Apr 3, 2014

Thom Bitches About Community: "G.I. Jeff"

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.
I will admit to enjoying episodes of Community that have pushed the boundaries of what a TV show can do. There is infinite joy in the stop motion animation that is "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" that played with the idea of Abed's (Danny Pudi) vision of a childlike world in which everything fit his demands. Even the 8-bit magic in "Digital Estate Planning" was equally fun because it explored the realm of what Pierce's relationship to his father was really like. In fact, the show's pop culture sensibilities have been key in helping characters overcome obstacles of recessive attitudes while being clever homages. Community may seem like a strange, niche, novelty show as a result, but those episodes work for those who don't care for the animation style because they extend beyond those tropes into actual story.
It isn't that "G.I. Jeff" isn't full of story, it is just not a very interesting one. Jeff (Joel McHale) doesn't want to turn 40, so he regresses into an explicit G.I. Joe parody with the entire cast entering this strange realm. As Abed points out, it is a cartoon with stiff animation and bad syncing. It is also probably the most niche of its animation homages and therefore may isolate audiences the most. Add in some parodies of G.I. Joe toy commercials and the meta commentary extends into overkill (and we're not talking about Chang's character name, which aptly fits). 
While it would probably fit for G.I. Joe fans to have all of these small references, it seems desperate to everyone else. This is most notably because despite it being loyal to the source material, it doesn't really cover much group. It may have an Abed-sensibility, but commenting on every flaw and Shirley's (Yvette Nichole Brown) three kids are all jokes that land flat. The episode believes that things will ride on the basis that the animation style is kitschy and funny. Also, Annie's (Allison Brie) boobs are prominently discussed because of the animation style.
In fact, there aren't that many discernible features within the G.I. Joe parody to constitute it as a particularly strong episode. At most, it is a G.I. Joe parody within the context of a Wizard of Oz payoff. Jeff regressed to childhood in order to escape becoming an old teacher guy. Fair enough, but there isn't anything fun or authentic that is brought because of that. We get plenty of odd moments, but the ending doesn't resolve much of the conflict presented. Then again, there isn't much. This is just a very weak version of "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas." The only advantage is that it is streets ahead of that godawful Greendale Babies thing from last season.
I do fear that I am becoming burned out on what made Community unique in the first place. These themed episodes don't hold the weight that they once had. Yes, the season as a whole has been rapidly off and on at various points, but it does feel like there is unfortunate wear. Yes, Dan Harmon has breathed life back into the show, but it can only be fresh for so long. There is rumors going around that the campaign of "Six seasons and a movie" from season three is going to become a reality. I don't want the show to survive if that's the only case. I get that some episodes need to exist to please fans, but G.I. Joe parodying does feel a little much on the pandering side.
Then again, there is still enough charm for me to stick with the show, at least for the season's remainder. However, the deeper it goes into nerdy territory, the less appealing it gets. We've had four episodes back-to-back regarding dystopian ruling, VHS video games, Dungeons and Dragons, and now G.I. Joe specifically. It feels like these episodes are becoming niche examples of desperation to recognize a show for being different than to actually do something fun with them. Maybe I just don't get G.I. Joe, but that shouldn't be the point. I don't like 8-bit all that much, but the "Digital Estate Planning" episode is really brilliant. It transcends the novelty with an underlying plot of human connectivity. At most, we get that Jeff is having a crisis, and that isn't all that fun.
Anyways, here's hoping that the show's remaining episodes aren't just calls to different themes. If anything, they feel like deterrents after this point. I want the show to do a "real" episode that doesn't feel like a series of familiar techniques. It may not be the best, but it will be a reminder of what the show does best. Right now, it is stuck on overkill and I may end up really loathing watching "G.I. Jeff" in reruns. It is too aware of itself to really tell any powerful jokes.

No comments:

Post a Comment