Review of Community Season 5, Episodes 12 and 13

“What does this look like, an hour long episode of The Office?”

The Dean says that, somewhere near the beginning of Basic Sandwich, the second half of Community’s two-parter season finale. The reason this episode’s review and the review of the episode before it, Basic Story, are being lumped together is that, for the first time ever, a Community two-parter feels like one episode chopped in half, as opposed to two unique but connected episodes. Every past two-parter, like the paintball episodes or season three’s pillow fort episodes, or the same season’s last two episodes, felt like singular stories as well as a two-parter, and it’s a little weird these episodes don’t follow that format.

Basic Story opens with the group realizing they have nothing left to do for Greendale. Abed immediately senses the group’s contentment and begins to worry – if the group’s happy, how will there be a story? This whole subplot feels a little like the flip side of the Rick and Morty episode Meeseeks and Destroys. That episode of Dan Harmon’s other brilliant show features a plot where Morty tries to prove he can lead Rick on a good adventure, and both characters being surprised by the adventure’s differences from a conventional format, and eventually embracing why they actually sort of are the conventional format, just twisted. Also he almost gets raped by an anthropomorphic jelly bean. Both episodes are interesting examinations of the Joseph Campbell type story structure, something by which Dan Harmon is fascinated. Both focus on the inevitability of a hero’s myth type structure, and nicely demonstrate the problems of labelling things within that structure. Abed, however, is a far more meta-character, so the lack of story almost drives him insane.

Abed’s first bit of brilliant meta-commentary begins after the opening credits; he seems amazed the group has spent a half-hour on their phones, saying: “Usually a lot more happens than this in thirty minutes.” Almost on cue, the Dean reveals what we’ve already seen the two school board execs drunkenly tell him: the school is going to be appraised. The group freaks out, denouncing insurance appraisers with a passion (examples include “I’ve seen insurance appraisers bleed…their blood is different” and “The only man fit to judge insurance died…on a cross”). Abed tries to force an adventure, telling the Dean to learn Swedish, Annie to build a fake particle accelerator, and Hickey to call the five ex-cons he keeps in touch with, all so they can pretend the school has a world class physics program. Jeff shuts this down pretty quickly, pointing out that they have actually done a ton for the school, so they have nothing to worry about. He also takes Abed aside and essentially bans him from stories.

The rest of the episode sees Abed running around screaming, trying to figure out how to avoid a story. If he gives in there’s a story; if he fights the story he’s creating conflict, and therefore creating a story. While he’s having this peculiar breakdown (he almost seems aware of the camera, an opening to the extreme fourth wall breaks of next episode), the rest of the group, the Dean, and the two drunken school board execs accompany the appraiser as he inspects the school. After he vigorously shakes a vending machine to see if it can dislodge and kill someone (he takes it very seriously because: “six people a year die this way, and five of those are insurance inspectors”), he makes an assessment no one expected – the school has value as a property. Everyone celebrates (to the same Dave Mathews song from the Fincher episode) when they realize why the board is excited – they plan to sell the school. It is in this moment that Abed arrives, cleansed of stories (presumably because he’s been off-screen).

And so Greendale is sold to Subway. The group desperately tries to think of some way to finally save the school, but ends up defeated. Chang betrays them to Subway with a rousing rendition of the five dollar, foot long jingle, while dancing, and the Dean sits half naked in his office crying, which seems to be his go to way of dealing with stress. Subway’s exec approaches Jeff, bribing him with a Subway black card (five dollar foot longs any time of year) to teach Sandwich Law. He describes it as essentially the same as regular law, but “more specific”. There is also a strange little moment when Abed asks the exec about Subway’s name for their buns. The exec says they call it bread and Abed replies, “Bread is a substance, what do you call your units of bread? Breads?” The Subway exec just looks at him uncomfortably. The beat is pretty funny if only because it’s so clearly one of the writers working out their issues with Subway’s terminology.

The strangest development to come out of this is of Jeff and Britta. They’re sitting alone at the group’s table when Jeff points out they actually did accomplish one thing over their time at Greendale. The pilot of Community showed the group’s initial assembly, largely because Jeff wanted an excuse to get Britta’s phone number. Season two of the show revealed they’d been hooking up in secret for a whole year. So technically the one thing Jeff originally wanted to come out of the group did. Upon pointing this out he proposes to Britta. And Britta accepts. They decide that if they get married, and do what people do (“get a house we can’t afford and a dog we can’t stand”), then the whole thing won’t be in vain.

Just as they prepare to have sex on the second of the group’s table, Jeff and Britta are interrupted by Annie, Abed, and the Dean. They were in the Dean’s office when Abed spotted a strange inscription on a photo of Greendale’s old, legendary computer science professor Russell Borchard. Behind the picture was a clue to hidden millions, enough to save the school.

Basic Sandwich picks up pretty much immediately after the first episode ends. Abed provides some much needed backstory about the professor they’re looking for, who helped start Greendale back when it was Greendale Computery College. The professor was uncomfortably into computers and designed one to respond to human emotions – and made all of its circuits out of a fortune in gold. They go on a brief treasure hunt before finding the abandoned computer science wing of Greendale and climbing into it. Or at least Annie, Jeff, Britta, and Abed do. Hickey and Shirley stay up top to help dissuade followers, and they’re sorely missed from the ongoing proceedings.

They explore the dated underbelly of the school without much event, excepting Annie. Annie is still vaguely into Jeff apparently, and she’s distraught by the news of the engagement. (I have very little opinion on the romantic potential of these fictional characters, sorry Internet. That being said, the writers keep laying this subplot to rest, only to bring it back again, and I’m beginning to think they should decide whether they think it’s creepy or cute.) Abed helps calm her down with a talk based around TV terminology that’s pretty funny. They come across a room they know is around the age they’re looking for because of some “baseball cards with white people on them”. They find a jukebox rigged to open a hidden door when the right song is played, and this leads them to the mysterious computer made from gold circuits and designed to respond to emotions. Shortly afterwards, the professor and ex-Dean, Richard Borchard, appears, looking like a crazy wild man. He circles them as Abed announces that he’s “going to peel off some bandaids here: Dennis hopper is dead, TV shows leave no time for theme songs anymore, Woody Allen did the voice of a cartoon ant.” The last point causes Borchard to attack them, and Jeff calmly knocks him to the ground.

In one of the episode’s weirdest scenes, Hickey and Shirley are brought in for interrogation. The two school board execs start questioning them, hoping to figure out where the rest of the group has gone. The one exec sits down with a whispered murmur of secrecy and attempts to read Hickey’s mind. This all comes in the form of a hilariously unexpected image of the exec flying through strange purple lights to a floating image of Hickey’s head.  ”I robbed your brain, I robbed it.” Unluckily for the group, some of Subway’s underlings find the trap door they went down before the exec can send them off looking for the hang glider he claims they used to escape.

The rest of the group explains the situation to Borchard, who forbids them from touching his computer but offers them millions of dollars he has lying around.  Subway’s minions leap out of the woodwork, aided by Chang, and steal the money. Annie asks Chang if he’s just turned evil again and he replies, “There’s a lot more to it than that Britta! *groans, tried to remove his face* Wait, I’m not wearing a mask. There’s nothing more to it, I think I’m just mentally ill.” Then the school board exec with mind reading powers destroys Borchard’s computer with a magnet and they all leave, trapping the group in the room (the door was run by the computer). The group sit trapped in the room, like a mini bottle episode. Annie musters up some thinly veiled commentary on Jeff and Britta’s engagement, but other than that not much happens.

But lo, the computer can be restarted provided one of the group members can muster up stronger emotions than Borchard feels when he rubs his nipples. So Jeff straps himself to the machine and musters up his feelings for the group…except for Shirley, because she’s not there. It’s weird to have this big emotional beat without the whole group, especially because Shirley is the only original group member absent. The door does open, and the group leaves. Technically Borchard still owns the property, so legally Subway would have to work with him, and he’s sketchy looking enough at this point that they back out rather than do that. Starburns starts playing Dave Mathews again, and Hickey pulls Shirley aside to admit that he really was thinking about a hang glider. Jeff and Britta break off their engagement as quickly as it began. The school continues to celebrate to the sound of Dave Mathews, and we get the fucking wonderful last beat.

Community is always so perpetually close to being cancelled that most of the show’s season finales are designed to also be series finales, the most successful being the finale of season three. With the dramatic final saving of Greendale, this episode is not really any different, except for Abed’s incredible fourth wall break. He first jokes about holidays, a reference to the fact that the show’s tumultuous potential airing prevented the writers from planning anything around specific dates. Then Abed almost acidly states that the only reason they wouldn’t appear next year would be if some unforeseen disaster, like an asteroid, was to strike. He stares down the camera and clarifies that this asteroid would be “canon”. It’s the most bitter and dramatic fuck you of a season filled with them. Abed, and Harmon by proxy, is practically daring NBC to cancel the show.

(The fuck you continues right into the sting, which shows a fake ad for “Brain Jacker” which lampoons the channel’s problematic Thursday line-up.)

Overall it works fairly well as a season finale, even if it doesn’t quite seem like a fair send-off for a series finale. Shirley really got the short stick this episode, and Hickey, who presumably won’t really be back next season, doesn’t really get a send-off at all. There is some weird set-up for next season, should it happen, to boot. First off the fact that the group has effectively “saved” Greendale means that Dan Harmon might finally have to move the group outside of the school, something he’d always planned to do anyway, but it is going to feel seriously sudden when it happens, even if this season almost completely ignored the actual classes in which the group were involved. Also Chang has diamond teeth, but that’s easy enough to undo. Actually one of this two-parter’s cleverest moments is when the Dean finds his mother’s wedding ring. Way back in the series pilot, the Dean can be seen wearing a wedding ring – something dropped in all future episodes of the show in favour of characterizing him as a “pansexual imp”. The Dean explains that he lost it his first week at the school, providing the kind of OCD backstory that shows how much Community rewards the more devoted members of its audience.

It has been an odd season of the show. It had some incredible high points, like Pierce’s funeral, some interesting new parodies, like the David Fincher inspired episode, and the MeowMeowBeenz episode. There were a few weird episodes too, like the oddly weightless Dungeons and Dragons sequel and the problematic send-off to Troy. I wish we’d seen Troy this last episode, I was sort of wondering if they wouldn’t have shot something to use before Donald Glover left, maybe a sting or something. But no luck.

This season has been, in a lot of ways, an uphill battle for the show. Dan Harmon had to deal with the fall-out from the Gas-Leak Year, which upset a lot of his plans, specifically regarding phasing Greendale out of the show. Pierce was gone, Troy left, a lot of writers left. They managed to deal with this all fairly well. There’s still definitely a Troy-shaped hole in the show, but it’s not nearly as noticeable as I expected it to be.

For those who don’t know, and I assume that’s very, very few of you, Community’s goal is six seasons and a movie. Six seasons and a movie was actually something Abed said about the show The Cape, but it has become the rallying battle-cry and hashtag of fans of the show. Hopefully the show will get its sixth season. It deserves it. The ratings this season were frequently lower than ever before, so us fans are going to have a nervous wait for the announcements regarding another season. The movie part seems easy enough to me. I think the fans are devoted enough that crowd-funding it would be possible if NBC didn’t want to play ball. This show is way too good to go away, so we need to show it support. This season was a wonderful return to form that proves this show is still great. Here’s hoping it manages to end the way it deserves.

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Harry Edmundson-Cornell is obsessed with comics and film and writing, and he fancies himself a bit of an artist. He's dabbled in freelance video production, writing, design, 3D modelling, and artistic commissions. He mainly uses Tumblr to keep track of what he's watching and reading and listening to. Occasionally he uses it to post original works. You can find his email and junk there too, if you want to hire him or send him hate-mail.

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