Tuesday, May 12, 2015

REVIEW: 'Community' - Abed Tries to Make a Story Happen During a Road Trip in 'Basic RV Repair and Palmistry'

Yahoo Screen's Community - Episode 6.10 "Basic RV Repair and Palmistry"

During a road trip to unload one of Greendale's useless artifacts, Abed turns the situation into a flashback-filled feature film.

The basic story of "Basic RV Repair and Palmistry" is Abed trying to make a story happen out of the gang's road trip in Elroy's RV while transporting a giant and useless statue of an arm. It's a lackluster story that has basically nothing to it. This is one of the shorter episodes of the season - although it's still longer than the average NBC episode. And yet, everything about the main story felt forced, unnatural and, simply put, not all that funny.

This episode does such a strong disservice to the Abed of seasons past. The show has enjoyed using that character as a meta commentator for the series itself. He believes that everyone is in a TV show and that he is the only person aware of it. It has been a part of the character for six seasons now. However, this episode just expands on that concept far too much. It takes the basic character archetype of Abed and goes as completely broad as possible. The end result is him literally needing to force flashbacks to happen multiple times. It's awkward watching him make squinting faces as he tries to will it into existence. That's forced in a way that isn't rewarding to the character or the structure of the episode.

In fact, the only purpose it serves is in pointing out that there is no structure or story to this episode. In his big moment of realization, Abed declares that he Christopher Nolan Inception'ed it. And yet, was the whole plot of the episode worth it to get to that one joke? Not really. There's basically nothing else happening with the other characters throughout the episode. It's a simple story of Dean Pelton not wanting the rest of the gang to get rid of this useless statue. And yet, that's not deeply rooted in something personal. It's just odd and random. There is a good thought about the Dean always crying and apologizing and that not having weight in the arguments anymore. But that thread doesn't go anywhere. It just leads to more whining and pouting by the main characters. There is no effort being made to get out of this situation they find themselves in. All they have to do is wait - and waiting around with nothing to do is a painfully boring episode of television.

Abed's intentions are good. He wants to make this episode better than it actually is. And yet, the show itself basing so much of the episode around that one character story just doesn't work as well as it desperately wants it to. It's going too far into the meta commentary it has done before. It's nothing but meta jokes on display here. And that does not add up to an enriching experience. Sure, there are some fine and funny moments - like Annie and Frankie constantly being placed on hold because the other person is also on the line, Jeff's reaction to Britta in the hand and Britta still being the worst in Abed's future vision. But those strong comedic moments are far and few in between.

In fact, the strongest thing about this episode has nothing to do with any of the regular characters. Instead it is the tag sequence that features the human side of the person who wanted to purchase this huge hand in the first place. Because of the time restrictions being less important on Yahoo Screen, Community this season has been able to do these weird and instantly funny and memorable tag sequences. That has always been a part of the show's DNA. And yet, this season they play more as these intimate miniature segments with a beginning, middle and end. The story of this man needing this hand because he needs to believe that one day his son will come falling out of the sky after he flew away in an oversized kite is a weird and tragic comedic beat. It's still very much in keeping with the show's overall tone while still aspiring for something much greater. This episode does have some value for the sole sake of producing this wonderful closing segment. It was weird and offbeat in the best possible ways. Now, if only that same kind of energy could be used on the main characters again - and not in a way that simply plays with the same character traits that have been on display for six seasons now. Community is no longer the fresh, young show. These tricks with its main characters have become commonplace. So now, more effort needs to be made into making them special. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Basic RV Repair and Palmistry" was written by Dan Guterman and directed by Jay Chandrasekhar.
  • Abed has a beard in his vision of the future. And yet, he is not an evil version of himself. In fact, he uses that reality to get approval for what he has just done in the actual present.
  • If nothing else, at least Abed got to deliver the classic Jeff Winger speech in this episode. Jeff basically had no idea what to do with Abed - it's up to Frankie to give Abed the proper motivation. 
  • There weren't enough jokes about Elroy's RV. There were a few good ones - Jeff and the gang still being able to hear Elroy and the Dean even with the divider between them, every phone plus a hair dryer plugged into the same outlet, etc. But it should have been more of a focus considering it was his fault that they got stranded on the side of the road in the first place.