Mar 6, 2014

Thom Bitches About Community: "App Development and Condiments"

Joel McHale
In the ashes of a failed column comes the reformed birth of Thom Bitches About Community: a weekly look at the beloved Dan Harmon sitcom that chooses to push boundaries and throw a meta cocktail into the face of every sitcom currently out there. With the return of the show's creator after a rocky, disastrous season four, we take a look at the show and try and capture what exactly makes the show worth checking out all these years later. Keep an eye out for it every Thursday night following the episode unless otherwise specified.

It seems ingenious enough that Community would have a high concept episode. They have had quite a few in the season already, but none have attempted to explore dystopian hierarchy in inventive or clever ways. With this episode, they officially challenge the concepts of one of the most popular sci-fi genres of the current moment with The Hunger Games franchise. Mixed with a technological desire to be admired, the overall concept of the episode is inspired, though the weirdness doesn't quite come with as many laughs.
This isn't a problem for Community, which revels in the weirdness. Even when the show isn't very funny, it can rely on inventions and concepts to deliver some of the most interesting satire on TV at the moment. The episode begins rather simply with two men (Steve Agee and Brian Posehn) handing out an app called MeowMeowBeenz, which is in the beta testing mode at Greendale. The basic structure is that on a 1-5 scale, it rates how much other people like you. With fives being next to godliness, it is easy to see how the jurisdiction and structure of this universe works. 
The person most in charge of it is Shirley (Yvette Nichole Brown), who takes advantage of it and ends up creating the structure into the nightmarish world that it is along with Koogler (Mitch Hurwitz), who is too cool for school, but is still in school anyways. Britta (Gillian Jacobs) is on the opposite spectrum and is only respected when she has mustard on her face. The whole episode plays as everyone trying to obtain the glorious five rating and Britta's attempt to take it down. 
The concept itself is inventive and structured in a way where the laughs feel secondary. Seeing the different environments allows us to see Greendale's equivalence of clicks and hierarchies. We see the hostility and desperation in the students in fresh new ways. Even the fives and their ridiculous rituals involving blue orbs all are meant to be dystopian satire. It works, but mostly in a weird way. It won't make you laugh, but in terms of satire, this is some of the strongest that the show has done all season. It questions hierarchy and technology and tears it down in profoundly deep and inspiring ways. Most of all, it reflects that the whole idea and addiction to acceptance is something that consumes us all despite meaning absolutely nothing. It is a concept that is very stupid, but it only allows for the weirdness to overtake everyone.
If there is one striking thing about this episode, it is the massive amount of cameos. From the opening scene, Steve Agee and Brian Poshen start off the guest stars on a small note by introducing the chaos. They're nothing more than plot devices in the grand scheme. Cut to Mitch Hurwitz as Koogler and you get the most enjoyable. His lackadaisical approach to life is the show's high point and even features a delightful trailer over the closing credits for a fake Van Wilder-esque movie about him. Then there is Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim for some unknown reason dressed in flashy garb and make-up. Also, if you look in the background, you can see Jen Kirkman. These names may not immediately connect to majority of people watching NBC in general, but comedy fans will notice everyone and wonder why they were all packed into one episode. It doesn't matter, because it all just adds to the strangeness.
I am still worried that Abed (Danny Pudi) is slowly being written off the show, but there is some good news on the horizon: Donald Glover is reportedly coming back! I hope that this happens next season, as it will restore some faith. As evident in this episode, he is struggling to blend in with everyone to avoid being praised. If that isn't a meta commentary on a meta character, then I don't know what is. The poor guy needs to have a story that feels as worthwhile as the rest of the cast, which seem like they are having a ball in this episode.
With exception to Chang (Ken Jeong) being a five (he is the show's worst character after all), this episode was very good. It may have not been as bitingly funny, but it had plenty of great moments and inventive techniques that keep my faith in the Community weirdness. Most of all, it took real-life issues and satirized it to the point of ridiculousness. I cannot call it a favorite, but the writing continues to prove that this show has interior motives that drive it to tear apart genre matters and find new truth to enter into the sitcom realm. For that, Community is as good as it ever was.

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