This season of Community has, admittedly, been a little up and down. The show has been good, and is still better than the majority of network TV out there, but there have been a few more weak links than Community normally has had. This episode was not one of them. In fact I would call this one of the better episodes of the season, up there with Pierce’s funeral and probably better than the episode that came after Troy’s departure. This is one of those experimental episodes that make Community the show it is but, unlike the majority of this season’s weirder episodes, this one actually hits the mark.
Most of this episode is animated in the style of the old GI Joe cartoon (“I feel like I’m over explaining – the bad guys are snakes and the good guys are army men”) and even features a few of the show’s original voice actors. This episode also works as a wonderful counterpart to the awful season four finale. Both are revealed as a delusion Jeff is having, but this one actually makes sense. That’s, in fact, what makes this episode so wonderful. Much like my favourite episode of this show (Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas) this episode routes its crazy style in deep, and fairly dark, characterization. GI Jeff isn’t just a hilarious parody of GI Joe, or even a wickedly cynical look at Jeff’s mind, it’s an important development in Jeff’s character, and an important, long-withheld reveal.
The show opens with Jeff, named Wingman in the Joe-verse, killing Destro. The GI Joes are horrified and send Wingman and his squad – Three Kids (Shirley), Tight Ship (Annie), and Buzzkill (Britta), to prison. Here they meet Fourth Wall (Abed, of course) who tries to convince them they’re in a cartoon. He mentions that Cobra is digging up a site called Greendale, and this causes Wingman to collapse and hallucinate a TV commercial for a GI Joe toy. It’s apparent from here on that Jeff is imagining this whole thing, and that he’s in some kind of real-life danger.
They escape prison and travel to Greendale, which is a ton of fun. There’s a lot of great jokes about the low quality of the animation and the goals of the show (“we’re all dressed like strippers and serial killers”). One of my favourite implications of all this is what it reveals about Jeff’s feelings of the group. Annie is boiled down to a control freak with prominent breasts, Shirley never says anything without mentioning her Three Kids, Abed is his guide through this world because of his nerdy knowledge, and Britta is Buzzkill (“imaginary Britta is right, and only imaginary Britta”).
The group breaks into Greendale with ease, and Jeff discovers what’s really happening. He’s unconscious, nearly comatose, because it’s his birthday. He drank a lot of scotch and took some sketchy life-extending pills he bought in Korea Town. Abed proposes a solution: he can utilize the “medium’s lack of internal consistency” to launch Jeff out of cartoon world, through the dangerous middle-ground of children’s toy commercials, and into reality. Jeff refuses, choosing instead to be a GI Joe forever. At least, until he realizes there are no breasts and scotch in cartoon world, at which point he promptly leaves. He almost gets trapped by the commercials, but he escapes and they fade away (“everything sold separately, everyone dies in the end”).
He awakes in a hospital and we get this episode’s big reveal: Jeff’s real age. This has been a closely guarded fact, never revealed by the show, or apparently by Jeff to the group. He’s forty, by the way. Abed makes a joke about his own age afterward, and it’s hard to tell if he’s joking or not. So we may also have found out that he’s thirty-eight. The group has a friendly little moment in the hospital, and the show fades out. The episode’s sting shows Fourth Wall lecturing Buzzkill about how to convey a social message in a show. Buzzkill is, of course, horribly lecturing children and Abed tells her that “all good cartoons should have a message” but that they shouldn’t be preachy, otherwise they’ll create a generation of cynical jerks. “Keep the message direct and short – spray painting is bad, go play soccer.”
This episode is a pretty wonderful example of Community at its best. It’s funny, completely weird, and deeply founded in character drama. There hasn’t been an episode yet this season to hit all three of these marks, so it’s a completely exciting turn. This show hasn’t been bad yet, but it’s so nice to know it’s still capable of being great. There are only two episodes left this season, so here’s hoping they serve as a nice send off.