismatic, full of that familiar Community energy missing from season four, as entertaining as it is scatterbrained.
This week, on Community: The study group gets back together (mostly), Jeff transitions to teacher, and Nicholas Cage breaks Abed
Community makes its triumphant return this week for its fifth season (and given NBC’s current comedy slate, we may actually get a sixth- who would’ve predicted that four years ago?). After the uneven, Dan Harmon-less fourth season, fans are understandably excited for not just the show to be back, but the creator as well. “Repilot” addresses this, referencing a “gas leak” year, but it quickly moves on, more concerned with justifying how the gang will get back together. Harmon and co. are in a tough spot with this- if they keep the group apart at least somewhat and build toward their re-enrollment, they sacrifice the group dynamic that the show is based on, and if they plop the group right back together, their graduation and the growth that led to it is undermined and their post-graduation lives are cut off as potential story arcs.
Part of our month long look at our favorite TV Pilots
The premieres and finales continue this week, giving us plenty of TV to discuss on the podcast. First we look at the comedies, then break down the genre offerings, then Kate looks at the Voice for our reality segment, and then we look at the prestige dramas before spotlighting the latest episode of Hannibal, “Sorbet”. Finally, we welcome Zack Handlen from the AV Club to the DVD Shelf to help us take a look at the influential, and delightfully crazy, 1967 cult series The Prisoner.
Our Week in Comedy (11:32-29:20): Make Kate Watch Adventure Time, Inside Amy Schumer, the Family Tree pilot, the Community finale, the Bob’s Burgersfinale, Veep
Our Week in Genre (30:00-45:43): Game of Thrones, Grimm, The Vampire Diaries, Doctor Who, Orphan Black
Our Week in Reality (46:50-52:55): The Voice
Our Week in Drama (54:12-1:02:48): Rectify, Mad Men
Spotlight (1:03:25-1:14:25): Hannibal, “Sorbet”
DVD Shelf (1:16:35-end): The Prisoner with Zack Handlen
what did you think of the final episode ?
Let’s talk for a second about Abed Nadir. In a lot of ways, he seems emblematic of the problems that have hamstrung Community’s fourth season. As soon as he arrives at Jeff’s Christmas party, he is actively trying to mold it into a Die Hard homage. This isn’t unprecedented behavior for Abed, he shaped what is perhaps the series’ best episode “Critical Film Studies” into a My Dinner With Andrew homage, but recently it seems to be his sole motivating concern week in and week out. It feels like a shift in his character. If we take a look at “Cooperative Calligraphy,” an episode “Intro to Knots” closely resembles. Abed constantly comments “It’s a bottle episode!” but he is not attempting to propagate it. Abed seems to have gone from being primarily reactive, commenting on things as they unfold, to primarily proactive.
For those familiar with the brilliant Angel episode “Smile Time,” it’s impossible to view “Intro to Felt Surrogacy” without thinking back on Joss Whedon and Ben Edlund’s masterpiece. One of the many impressive things about “Felt Surrogacy” is how quickly it steps out from under that shadow. Given how frequently the fourth season of Community has employed high-concept episodes as a crutch, it’s somewhat ironic that the most ambitious episode to date would be the one in which it finally establishes a unified voice.