Community: Season 2, Episode 9
Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design
Last week Community took a step back to reevaluate the characters and how they relate to each other, dropping any pretense of parody to focus instead on jut interactions between the group of characters we have become invested in. This week marked a return to parody that was very funny, if a little disappointing, but it also gave us something that the show does excellently, and more rarely than it might seem: a Troy and Abed subplot.
The conspiracy storyline had its faults, first and foremost in that it squandered the idea that Greendale might have a night school that would be even worse than its actual school, yet it delivered something as fantastic as the extended chase sequence through the pillow fort (which I will discuss more in a moment) so I can't complain too much about it. It also returned to the idea of Jeff and Annie as a romantic pairing, and to how hurt Annie actually is by the way Jeff blew off their kiss in last year's season finale. Again, I'll say that this show can do parody's of just about anything and be funny, but what makes it work is that all of the tensions are routed in the believable feelings of well drawn out characters. When South Park does a parody episode (and has it really done much else for the last 5 years?) it often abandons any pretense of characterizations, plugging in everyone where they need to go to make the story work. This isn't an inherently flawed strategy (and I think it really works for that show) but there is something more rewarding in a well executed parody that would also work if it were making fun of nothing.
Imagine for a moment, that no "conspiracy thrillers" actually existed and my point might make more sense.If you had never seen an elaborate chase sequence in which the suspect fleeing disappeared into a parade of some sort, would the idea that there was a Latvian Independence parade going on inside a pillow fort be any less funny? If there had never been a movie that was more dedicated to a ridiculous amount of twists and double crosses, would you not laugh at the conclusion of this plotline, in which pretty much everyone shoots pretty much everyone after long exposition? These jokes are funnier because they reference well worn cinematic tropes, but they are also funny in and of themselves. And that the entire conspiracy was dreamed up by Annie to teach Jeff a lesson about cheating the system, joined by the Dean because he's painfully lonely and his job doesn't really require anything of him, and ended with Annie cathartically "murdering" Jeff for actually hurting her--well, that just makes it all the better. If "conspiracy thrillers" never existed, this would still be a hilarious episode of the show, and it would still be grounded in real character developments.
The subplot is pretty much just glorious, glorious icing on the episode's cake. Troy and Abed are the dynamic duo of this show, and wisely, Community avoids burning us out on their crazy adventures by giving them an entire subplot to themselves pretty rarely Sure, the two hang out and trade quips every episode, and most of the blips are centered on the sort of shenanigans these two get up to, but as a pairing in a full subplot, I don't think these two are thrown together too much more than anyone else, which is just a credit to how strong the show's ensemble has become. Of course once Troy and Abed started building a pillow fort it would become an epic undertaking and a ridiculously meticulous construction, and yet, every detail they added to the place made it more amazing.
It should also be noted how well the episode flows along while dumping several of its main characters to background roles. Last week was great because it gave everyone a chance to shine, but tonight we barely saw Pierce, Shirley, or Britta (except for in that awesome sight gag in which they stumbled upon her in the Turkish section of the pillow fort just hanging out and she just said "Hey..." like it wasn't the weirdest thing ever) and yet the episode went off pretty much flawlessly. The show didn't need any of them to work tonight, and os it wisely kept them in the background. A lesser sitcom would've gummed up the flow by throwing Pierce into the conspiracy story line and having him shout in the final confrontation (or maybe try to help Troy and Abed build the fort, though that would have been tough from his wheelchair) or had Shirley lecture one of the two pairs), but Community knows how to best utilize its characters, and in an episode that is, at the heart of both plotlines, about the silly joy of just playing around and getting way too into the minutiae of a given situation, Britta's wet blanket, Shirley's judgment and Pierce's desire to be center of attention would have detracted from the episode, not added to it. The characters "Conspiracy Theories" did focus on are the ones that make the most sense, and the ones its the most fun to watch in this scenario. Troy and Abed are pretty much huge kids, but they're adult enough to dig deep into their geekiness and make something even geekier in the process--they built a pillow fort, sure, but they also built it into a microcosm of society as a whole. Jeff and Annie meanwhile are less kid-like, but both equally stubborn and prone to trying to prove their point at any cost, which leads to them becoming just as obsessively involved in the ridiculous construct of their plotline.
"Conspiracy Theories" is not a perfect episode, but when push comes to shove it was such a blast it never really mattered. I praise Community a lot for how deeply realized its characters are, and how well it tells a continuing story about their ever-strengthening bonds, and all of that is on display here, but more importantly, this is a really fun episode of television that I enjoyed from start to finish. And for all of my pretentious analyses every week, sometimes that's the most important thing a sitcom can be.
-I think its worth noting that this show is shockingly good at turning on romantic tension whenever it needs it and dropping it when it doesn't without ever feeling inconsistent on the issues. One week can be a Jeff-Britta episode, and the next can be a jeff-Annie episode, and yet it all feels perfectly reasonable. And while this isn't a show that really hinges on the "will they won't they" plotlines, it handles the relationships so well that I really do care when it asks me too. And, for the record, I'm still in the Jeff-Annie camp, which had some great moments tonight.
-"Notice all the animals wearing sunglasses?" "Because its a brighter tomorrow." Nice throwaway "Green week" joke.
-"I heard one kid built a diorama about a world without dioramas."
-Professor Professorson is a great name. Also, "My family name was Professorburg, but we changed it when we were fleeing from the Nazis."
-"I have always dreamt of playing charades with you Jeffrey. But not like this. And not on dry land..."
-"Looks like somebody sent us a message. A tiny, underwhelming message." It was a great touch to shoot the little car's "explosion" from three angles, just like every car explosion scene ever.
-"These'll be perfect for Pierce's Mom Memorial Tunnel." Also included in the blanket fort: A Turkish Section, a Latvian Independence Parade, and a Civil Right's museum.
-"Did you just mispronounce et cetera?" "My latin class is fake, Jeff. Like all my classes. Like my life, aren't you listening?"
-"Once it was obviosu the Dean had orchestrated everything, it was even more obvious the Dean was too stupid to orchestrate anything."
-"I can't keep track of it anymore! I just keep teaming up with whoever suggests it!"
-"Would that this hoodie were a time hoodie..."
-"We've started looting!" "Want to build a cardboard submarine?" "Get out of my brain."