This is an episode of deceptive simplicity. There are three plots—Britta/Rick, Jeff/Elroy, Frankie/Group—but each of them emphasizes the inherent sadness of adulthood, and the way that we can only connect, sometimes, by changing who we are in order to please another person.
Sounds depressing, doesn’t it? But consider Frankie and the steel drums: self-conscious about her role in the group, and keenly aware of the specter of Troy, Frankie asks what made him so special. Jeff, ever in the mood to plant a joke, says that it was his steel-drum-playing abilities.
Cue final act: Frankie has learned to play the steel drums. It is so sweet, that she is so willing to acquire a new skill just to fit in. And so sad, that adult friendship—which is a term that perhaps does not accurately describe the group’s relationships—requires such a transformation.
Jeff, too, struggles with acceptance. Used to being the alpha male, he realizes that Elroy wants nothing to do with him. Elroy’s eventual decision to be Jeff’s friend is, like Frankie and the drums, sweet but troubling: Jeff must go to an awful lot of work—bringing Natalie is Freezing (lead singer: ‘90s icon Lisa Loeb) to campus, opening up about his emotions—in order to cement that friendship. Or strong acquaintanceship. Whatever.
Rick, formerly known as Subway and now a Honda guerrilla (not “gorilla,” Abed) marketer, understands about the give-and-take of friendship. His tactics were hilarious. As a Honda owner, I found myself nodding. You really can handle anything life throws at you with that sort of storage! But he also represents the work people must do in order to maintain relationships, and the work that Community must do in order to stay on
Rick’s return to Greendale has sad results for Britta, who has been struggling since her graduation. Her psych degree has prepared her for little more than tending bar—a job she already had—and she seems to be truly drifting through her ersatz adulthood. Britta, because she is lonely, is susceptible to the prospect of a true human connection. The sort that allows you to handle anything life throws at you.
Britta’s parents do seem to have that sort of connection, which makes their interactions with their belligerent daughter even more poignant: she hates them with the mindless rebellion of a youth she no longer inhabits, and they blissfully speak in a meandering, familiar style with one another. The only relationship on this show with that sort of cohesion is Annie and Abed. Abed and Troy, back in the day, had a similar almost-psychic connection. But Troy is gone, and only his steel drums remain.
Rick may be a guerrilla marketer for Honda, but we’re all guerrilla marketers for human connection. The Dean, though, can’t even connect fully with his own self. A Level Seven Susceptible, he imagines happiness is just one Honda away. (Isn’t it?) And, when forced to reflect on the results of that belief, he breaks down in Frankie’s arms. He can’t even get much pleasure from a steel-drums joke.
Does that mean this episode is proposing that we’re all doomed to a lonely existence? The more I think about it—and this season as a whole—the more I think that’s exactly what Dan Harmon is arguing. Without the Russo brothers’ tempering influence, Community seems to inhabit a sad-clown viewpoint: more sadness and fewer laughs are the orders of the day.
But, then again, perhaps not. Chang mastered Powerpoint, but not the magic of an egg that contains dollar bills. Perhaps Harmon is arguing that we can all win small victories. Like steel drums. Hugs. And always knowing whose ears you are wearing.
Know that, and you can handle anything life throws at you.
Cool Cool Cool:
• Number of times Yahoo Screen froze while I was watching this episode: 5.
• Number of times the closed-captioning randomly disappeared, requiring that I restart the episode from the beginning in order to bring it back: 2.
• Number of minutes the menu bar covered most of the screen while I was watching: 10 (approx.).
• Days after rewatching this episode that I read, here, that Yahoo Screen is officially dead: 1.
• On a scale of ten, likelihood that the aforementioned tech problems resulted in the lack of humor I found in this episode: 9.7.
• Community will, allegedly, still be available via the Yahoo main page.
I have no idea how to rate this. Three out of four ears?
Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, True Detective, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)
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