I want to say something right away about the latest episode of Community. Yahoo did not work as advertised for the first time. Maybe it wasn’t their fault, maybe it was Chrome, maybe it was my MacBook, maybe it was the wireless signal. Whatever it was the show was stuttering like a puppy that suffers from chronic anxiety seizing out in earthquake country. Nothing kills a joke’s momentum like having to restart your browser halfway through the punchline. I’m pretty good at looking past that and assessing the episode, but this could very well be the least accurate review yet.
The seventh episode of Community, “Advanced Safety Features”, basically features two plot lines..…you know, like most shows. Shuddup. One of these plots is product placement run wild and exaggerated and stretched into a story about Britta and her boyfriend. The title of the episode is a reference to Honda, Community’s new Subway. The other story is Keith David heavy! The group wishes they were better friends with Elroy, and then discovers he actually quite likes everyone in the group. Everyone in the group but Jeff. Jeff’s not-so-hidden insecurities prompt him to aggressively attempt to befriend Elroy.
Other than the stuttering forcing the episode to take up a Minor Kalpa’s worth of my time I quite liked this episode.
The Britta story is a weirder one for me. It’s the main story of the episode, and it’s actually getting really nice to see Britta be such a major player this season. She’s often relegated to more of a supporting position, but lately she’s been focused on and explored in neat ways. This episode sees the return of her brief past-romantic-interest – Subway. That is the anthropomorphic personification of the sandwich shop that sponsored the show in seasons past. They never refer to Subway this time around, marking it a word that must be avoided. Subway no longer goes by that particular moniker, his name is now “Rick” and he’s an aggressive guerrilla marketer for Honda. Car companies have been responsible for some of the most obnoxious advertising in TV shows lately, so it’s not surprising they’d fund Community. What is nice is the insane way Dan Harmon barrels into a story built around the very idea of guerrilla marketing, transforming advertising for Honda into jokes and character moments. It’s pretty clever, and while sometimes the extensive descriptors about Honda vehicles start to wear thin it makes up for it in other ways, like the depiction of the guerrilla marketer’s boss.
Britta decides to pursue a relationship with Rick, which means she has to sign up to help Rick sell Honda to Greendale. Mainly the Dean, who, as a Level Seven Susceptible (which Rick describes manipulating as a “once-in-a-lifetime feeling”) starts to fill his office with Honda paraphernalia he can’t afford. Britta and Rick get along well at first, until Rick meets Britta’s parents and can’t stop marketing to them. The line is crossed when Britta’s told she has to support anything popular as part of her new job, like Avatar. They split up, but Rick dramatically confronts Britta, declaring his love and his intention to quit Honda. However Rick gets caught by the school when the Dean and Frankie set a trap for him, he can’t resist, and gets banned from school grounds forever.
Best part of this might be the end-tag, simply because of how furious Britta gets while playing a silly game with her parents.
Meanwhile the group speculates about why Elroy doesn’t ever hang out with them. They’re worried he might not like them as much as they like him. It’s just so nice, to see a plot line focus on one of the new cast members. Next time we see this plot line everyone but Jeff is playing a rousing game based around guessing what ears you’re wearing. Jeff arrives and Elroy immediately excuses himself. This gets under Jeff’s skin and he starts striving to gain Elroy’s friendship.
Finally getting a plot point that so directly incorporates the show’s new members is awesome. We learn a little bit about Elroy’s life, see him have a moment of personal growth, and he’s pretty entertaining. There are some good comments on the group dynamic, and some discussion of Troy. Frankie points out that, despite the group’s claims that they don’t like talking about Troy, they seem to talk about him a lot. She asks just what was so great about this guy. Jeff tells her, “He was really good at steel drums.” When she leaves he claims that “that won’t pay off right away, but when it does, it’ll be worth it.” Truth be told we then assume we’ll see Frankie playing the steel drums at that point, so the inevitable punchline isn’t that funny, although it is tied into a nice moment in the episode.
Frankie also gets one of the episode’s best moments when she chides the Dean on his frivolous Honda spending spree. The way Paget Brewster goes from shouting at the Dean to apologizing to shouting again is really funny. “I only say constructive things and every question I want to ask you is rhetorical and ends with idiot. Do you know what a rhetorical question is?” It’s probably the best thing about the Britta plot line, to be honest. The show also sees Britta’s parents making another appearance, which is a nice bit of continuity, as well as the return of the musical styling of Natalie Is Freezing. We even meet the band (“Why would anyone in the band be Natalie? We’re artists.”) which actually ties in nicely with Elroy’s story.
This isn’t the best episode of the season or anything. The Honda jokes start to grate a little, but there are highlights too, like Britta’s performance, Frankie, and Chang’s slideshow. It’s also one of the season’s first truly sentimental episodes. Community’s serious core has always been a defining characteristic of the show, and it’s nice to see it coming back.