Episode five of the sixth season of Community, “Laws of Robotics and Party Rights”, might be the best episode of the season yet.
I say “might” because it still has a few problems. Let’s get those out of the way first, shall we? The biggest problem with this episode is the new characters. The new additions to the group are pretty relegated to the background. We’ve still only had a cursory look at these characters, and as funny as Keith David’s Britta-hatred is, by this point they should have had more to do. Essentially the characters show up during the two(!) scenes where everyone sits round a table. It’s nice to see these scenes, and both Frankie and Elroy have some good jokes, but neither get character development, and they generally disappear when the main plot starts up. Five episodes in and past their introductory episodes these characters feel more like set-dressing at this point, which is disappointing. Both characters and actors are funny and they deserve more to do. Also relegated to the background – Chang. This is par for the course, but after a decent attempt at integrating him into the group he feels a little missed.
However the characters we’re more familiar with – Annie, Britta, Jeff, and Abed – all get a good episode. Now Jeff’s dilemma feels a little divorced from the other three, but that aside they all get a good treatment. Jeff talks the Dean into agreeing to help out a prison. They’re allowing a select few inmates to attend the school via remote-controlled iPads. Jeff convinces the Dean to do it because money, but begins to have doubts when a charismatic murderer starts to overshadow him. Also Garrett, of all people, gets a surprising number of lines. Maybe after last week’s realization that he was an extra. Britta, meanwhile, wants to throw a party. However because she’s sleeping on Annie and Abed’s couch, Annie is calling the shots. Annie has a strict cap on gatherings, limiting them to no more than eight people. Britta wants to throw a “rager” however. This starts a Machiavellian war-of-arms and manipulation between the two. Annie even leans in to Britta and whispers, “Before this is over you’ll beg for my forgiveness.” Abed gets caught in the middle of this manipulation, something I wish he were slightly more aware of. Instead he seems to be used rather cruelly by both parties with no say in the matter.
It’s pretty fun to see the characters bouncing off each other like this again. Jeff gets really serious about his dilemma, which ends with him storming into a wedding-like ceremony (via iPad) to explain his feelings and actions to the Dean. It’s nice to see Dean Craig Pelton get so much more to do this season. He felt a little bit absent from season five, and he really does deserve to be part of the group at this point. His relationship with Jeff has led to some of this season’s best jokes, and it’s nice to see this episode explore their dynamic in a little more depth. This episode also helped win me over on this season’s iteration of Britta. Her framing wanting to throw a party as an impassioned political struggle was great. The idea that her trying to break this house rule is the closest she can get to overthrowing a government makes her inevitable failure even funnier. When she eventually does beg Annie for help she goes so far as to say “Hail Annie.” It feels like Britta’s political rebellion has been getting increasingly less effective throughout the seasons, and this episode feels like a natural progression of that.
Again though these plots barely interconnect. There’s one scene that sort of manages to connect these disparate elements. When Britta actually throws her party, Jeff is there and continues to feel taunted and opposed by the charming murderer slowly turning everyone against him. The group also collectively discusses Jeff’s issue at one point, which does lead to his making up with the Dean. Still it would have been nice to see a little more interweaving of the plots. Jeff has almost no involvement in the Annie vs Britta scenario. Other than Keith David high-fiving Alison Brie for breaking Britta’s spirit, it’s a pretty isolated plot.
It’s one of the funnier episodes yet. The scene where one of the prisoners tries to push Jeff down a flight of stair with the iPad on a stick is hilarious. This episode uses Dan Harmon’s extra time well too. The handful of jokes that involve more prominent pauses are more consistently effective. Unlike some of the previous episodes there’s no joke this episode that I thought went on for too long. As nice as it is to see the group dealing with some more internal issues, and as funny as parts of this episode are, this is the fifth episode and the complete isolation of the show’s new characters is really starting to be bothersome. Keith David and Paget Brewster are RIGHT THERE. They’ve already hired them, yet they’ve had shockingly minor roles in almost every episode. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before they become main players in an episode, and hopefully it’s such a good episode that I eat these words, but in the meantime it’s absolutely bizarre how absent these characters are. Buzz Hickey had way more to do last season. It’s especially frustrating because both actors, and their characters, seem to have a lot of potential that the show just seems to be refusing to tap.
That frustration aside I think this is quite a good episode. It’s not the classic I was hoping for. I really hope this season can get one truly great episode off the ground. It wasn’t a bad episode either; in fact it was one of the more functional episodes this season. If we continue with this trend of average episode I’ll be pleased – an average episode of Community is still a good sitcom episode – but I hope there are superior episodes around the corner.