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Community: Laws of Robotics and Party Rights

“Mr. Winger, when did you stop being funny?”

Back in Season One, Community attempted to put a spin on the “it’s unfunny to a degree that it comes back around and is funny again” idea, and failed. “The Art of Discourse”—the one with the students who say “Duh!”—was about the way humor works, but that sort of meta-analysis is really the only good thing we can say about the episode. I would argue that the A-plot of “Laws of Robotics and Party Rights” is the same joke. With the same problems.

When Frankie institutes a lucrative prisoners-in-college program, Jeff reacts to the iPadding convicts like a wannabe teenager anxious to prove his cool. “The only difference between us is an orange jumpsuit—and that you have an iPad,” says Jeff “Cooly McCoolerson” Winger. “I’m a murderer,” responds Willy “Threatening and Manipulative Convict” Prisoner. And thus conflict is born.

Willy tries to kill Jeff, but his iPad-on-wheels is an ineffectual physical threat. He and Jeff get into a battle of wills. And, as Garrett points out in the quote at the top of this review, everything stops being funny while remaining horrifyingly “low-stakes” (Jeff’s phrase) for everyone but the Dean, who has developed a crush.

I can only assume that there’s a complicated meta-joke going on here about the nature of online streaming, since this is the Yahoo season that many of us are watching on tablets and laptops. Frankie used the iPrisoner program to get money; Dan Harmon used Yahoo the same way.

But I don’t quite know where the meta is supposed to go from there. Is Harmon implying that we took our desires for #sixseasonsandamovie too far? That we’re taking the whole online-streaming thing too seriously? Or is this another example of Community’s tendency towards cringe humor that reminds us, a bit too often, of how pathetic we all are?

If it’s that last option, it would tie into the downer ending of the B-plot, which started off with pure zaniness. Abed’s dissection of each person’s roles—Annie makes rules, Abed makes movies, Britta is Britta, etc.—highlights the way these three roomies can be in conflict while still learning a valuable lesson about themselves and their relationships.

I enjoyed the will-they-or-won’t-they-party plot, as well as the party itself. However, I’m not sure how I feel about the way that both Britta and Annie are so quick to manipulate Abed. My reaction might be influenced by the fact that I just watched “Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality,” in which Professor Hickey (remember him?) handcuffs Abed to a file cabinet. Like Juliette, I don’t love watching a vulnerable member of the study group taken advantage of and mistreated.

But Britta does get hoist with her own petard as Abed’s movie-party extends long past the regular “Britta party” hours. She also concludes with a sad statement about the nature of community (the abstract concept) in this sixth season: “Parties are…so people can feel more, see less, and not have to listen to each other or themselves.” It’s a fitting epilogue to a troubling episode whose cynicism rivals that of "GI Jeff," the episode that was sort of about suicide.

Wow, this show gets dark doesn’t it?

Cool Cool Cool:

• Britta, discussing what a “petard” is: “I guess I just assumed that a petard was a special outfit, like a leotard, with a lot of fancy buckles and loops on it, and that rich people would wear them when they were feeling especially smug, but then poor people would tie a rope to one of the loops and hoist them up a pole and let them dangle there as a punishment for being cocky.”

• Jeff: “Never look it up. Your explanation is way better.” True.

I have no idea how to rate this episode. Two out of four petards?

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

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