SPOILERS AHEAD, so study up cautiously, Community buffs…
Season Five, Episode Eight: “App Development and Condiments”
Written by Jordan Blum & Parker Deay; Directed by Rob Schrab
After last week’s less-than-stellar return, Community revisits what it does best: high-concept episodes. The Dean brings a new app into Greendale for beta testing, and just like a quick game of Hot Lava, the school community devolves into a dystopic mess. All of which is way more interesting than the writers’ attempts to make Duncan likable.
After another successful Save Greendale committee meeting, Chang brings up the matter of Jeff’s upcoming dinner party. Shirley is offended to learn that she was not invited. But Jeff did not feel obligated to invite her since he knew she had a standing engagement with her son that night. Shirley huffs, puffs, and gets ready to unleash the biggest onslaught of passive aggression this side of the millennium.
Before the committee breaks, however, the Dean brings in a pair of app designers who want to use Greendale to beta test their new social media app, MeowMeowBeenz (does a more absurd series of noises exist?), which allows people to rate each other with one to five MeowMeowBeenz stars (shaped like kitty heads), with ratings averaged based on number of votes. The app is given out to all of Greendale to allow students and teachers alike to rate each other, and, thus, publicly show how they feel about each other. You can see where this is going, right?
MeowMeowBeenz Beta Test Day 1
Jeff, who has not downloaded MeowMeowBeenz, is shocked to see how it has already affected the social strata, upending everyone’s concept of “cool.” Abed succinctly explains that “MeowMeowBeenz takes everything subjective and unspoken about human interaction and reduces it to explicit, objective numbers.” Chang limps by revealing that because he got more MeowMeowBeenz stars when he had a limp earlier he is now affecting a limp so people will like him (kind of like Tina’s stutter — side note: Can you imagine MeowMeowBeenz on Glee?). Buzz is doing the same thing by throwing on a birthday hat, claiming no one would rate someone poorly on their birthday.
Britta joined the app too, enjoying that it “gives a voice to the unheard.” But Annie soon gets her sucked into the shallowness of it all: She learns that ratings are exponentially weighted — so the higher your rating, the more value it has when you rate someone else. (Trouble is brewing.) “The more others like you the more likable you can make others,” Annie defends. Britta tries to play the Hitler card once more, to Annie’s frustration.
“You’re letting a video game play you!”, Britta says, appalled. She also accidentally got a smudge of mustard on her cheek. Jeff has her wipe it off before she shouts out her views to the cafeteria, and everyone down-rates her in response. But Jeff is quick to point out that he took her more seriously when she had the mustard on her face. Annie agrees, claiming it distracts from Britta’s “intensity.” Britta is not amused.
Shirley comes waltzing into the cafeteria, throwing out compliments the way Oprah gives out cars. Shirley is a Five, suddenly making her as popular as Regina George. Vicki gives her a four, and Shirley publicly thanks her, her voice dripping with passive aggression. In less than a minute, Vicki has been down-rated to a One (she runs out of the room crying). Jeff doesn’t buy Shirley’s “nice” act one bit, downloading the app so he can become a five and expose Shirley’s manipulative nature.
MeowMeowBeenz Beta Test Day 2
Jeff has won over a gang of bros, earning him a second MeowMeowBeenz star. Already Twos and Threes have started dressing in gray so they don’t look like they’re trying too hard to be social climbers. Shirley smilingly confronts Jeff, telling him she’ll be keeping her eye on him.
MeowMeowBeenz Beta Test Day 8
Status ranking has officially taken over, with everyone forced to wear their phone on their sleeve so as to easily show their MeowMeowBeenz rank. Twos and Ones wear gray uniforms befitting of a prison. Threes can become guards who keep out the lower ranked people from the upper classes. Fours wear absurd futuristic clothing befitting the Capital in The Hunger Games. And Fives, who have their own inner sanctum, are clothed all in white.
Chang and Buzz are both Fives, having worked their schticks to the top. With them are Shirley, Abed, and Koogler. (Who is this Koogler who has been dropped into Greendale Nikki and Paolo style?*) The Fives are worried about an uprising from the Twos and Threes, and so they develop a talent contest to allow everyone to rate each other en masse.
Still a Two, Britta gets caught in the Fours’ hall; Jeff, now a Four, grabs her and hides in an office. Jeff can’t crack into the top because the Fives have a tyrannical grasp on the ratings. Britta compels him to join the talent contest to prove he can be a Five and take down the system.
At the contest, the Dean tries to convince Jeff not to risk his social standing to become a Five. A Three performing baton tossing gets a thumb down from Shirley and is instantly down-rated to a One. He is escorted to the Outlands. Jeff goes out and performs a stand-up comedy act that entertains everyone. Before Shirley can manipulate the crowd into stopping Jeff, Koogler declares him a Five. (Just like that, Jeff has won the Hunger Games!)
Having infiltrated the Fives, Jeff and Shirley try to manipulate the others into down-rating each other. They soon openly fight in front of everyone, and the other Fives rate them both down to a One, banishing them to the Outlands. In the plebe lands, Britta slaps some mustard on her face and incites the masses of Twos and Threes to rise up against the Fives. She leads her Review-lution right into their inner sanctum where they take over the Fives.
In the Outlands, Jeff and Shirley reach an understanding, seeing an admirable like-mindedness in each other. Starburns brings them back, because Britta, the Mother of Ones, has decreed that all former Fives be put on trial. “All Fives must be cleansed of their Five filth and be reduced to their One-ness,” she says. Seeing that Britta has now become the tyrant she fought so hard to overthrow, Jeff steps in to “pull the plug” on the whole thing.
“There is still a Five among us that has not been cleansed,” he dramatically declares. This Five, he claims, cheated because it never registered yet was given a Five from outside the system. The Five is the MeowMeowBeenz app, and it has a five star rating, now that the app has gone live (and costs 99 cents). Jeff deletes the app from his phone, and soon everyone follows suit.
In a normal Greendale the next week, Jeff invites Shirley to dinner, working around her schedule so they can hang out. Looks like these Fives learned their lesson.
The high concept episodes will (almost) always be more entertaining. Drawing from dystopias in pop culture (amongst other sci-fi tropes), this episode is another stellar addition to Community’s collection of parody episodes. It hits the right vein of witty and inventive, and shows, once again, how easily society could fall apart (theoretically). Personally, I even liked this one more than “Geothermal Escapism.”
Now for some random thoughts and my favorite moments of the night…
*Koogler is a Van Wilder-type party-loving playboy portrayed by Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz. The tag ending plays up this Van Wilder parody with a fake 80s-style trailer for a Koogler movie.
Jeff to Abed, who is excited by the new app: “As long as you’re happy, I’m unsettled.”
Buzz on joining the new app: “Mark Zuckerberg is Fidel Castro in flip-flops. MeowMeowBeenz is gonna make East Berlin look like Woodstock.” Jeff’s response: “Do you own stock in Trivial Pursuit’s Baby Boom Edition?”
Britta, with mustard on her face: “Just make sure you know the real reason you’re doing something or you’ll fail before you start.”
The Dean on the rankings: “You know what they say: Fives have lives, Fours have chores, Threes have fleas, Twos have blues, and Ones don’t get a rhyme because they’re garbarge.”
Britta to a security guard who won’t let her pass: “I’m gonna free people’s minds! I’m a Psych major, words are my weapons.” His response: “I’m a security guard, weapons are my weapons.”