VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing might be my favourite episode yet of Community’s fifth season. It’s not necessarily the best one – the b-plot was a bit weak – but it made me laugh in a way this show hasn’t for a while.
It started with the Dean. It’s been far too long since the Dean has wandered into the study room in full costume to share news with the group, and this time was especially excellent. The Dean walks in dressed in a full peanut-candy-bar costume to tell Jeff and Hickey their pay cheques will be late. Then he starts freestyle rapping about it. The rap gets increasingly intense, and increasingly racial, before the Dean stops, almost sobbing (“I don’t know what that was”).
Brie Larson returns this episode as Abed’s girlfriend. Apparently they’ve been dating a month, but Abed considers that the same as a year because they’re “twelve times as efficient.” I wish we’d seen more of this development onscreen, but I appreciate that Larson has only guested twice this season. Abed invites Rachel (Larson) and himself over to Annie’s for dinner. Annie is having her brother, Anthony, over. Anthony is nearly mute and very odd, and Abed’s jokes at his expense are another of this episodes high points. Annie and Abed are struggling without a third person to pay the rent, and Annie suggests they let Anthony move in. Abed’s response is, “I guess that my main concern is that he’s a Viking and he’ll only use this as a temporary base before moving inland where lumber is more plentiful.” (This might be a rough paraphrasing.) Anthony asking permission to poop in the middle of this conversation doesn’t exactly help things (turns out it was “just air”). Abed suggests they let Rachel move in instead.
Meanwhile Shirley, Hickey, and Jeff are organizing a supply closet when Jeff decides to open a vent to see what’s blocking it. Right off the bat, this makes Shirley nervous. “You do realize nothing good has ever been found in the vents right?” What they find is a pile of stolen textbooks. Eventually they convince Shirley to help them sell the books. Britta gets called because she knows a guy who knows a guy. Chang gets tied up when he stumbles in on their deal.
Back at Annie’s apartment, Anthony, Annie, Rachel, and Abed start playing an interactive VCR game called Pile of Bullets. Annie and Abed have decided that the winning team gets to decide who moves in. Unfortunately they failed to inform their respective choices. The game (presented by Vince Gilligan, the creator of Breaking Bad) is hugely confusing and only Abed and Annie care enough to truly participate. Eventually they get angry and reveal the stakes of the game, which naturally drives Rachel out and makes Anthony start packing.
The stolen books quickly drive the group apart. Jeff wants out and then gets tied to a chair. He immediately starts manipulating the remaining group members into doubting one another. One quick cut later and everyone but Shirley is tied to a chair. She takes the books to get priced (by Paul Williams no less) and discovers they’re misprints. They don’t have page numbers, which effectively render them useless.
Abed ropes Pavel (Remember Pavel?!) into helping him do a “third act apology”. He knocks on Rachel’s locker like a door while Pavel pours water on his head like it’s raining. All is forgiven. Anthony leaves Annie’s, commenting that the “black guy in all these photographs” has clearly “left some kind of vacuum.” Which is a nice bit of meta-commentary. It’s also heartening that the show hasn’t forgotten Troy. A lesser sitcom might’ve by now. The attempted booksellers arrive back at the study room table. Annie notices they’re all wearing the same clothes. “We’ve been through some stuff.” Shirley, who turned villainous pretty fast, pipes up with “But at least we learned something.” The instant response “No we didn’t!” Shirley just angrily intones, “We learned that sometimes there’s no lesson.” This exchange is pretty much the highlight of this particular b-plot; it’s a pretty nice piece of self-mockery on the show’s part. Actually, “Why do you have access to so much rope?” was pretty funny too.
This may not be the best episode of Community ever, but it was one of the funniest this season. The show just keeps proving they can move on without Troy, and it’s more and more convincing a claim as the season progresses. The next episode is a redux of the excellent Dungeons and Dragons episode, which is an episode they never needed to do again. So I’m a little nervous.
One quick note: the channel I normally watch this show on, City, appears to no longer be showing it. I know at least one person who completely missed this episode consequently. What’s up with that? This show needs those views. If you guys aren’t watching, please start. It may be better to watch from the beginning, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Watch Community next Thursday with me!