Community episode 6, “Basic Email Security,” self-identifies as the third entry in a trilogy consisting of “Cooperative Calligraphy” and “Cooperative Polygraphy.” Apparently they couldn’t match the “cooperative” moniker to this episode, which is pretty funny. Any episode that associates itself with such seminal episodes of Community automatically invites increased inspection. “Cooperative Calligraphy” remains a series highlight, and “Cooperative Polygraphy” is one of, if not the, best episode of the show’s fifth season. This episode eschews one of the key features of those past episodes however. Instead of confining the entire episode to the study room, “Basic Email Security” softens the bottle structure a bit, moving the group between two key locations. (Does Greendale have two stages, or was this the same set from the Karate Kid performance?) Instead of keeping the study-room-bottle-episode-thing like the other two entries in this trilogy (Abed describes the first entry as part of a “golden era”), it focuses on the revelation of hidden secrets.
It does that by harkening to the Sony leaks from earlier in the year. The school books a notoriously racist comedian and starts receiving ominous notes that hijack the school’s computers. The first note comes with a deluge of data; all the emails from one of the school’s lunch ladies. The hacker threatens to release the Greendale Activities Committee’s emails next, if the show goes on. To their surprise our characters learn that the Activities Committee is actually their official name. After a surprisingly rousing speech by Britta (with some snippets, like “if voting was powerful it would be illegal” actually taken from Dan Harmon rants) the group makes a pact to let the comedian perform. They promise not to look at the leaked emails. They all look.
This leads us to a scene where the group stands around in the auditorium/theatre area angrily confronting each other about the discovered secrets. The show’s key returning members don’t actually suffer that badly, instead the episode finally grants us more information about Frankie and Elroy. This is generally pretty funny. Turns out Elroy keeps in touch with a family he’s grown to love, but who mistakenly thinks he’s their cousin. He’s also been taking masses of photos of the group’s female members in order to make accurate nude 3D models of them for a video game about time travelling women. Chang meanwhile mocks Frankie for writing to a sister who never replies. It turns out her sister is dead, and she uses it as a journalling device. She’s much more distressed by the group’s ongoing bet about her sexuality. Jeff’s bet is that she’s a “chap-stick lesbian”, and he stands to win $300 if he’s right. Frankie is especially offended by Annie’s guess. Annie looks pretty upset about it too, whimpering that she had to pick last.
A bit of an aside, but it seems Buzz Hickey, Jonathan Bank’s character from season five, is dead. Bank’s was really funny as the character, who served as a sort of Pierce replacement, and the show has killed him off in an incredibly unceremonious and trivialized way. So trivialized that you have to pause and read the screenshot of the lunch lady’s emails to spot one that reads “Buzz Hickey Memorial.” Buzz was a nice addition to the show, and while it seems that a reappearance would have been unlikely, such a casual end seems unnecessary.
One of my favourite things about this episode was actually just Elroy and Frankie getting weird snippets of backstory about the group. Frankie describes the last bottle episode as the time “a friend mysteriously vanished after another friend masturbated to death” which is pretty great. Keith David, who continues to be the best recent addition to the show, realizes our main characters were once a study group. “Wait, this was a study group?” Chang replies, “Yeah and I was their teacher,” which makes Frankie and Elroy gasp in shock. “And frankly I haven’t been well-utilized since.” It’s a nice reference to an extremely common complaint about Ken Jeong’s character.
Eventually the group really makes their stand, as their racist comedian arrives. He’s kind of tragic at first, thanking the group for sticking by him. This is the first gig that hasn’t cancelled on him in months. His gratitude shifts quickly when only one character, Neil, arrives to watch. It’s nice to see Neil again after his brief appearances earlier. The group forces the performance to go on despite the poor attendance, leading to a pretty great scene where Neil gets mocked for being black and Jewish (“It’s hard to be a fat black guy because your community steals all your food”) while the group literally bars the doors to hold back an angry mob.
Another aside, but is it me or is it becoming increasingly clear that Garrett is on his way to becoming some sort of big villain, probably as part of the season’s climatic stretch. One of the first episodes of this season saw him mysteriously recruiting other minor background characters while threateningly watching the group. Another saw him realizing his role as an extra. This episode he has some sort of emotional breakdown while other students drag him away. I’m pretty curious to see if this joke coalesces into an actual plot line or if Garrett’s realizations will merely stay a running joke relegated to the background.
This episode also sees the fifth appearance of local cop Officer Cackowski. He’s always pretty awesome, and in this episode he’s shocked the group doesn’t recognize him, which does seem a little cruel on their part. He did teach them about gun safety after all! He chats about the new Avengers movie (“I hear Marvel really penned Joss Whedon in, and that always goes so well”). He also gets a True Detective parody with a child taking the Matthew McConaughey role, a nice addition to this later era’s weird ending gags. Over all it’s a pretty good episode, probably the season’s second best at this point. It’s not perfect but there’s a lot to love, and the show’s newer characters are finally starting to feel like legitimate additions to the roster.
As (naturally) high as I am from Jonathan Bank’s tour de force episode of Better Call Saul I am very disappointed to hear he got such an ungracious send off on Community.
Kudos for spotting an email I missed.
Keith David is the best addition to the cast. Too bad the show eschews all things meta. Can you imagine if a Ken Burns affiliate narrated a S3 Community episode in a Ken Burns style before they joined the cast? Next thing I’ll be wishing one of the (tied) 1st-2nd place finishers in The Thing revisits that material in Greendale.
Thanks for the comment!
Not entirely sure the show “eschews all things meta” at all, but I get your point about Keith David! He’s clearly one of the best additions and I really hope they continue to use his character well.
Not at all, this show really works for me.
That comment was sarcastic, hopefully not in a rude way. David’s narration of Season 4′s 2 part pillow fight story in the style of Ken Burns who he has narrated for previously is what prompted it.
I find Community is strongest when it plays at being something else ie not really about a community college. A Thing style episode; perhaps with a reference to “thought I saw Blair” (Jeff?) would be delightful.
While this season has been solid; IMO they haven’t knocked it out of the park yet; here’s hoping that changes.
I really hope there’s a great episode on the way.