Community’s fans have always extolled the virtues of the show’s concept episodes. School-wide paintball games, science projects, Chang, and more have all served as excuses for pitch-perfect genre parodies that remained firmly grounded in character-based storytelling. The fourth season lost sight of the characters and ground the idea of concept episodes into the dust with endless repetition. No matter how hard this season tries, it seems to be struggling with reinvigorating this type of episode.
The biggest problem has been the speed. App Development and Condiments, just like the lava episode before it, feels too fast. This season needs to be striking closer to episodes like Epidemiology. The concept of that episode wasn’t just great (it’s a zombie episode filled with scattered major plot / character developments and scored entirely with Abba songs), but it hit great, consistent character development notes all the way through. Season five’s concept episodes have tended towards the paintball episodes – they show how the group copes and changes when everything is completely changed about their world. That worked in the paintball episodes because the characters never fully committed. They all knew what they were doing was crazy and they frequently pointed it out. This season’s characters seem to be accepting the crazy new worlds thrust upon them a little too readily, and the effect is jarring.
The great thing about this episode, however, is that it feels completely different from past Community episodes. So far most of this season’s concept episodes have felt like retreads, but this episode decides to slide into a science-fiction theme, and that is a nice change of pace.
The idea is that an app that allows you to rate people is beta tested at the school. The app is called MeowMeowBeenz and it quickly drives the whole campus crazy – everyone wants to get the best rating they can. Shirley alternates between kindness and guilt trips to quickly climb to the top of the ranks, helping establish an elite club that only “Fives” can hang out in. Mitch Hurwitz, the creator of Arrested Development, plays a Five and generally cameos the hell out of this episode.
Jeff wants to prove the system is a scam by rising to the top himself, something he does by imitating a Dane Cook stand-up routine. (Am I wrong or was there a Dane Cook joke last episode too?) Also Jeff starts hanging out with the kind of people who like Dane Cook, and he makes small talk with them by randomly declaring that girls are objects. Britta discovers her preaching and indignation actually get through to people if she has mustard on her face, and by the end of the episode, she’s led her “review-lution” to power. Eventually Jeff is able to Winger-speech them into deleting the app and going home (turns out everyone was so obsessed they stayed at the school right through to Saturday).
It was a good episode all in all, just not great. Again, I wonder if future viewings wouldn’t be more rewarding.