Community: Season 3, Episode 5
Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps
If "Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps," had one thing working against it, it was the fact that it aired right after "Remedial Chaos Theory." That episode was one of the best Community has ever done, and was also structurally similar (being broken down into seven different segments based on the group's dynamics) to this one. By comparison, "Horror Fiction" was bound to suffer. Additionally, Community has a venerable tradition of Halloween episodes at this point (after turning in "Epidemiology 206" last season, another all-time great), which meant expectations were high. And while "Horror Fiction" didn't meet those incredibly high standards, it was still a funny Halloween episode with a lot of great character moments, so I can't complain too much that it didn't happen to be an instant classic.
While "Remedial Chaos Theory" used the alternate timeline conceit to examine the actual group dynamics of our main cast, "Horror Fiction" pulls off something that is (at least functionally) a little different. We aren't looking at real world versions of the characters tonight, we're looking at the way they see each other. While "Remedial Chaos Theory" showed us seven versions of what could have been reality, "Horror Fiction" is much more concerned with perceptions and what they tell us about how these characters interact. It's a subtle difference, perhaps, but an important one in terms of the way it reveals information (some of which is a bit redundant, but is at least packaged nicely).
Britta fearing one of the group members is a psychopath is a completely forced conceit that the show for some reason thinks it needs to get these characters telling stories to each other, and its resolution (that everyone but Abed, and possibly Jeff, is insane) is cute, but not resonant or funny enough to make the framing story work. I would have been fine with a standard "let's tell scary stories" set up, and Britta's constant attempts to glean psychological truth from the group's fictions were more grating than funny. However, it's ultimately a minor complaint; the point is that we get to the stories, and for that purpose, this functions just fine.
What I liked best about the stories is the little ways in which they influenced each other. This was subtle, but each story was in some way a reflection of the previous ones. Britta started us off with the hook-man, which bled into Abed's story, which introduced the cabin that would be the center of the rest of the tales, etc. I'm not sure if this was an intentional gimmick the writers threw in or if it evolved naturally, but I like the nuanced point it makes about the positive influences these characters have on each other, both actually and creatively (or I could just be reading too much into Community. I do that from time to time).
Each of the vignettes, of course, riffs on some type of horror trope, while also giving us insight into the characters telling them, and offering big laughs. Because this is the sort of thing I tend to do with these episodes, let's break down each tale (though, unlike last week, my analysis will be brief, namely because there was less here):
Britta's story is poorly told (the biggest laughs coming from the characters speaking in her apathetic and poorly thought out dialogue, with the radio announcer warning to look out for "some guy with a hook or a thingie on his hand,"). In it, she and Jeff (still her obvious romantic pairing since she hasn't caught on to Troy's affection in this timeline) are making out in a car in the woods, the over-sexed Jeff tries to calm her and then gets out only to be promptly murdered. Its a standard set up, told poorly, focused on Jeff's overactive libido and quick death. Sounds about right.
Abed's story is, of course, the pop culture geek's response to any horror film, with both he and Britta behaving in a perfectly logical fashion, and thus surviving (until they "earn" their death). Annie's story is not surprising, with bad boy vampire Jeff using Britta as food but realy being attracted to her innocent school teacher, who teaches him to read, before revealing herself to be a werewolf and viciously murdering Jeff (her explicit and gory description was nearly as funny as the montage of Vampire Jeff learning to read).
Troy tells a standard mad scientist tale, about he and Abed's awesomeness and the "horror" of them being stuck together permanently that ends with their torture of Pierce (in the best way Troy can conjure: sweing his butt to his chest and switching his feet to his hands, so he has "boobs" to grope but not hands to grope them with). Pierce's story is racist, sexist, and about how awesome, young, vital, and well endowed he is. And Shirley, unsurprisingly, tells a tale of the rapture, in which she ascends and all of her friends are stuck being tortured by Devil Dean (the highlights of this being Shirley's not understanding how drugs work and constant references to the post apocalypse being just like New York. Plus the great NPR joke).
The show is continuously singling out Jeff, this season, as it works to develop him. Last episode, we learned that the group arguably functions better without his presence. This week, he's the only one to not tell a horror story (his is basically a parody of his tendency to speechify, in which the group finds that Chang is the killer who kills because he's afraid and hugs the murder out of him), but he's also the only one to not raise a weapon against the rest of the group when the lights go out. While everyone else is still pretty quick to turn on each other when push comes to shove (and I really, really wish the show would stop resulting to this gimmick so often), Jeff knows none of these people are psychopathic killers, and isn't worried about where this will head. He knows they'll all end up together, and he's helping them towards that, in his own way.
I wish the episode's framing device had worked better, and I wish the stories had given us a bit more insight into the characters (we already know Annie likes Jeff and is threatened by Britta, that Pierce is a racist misogynist obsessed with his vitality and that Shirley thinks her friends are all sinners bound for hell), but again, I can't complain too much about an episode that was as gleefully absurd as this one. "Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps" gave us an illiterate Vampire Jeff, Britta and Abed standing back to back in the center of a room holding knives, and a Devil Dean torturing the gang, including a blood soaked Britta who has just dumped marijuana all over herself. For all its weaknesses, each of those is an image that will stick in my head, and will make me laugh, for a long time coming. Which isn't half bad for an episode that had to follow a masterpiece.
-"I have Michel Norris interviewing Erroll Morris. Don't worry, they address it."
-"Trick or Dean!" I loved this entrance's call back to all of his costumed entrances back in "Paradigms of Human Memory" (the clip show episode).
-"All Saint's Day...month..."
-"Are people using my name to mean 'make a small mistake'?" "...yes."
-"I want to go to the dance! I hear the Dean has free taco meat from the Army!" The Dean would totally do that again.
-"An escaped convict from the asylum has escaped."
-"Fine. I'll get out and look. But then I'm entitled to sex."
-"I hope you're as fertile as I am tonight." "More."
-"We should call 911 on my fully charged cell phone, lock the doors, and stand back to back holding knives." Other great moments included Abed declining to kiss Britta again and him shushing her when she whispered "I love you" as they stood and waited.
-"Wait! Teach me to read!"
-"See? There's a twist."
-"Oh, thank god, an old doctor."
-"I thought I heard something awesome out there."
-"You. Are. Still. Relevant."
-"Aw man, my drugs are wearing off. Who's got more?"
-"The bad news is, the world is over. This is NPR." Shirley left NPR behind after the rapture, making for the second good NPR joke this week.
-"Pliates is a demon that eats your genitals."
-"HAHAHAHA gay marriage!"
-"Stay back you psychos or I'll slit your throats and bathe in your blood!"
-"I'm no sociopath. I always know what I'm doing is wrong."