Community: Season 2, Episode 6
Remember a few weeks back when I praised "Basic Rocket Science" as a solid episode of Community but said that it did not rise to the level of classic parody episodes like "Modern Warfare" or "Contemporary American Poultry"? If you don't, I just reminded you. The problem I had with "Rocket Science," and it was a minor one, was that for all the accuracy of its parody, and for all its brilliant absurdity, it did not follow a definable character arc the way the other two episodes did, and thus was a little less than transcendent. What makes Community great is that its a very smart, consistently hysterical half hour of television. What makes it the best comedy on tv right now is, as I have said many times before, that it is both of those things while also managing to be about something. At its best, the show is an amazing half hour of comedy that actually tells a story and fits into a larger examination of these characters and their personal journeys toward self improvement. And "Epidemiology 206" is Community at its best.
The story is a pretty simple Halloween episode plotline: The Dean bought a bunch of rations from an army surplus store for the Greendale Halloween party, and one of the packages was actually an experiment in biotechnology that turns people into zombies. Let's pause for a minute to let that sink in. No other show on television could put forward a legitimate zombie episode, in which every one of its characters (save The Dean) becomes a flesh eating creature, and actually enter it into the show's canon believably. Of course no one remembers the events of the episode at its end, but nevertheless, Community didn't half ass it with an "it was all a dream" ending or set its Halloween episode outside of reality, "Treehouse of Horror" style (though it did have some excellent narration from George Takei). I feel comfortable calling Community the best comedy on TV right now in large part because its created a world in which literally anything the show wants to happen can happen, and there's no problem with suspending disbelief. Greendale Community College is the weirdest place on television right now, but that also makes it the freest. I am never quite sure going in what any episode is going to deliver, except that it is going to be hilarious, smart, and well executed.
Of course, I don't think the show could pull off an "Epidemiology" type feat every week, nor would I want it to. The reason this episode works (and again, its pretty shocking how well it works considering how out there it is) is because the show spends a good deal of its time on episodes where its characters just hang out and act like themselves, so that when it goes incredibly high concept, it has fully realized characters to fit into each situation. I mentioned earlier that the reason I think this episode works better than "Basic Rocket Science" is because there is an actual character arc to be invested in here. While that episode had its tenuous Annie conflict, tonight has Troy going through something actual. Troy is a nerd, which is what makes him pair so well with Abed. Yet he is not so sure, tonight, that being a nerd is the best thing for him socially or romantically. Rather than coming out of nowhere, this storyline feels like exactly something Troy would go through when off at college. Troy wants to be cool like Jeff, and so he ditches his pair costume with Abed and becomes a Sexy Dracula by putting a toilet seat cover over his neck and taking off his shirt (I'll talk about the significance of the costumes down in Notes). Watching Troy abandon his friendship with Abed, then quickly come to realize that his geekiness is a part of himself and that Abed's acceptance of that is what makes them best friends is a valid emotional arc to take the character on, and grounds the ludicrous "Epidemiology" in real, earned emotion.
Add to that the subplot that throws Shirley and Chang together, and actually makes that pairing work, and this episode easily goes down as one of the greats. Shirley and Chang are both being mistaken throughout the nigh for people they aren't. They both keep getting thrown into confined spaces together, and they're both obsessed with the idea that this outbreak means the end of the world. So instead of seeming like the hookup was designed by drawing names out of a hat, as a show like Glee would have, Shirley and Chang's union, however brief, actually made sense. There is nothing like Community on TV right now, and at its best, this show manages to be completely absurd and yet totally grounded in the real, believable emotions of its characters. I cannot praise "Epidemiology 206" highly enough for taking on an incredibly risky conceit, throwing itself completely into the concept regardless of how insane it is on its face, and pulling it off, making a hilarious parody of zombie movies that is simultaneously an episode of the show that fits perfectly into its overarching themes. God damn, this show is good.
-Costume dissection time: I always give a show props when it manages to make the "Everyone dresses up in silly costumes" conceit of Halloween episodes actually say something about the characters wearing them. The Dean is Lady Gaga (of course he is), Jeff is David Beckham so he can wear a $6,000 suit, Troy and Abed are Predator and a hunter, a film reference and a show of their union in geekery, until Troy decides to go for the "sexy [blank]" costume to get the ladies, Annie is Little Red Riding Hood because she's innocent, but really sexy, Britta is again a shapeless, formless animal costume because she is a nonconformist who doesn't go in for Halloween sexiness, Shirley is Glinda the good witch because she's a saint, and Chang is Peggy Fleming because he's fucking insane.
-How great was The Dean's playlist of ABBA songs mixed with personal reminders? ABBA backing scenes of zombie massacre worked shockingly well.
-"She is not Miss Piggy. I repeat, she is NOT Miss Piggy."
-"I'm Peggy Fleming. You've just been proven racist by the racist prover."
-"How much did you eat Starburns?" "i didn't eat anything. And my name is Alan!"
-"We need to perform an orderly evacuation without causing a panic." "Holy crap! Leonard's a zombie!" "Zombie attack!"
-"Add Eat Pray Love soundtrack to workout mix."
-"Oh great. Nobody's special! And RIch, just so you know, I hate you less now. That's how much I hate your normal self."
-"Don't look back!" "Why not?"
-"What is up with that Cat?" "Is someone throwing it?"
-"What about the zombies?" "Backburner Troy. This cat has to be dealt with!"
-Best thing to yell before being torn apart by zombies, from Jeff: "That's my jacket. You're stretching it. You're stretching iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!"
-"Troy, make me proud. Be the first black man to make it to the end." Clearly Abed doesn't remember Dawn of The Dead, though if I am giving this show the insane level of credit I sometimes too, you can take the fact that it made Troy the hero in its zombie episode as a sly commentary on Romero's tendency to make black men the protagonists of his zombie films.
"Zombie Annie, what big fists you have...in your face!"
-"Hi. Kevin can't come to the phone right now. He's on a spaceship with me, George Takei."