'Cooperative Calligraphy' is a great episode. It does what Community does best: takes something we're familiar with, plays around with it in clever way, but never forgets that the characters come first. But it is one of those episode that I tend to respect more than outright love. Which is probably one of the reasons why I had such a hard time reviewing this episode. It's been driving me crazy for a week now.
This week the show took on that old TV staple - the bottle episode. Bottle episodes are done primarily because they are super cheap, using no locations other than the show's existing sets and feature just the regular cast (assuming your regular cast isn't the cast of Friends, in which case the average bottle episode will cost the same as a Michael Bay movie). Sitcoms tend to use bottle episodes more than dramas, especially traditional multi-camera, filmed in front of a live audience sitcoms. Cheers, for example, was practically a bottle show as the gang rarely ever left the bar.
This being Community, it can't help but give the fourth wall a kick and address the fact that it is doing a bottle episode. But one of the problems with having bottle episodes as a target for mockery is that they are such a simple idea that there is really very little to actually make fun of. Once the show has acknowledged the fact that it is doing a bottle episode, there really isn't anywhere else for it to go.
Instead, the writer used the bottle show format to explore in more detail the fragile stability of the group. This is something that has been touched upon before and looks set to become a fixture of the show. In the two years they have known each other this group has grown incredibly close. They have become almost like family. And like any family, when the pressure is on, the doors are locked and secrets are pouring out, they will turn on each other like ravenous, dysfunctional dogs who are surprisingly quick to take their clothes off.
This time the cause of the group conflict was something seemingly minor - Annie's pen goes missing. Since this was the latest in a series of missing pens, Annie wasn't going to let anyone leave until she found out who took her pen. Very quickly their suspicions get the better of them, causing events to spiral out of control. In next to no time our characters are willingly entombing themselves alive in a mausoleum of feelings, until they discover who took Annie's pen. The twist? No one stole the damn pen. It really was taken by a ghost. A small hairy ghost with a tail named after a popular part of Annie's body.
So what have we learned from this experience? Well, first of all the guys - except Pierce - have clearly been been spending a lot of time in the gym lately. No one else ever uses that study room (it's like the library at Sunnydale High). Shirley might be carrying the Anti-Christ, which I can't discuss further because I am sticking to my policy of not mentioning... it. And finally, Dan Harmon and his team must just seem to enjoy breaking this group apart every once in a while, only to bring them back together stronger than ever via a trademark inspirational Jeff Winger speech. Sure, it is a rather predictable way to end the episode (which is kind of Abed's point when he suggests it), but it is still rather heart-warming. And it leads up to one of my absolute favourite 'Jeff and Annie smile at each other' moments.
I guess she's finally stopped thinking he's gross.
Mark's not wrong. (He's usually not wrong, in fact.) It's hard to say something about this episode--and even harder if you're reviewing it during a re-watch and know what's coming up. But a few things worth highlighting in a completely non-spoilery way: the pregnancy test, the emphasis on Abed filtering the world through the miracle of TV, the condoms in Britta's bag, Pierce's affection for
Foreshadowing aside, I like that this group has become so stable that although they tear themselves apart like "ravenous, dysfunctional dogs," they still all walk out together at the end like adorable little puppies, enjoying the "miraculous" solidarity that stems from shared trauma. Whether or not we ought to think of that trauma as the pen fiasco or just attending Greendale is left as an exercise for the reader.
And, one last bit: does anyone remember the Kids in the Hall skit about "My pen! Where's my pen?!"
Notes and Quotes
-- If you look closely in the cold open you can actually see the pen being taken.
-- This is the first episode written by Megan Ganz, who later goes on to write some of my favourite episodes and is one of the few writers to survive the mass exodus of season 3.
Jeff: “Annie, relax.”
Annie: “No you relax, Jeff! Or are you afraid that if you do, my pen will fall out?!”
Abed: “If I could just take a moment to share a few words of sarcasm with whoever it is that took this pen. I wanna say thank you for doing this to me. For a while I thought I'd have to suffer through a puppy parade, but I much prefer being entombed alive in a mausoleum of feelings I can neither understand nor reciprocate. So whoever you are, can I get you anything? Ice cream, best friend medal, anything?”
Shirley: “Jeff, you don't have a bag?”
Jeff: “I could never deprive the world of the portion of my chest the strap would cover.”
Shirley: “Mother Hen? I think we're about the same age.”
Britta: “Sure, unless time is linear.”
Shirley: “I'll make your ass linear.”
Britta: “That doesn't make any sense.”
Shirley: “I'll make your ass sense.”
Britta: “I still thing that man is going to evolve into woman, not a dragon monster with three legs.”
Pierce: “Three legs?”
Three and half out of four stolen purple pens.