Thursday, March 13, 2014

REVIEW: 'Community' - Annie and Abed Play a Game to Pick a Roommate in 'VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing'

NBC's Community - Episode 5.08 VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing

Jeff, Shirley and Hickey discover a hidden cache of textbook and they struggle with how to monetize their windfall. Abed and Annie decide it's time for a new roommate, but disagree when he wants his friend Rachel to move in while she wants her brother. The winner is decided by an old VCR game.

Season 5 of Community has been a fairly good season. It's gone to some pretty interesting emotional places with the characters. And yet, it also hasn't been a big or noteworthy season for Dean Pelton. They've reined in his elaborate costumes and he's only appeared in small scenes for the majority of the season. "VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing" opens with him entering the study room dressed as a Payday to try and explain the lack of money for the teachers. It leads to one of the funniest bits that character has ever done as his rap trying to explain it goes so out-of-control. The cherry on top was his declaration that "he didn't know where that they came from." It was a great moment both for that character and a way to open this episode.

Another key comedic highlight from the episode came when Annie and Abed played the VCR with complete comprehension of all of its rules. I love it when characters play a game that makes no sense to us but they have a full understanding of all of its wackiness. Seeing Annie and Abed spin around and shoot left me just as puzzled as Rachel and Annie's brother but also in a state of laughter.

But that story was essentially building up to Abed's "Act 3 apology" to Rachel. It also happens to be one big character moment for Abed. Troy's departure left a void in Abed and Annie's lives. They try to fit her brother or Rachel into that hole. It just doesn't work like that. They had a special friendship with Troy. That bond took time to build. This story is much more about Abed and Rachel then it is about Annie and her brother - although I really enjoyed that he is her opposite in just about every way.

Last week showcased how dominating and manipulative Shirley can be. She really does hold the most power amongst the group when she choices to use it. The stakes of her plot with Jeff, Hickey, Chang and Britta is much smaller stakes than what occurred in the last episode - even though the beats and resolution are pretty similar (not just to the last episode but to every story about partners growing suspicious of the others trying to cheat them out of money). It's also just better because of that simplicity.

Some more thoughts:
  • "VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing" was written by Donald Diego and directed by Tristram Shapeero.
  • I just love Brie Lawson as Rachel. I hope this isn't the last time we see her - as she heads off to success with a movie career.
  • Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan played the host of the VCR game. It was a fun little cameo plus a tag scene whose humor is all about making fun of technology with the knowledge of hindsight.
  • But I also approve Community being a place for creators of successful shows to come to for cameo appearances - Gilligan tonight and Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz last week.