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Community: Digital Estate Planning

“I think we can choose how we want to play.”

[Don’t worry, communitarians: Mark got hit with a Community triple play this week, so I’m pinch-hitting for just this one review. Mark will return with your regularly schedule reviewing for “The First Chang Dynasty” and “Introduction to Finality.”]

“Digital Estate Planning” picks up where “Advanced Gay” left off, but it’s closest in theme and presentation to “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.” In that episode, Abed worked through his issues with his parents’ divorce by inhabiting a wacky Christmas TV special of his own creation, where he learned the power of community and having a place in a group of friends.

But while “Christmas” was childhood trauma filtered through Abed’s brain, “Digital Estate Planning” is reality filtered by the instigator of Pierce’s childhood trauma: his father, the racist jerk who died firmly believing in the supremacy of moist towelettes over video games. His father’s reach extends beyond the grave, and (rather by accident) includes the bizarre King Lear riff that Pierce must compete with his half-brother Gilbert to see which of them deserves the inheritance more. That conceit gives Pierce a chance to prove to himself that he’s better than his father, and more loved, by rewriting the (metaphorical) rules of the (metaphorical) game that he grew up in.

The simplistic, 80s-style video game was cute, as Annie’s frequent aww-ing indicated, and it allowed lots of fun sight gags like the penis-shaped Gay Island, wheelchair Free Ride Ferry, and Britta’s exploding hug. The simplistic narrative structure of beginning, journey, end—with the possibility of dying and being "reborn like heroes!"—fits a sitcom structure neatly. Of course, it’s Abed who is able to see beyond the here, there, and sometimes back-again structure of the game by some pragmatic bonding with the sexy blacksmith’s daughter, which results in babies who say cool cool cool and multiply like digital bunnies.

By characterizing Abed as narrative trickster who can bend imagined realities to his formidable will and neatly analytical brain, Community opens the possibility of meta elements without (most of the time) taking us too far out of the reality of the show. When it doesn’t work, it’s rather annoying. But most of the time it does work, and this week is no exception: Pierce needed Abed’s skill in order to win the game. Abed’s complicated narratological maneuverings allowed Pierce to complete the simplest of narrative journeys: what folklorists call "Lack" and "Lack Liquidated." Pierce lacked an ability to separate himself from his father’s disappointment, and only had six rather than seven close friends, but he liquidated that lack by learning that he is a better man than his father, and acquiring not just a seventh friend but a half-brother.

Bits and Pieces:

• Lots of great lines in this one, so this is just a sampling.

• Gilbert: “Before that, I was just a teenager who read the Bible to him in the bath.”

• Britta: “We’re fighting for friendship, which means we can’t lose.” [tries to hug Pierce, he explodes.] “I guess there’s no hug button.”

• Hilda: “I have information on the following topics.”
Abed: “Where have you been my whole life.”

• Troy: “Jeff bet all our lives on Britta and won.”

• I love Shirley’s reaction to the murder of Hilda’s family.

• If Troy lost poker, why was Pierce naked?

• Giancarlo Esposito!

As the first part of the three-episode block that finishes Community’s third season, this episode was oddly placed. There is no particular reason is had to be slotted here rather than elsewhere, but that’s okay. I’m not enamored of the Chang-plot that has dominated the past couple episodes, and I definitely enjoyed every minute of this break from reality (whatever that means on this show).

Three out of four evil giant lightening Gilberts.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

8 comments:

  1. So, so weird. And yet, for the gleeful massacre of Hilda's family, Troy bouncing around like a mad thing and Jeff heroically rushing to save Annie from creepy Mario-esque monsters, totally worth it!

    (glad you guy are splitting the episodes into 3 separate reviews. That was a lot of Community all at once!)

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  2. I didn't think I'd like this one, but I absolutely loved it.

    Just read some news I didn't want to hear. Dan Harmon has been forced out and won't be running the show next season. Crap.

    http://tvline.com/2012/05/18/community-season-4-dan-harmon-out/

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  3. As someone who grew up playing 8-bit video games so I loved this entire episode. Wonderful review, Josie. Thanks again for helping out.

    It is such a shame to hear about Harmon's departure. As if I wasn't worried enough about season 4 this had to go and happen.

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  4. Billie,

    Those news worry me. I'm afraid we're going to loose the Magic next Fall. Oh heck, time will tell

    Couldn't help about thinking the IT crowd while watching this ep.

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  6. Eh just two episode till the end of real Community and the beginning of watererd down Community. But I hope they won;t screw up everything. Maybe the actors will stop the new showrunners...

    Back to the episode: Pure Brilliance. As a gamer I hate when the medium is misrepresented, but Community does it right again. They nailed most of Ad&D and now they nailed 8-bit games. Wonderfull.

    Deleted my previous version cause it could be read as a criticism of Community's attempt at gaming parody. It's actually the opposite what i ment. ;)

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  7. I'm not a gamer, but I liked this one. During this episode, I was thinking about all the parodies this show does. I have decided that the more I know about the source material (GoodFellas, Law & Order), the more I enjoy the episode.

    But, and this is a compliment, you don't have to really know the material to enjoy the parody. This is a perfect example.

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  8. LOL for the "real " baby at the end saying cool, cool, cool.

    TWO DAYS !!!!!!!!!!!

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