19 April 2014

Thoughts on Community Season 5, Episodes 7-13

Community Season 5 promotional image by NBC

I was pretty negative in my assessment of the first half of Community's fifth season, and I admit that I was fully prepared to dislike the second half. After all, the higher-concept plots that I felt were detracting from character development came every other episode, the more "normal" episodes between were still pretty strange, and we never saw Jeff do anything remotely professorial again. But somehow, I found myself settling into the weirdness more after the mid-season break, appreciating what this version of Community had to offer instead of focusing on how the show had changed.

Epsiode 7, Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality, did include some nice references to the show's first season by examining Jeff's friendship with Professor Ian Duncan, the person who brought Jeff to Greendale to begin with. While I'm not a fan of the Jeff/Britta romantic pairing, Jeff's renewed interest in Britta after seeing her in her old anarchist element did seem natural given their habit of wavering between "friends" and "friends with benefits." I also normally dislike Chang stories, but I wound up enjoying the bizarre theater ghost conspiracy he was plunged into.

This relatively realistic episode (Chang's story aside) was followed up by one where Greendale yet again gets caught up in a kind of temporary mass insanity--the second such episode this season after Episode 5, "Geothermal Escapism." Of the two I enjoyed episode 8, App Development and Condiments, much more. It was one of the only episodes this season to feature Shirley in any kind of significant capacity, and the bizarre factions and their costumes somehow reminded me of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager, both of which I have a fondness for.

Episode 9, VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing, was partly an homage to the show Breaking Bad, on which new cast member Jonathan Banks starred. Breaking Bad's creator, Vince Gilligan, also made a cameo appearance in the episode but in a different storyline. The homage went completely over my head as I've never seen Breaking Bad, and I was unimpressed with the episode's other story featuring Annie's heretofore never-mentioned brother. It was my least favorite episode of this half of the season.

Episode 10, Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, was the much-anticipated sequel to season 2's "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons." It had pretty much everything that made the first Dungeons & Dragons episode great and then some--I was particularly impressed with how the show used music and sound effects to create a mood and convey a story while visually keeping everyone and everything in Annie and Abed's apartment. The humor was a bit crude, but that was true of the first Dungeons & Dragons outing, so I was prepared for it.

I found myself a little lost again watching episode 11, G. I. Jeff, a primarily-animated installment based on the 1980's cartoon tie-in to the G. I. Joe series of toys. I've never seen G. I. Joe or any similar cartoons from that era, so I got the most enjoyment watching the parodies of 80's/90's toy commercials that peppered the episode. The frame story--that Jeff was in a coma from mixing alcohol and some weird anti-aging pills on his fortieth birthday--was slightly dark for my taste, but it was an interesting way for the writers to address the inconsistency of Jeff's age over the course of the show.

Going into Basic Story, the first half of the two-part season finale, I was a little nervous. It seemed possible that the Jeff/Britta relationship that was revisited in episode 7 was going to return full-blown, as previews focused on the two deciding to get married. However, the episode made it pretty clear that this was simply a rash reaction to  Greendale's imminent closure. Besides, show creator and head writer Dan Harmon was pretty dismissive of Jeff and Britta as a romantic couple in an interview before this season aired, and he promised some kind of concrete development in the Jeff and Annie relationship, so I had faith going into Basic Sandwich that there were more twists to come. I was so, so happy to be right--Abed's assesment of Jeff and Britta and the group's dynamic as a whole was wonderfully insightful and meta, and the confirmation of Jeff's continued romantic feelings for Annie was subtly game-changing. I thought that the Goonies-inspired treasure hunt was fun too, even if it was an homage to yet another thing I haven't seen. I liked the finale so much that I watched it twice in one day, something I almost never do.

Community fans have used the war cry of "Six seasons and a movie!" ever since Abed uttered those words about one of his own favorite shows in season 2. We're awfully close to that now, and some reports indicate that there are good chances that Community will be renewed for one last season. I, for one, am wholeheartedly on board for a final outing, and the season finale has excited me tremendously for what might happen during one last year at Greendale.

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