Glimpse of Past Greatness Revealed in ‘Community’ (TV REVIEW)

[rating=7.00]

In an effort to bring Community from the dregs of streaming hell, Harmon and company began this week’s episode with another nod to the fact that everything has been a boring mess. “Advanced Safety Features” isn’t the worst, and that’s a start.

In the opening sequence, Frankie discusses the weekly school happenings with the gang. The big problem this week is guerilla marketing by crafty companies looking for easy prey at the community colleges. She eventually turns to Chang asking if he has the power point for city council ready. In a true Chang moment, he responds with a power point detailing his failure at creating a power point; sound bites, animation, and all. The pièce de résistance being the moment where he pulled a John Hammond and got interactive with his presentation, pulling an egg “from the screen” and cracking it down on a table. Frankie decides to move the council meeting, and Elroy bails. The question of “where does Elroy fit in” begins to circulate around the table. Is he “Black Pierce”, “Old Troy” or “Purseless Shirley”? No one seems to know as they all admit to wading in a boring rut after Troy left. Alright Harmon, I’m listening. Frankie persists in finding out about the past members of the group, and Jeff uses this as an opportunity to screw with her, telling her that Troy used to play steel drums. Now on her wild goose chase, the game is afoot.

The importance in this opening sequence was the subtle foolishness in Chang’s presentation, and the somber attitude towards the loss of Troy. Where last week I was searching for a shift in the show, this week it seems to be finding that stride. I’m hoping this Troy talk leads to a later cameo by Donald Glover, but at the least it’s acknowledged to the viewers that the characters have been a bit trite in both this and past seasons.

Annie finds Britta in the hallway to warn her that “sub guy” is back. A man Britta was once head over heels for, she immediately ditches Annie in the middle of her “you’re better off” speech. Turns out, the sandwich guy is also the undercover guerilla marketing guru who convinced the Dean to run out and buy a Honda fit. He’s rugged, and drives a big car now, but it’s still him. Britta angrily stomps up, slapping him around a little to satiate her need for revenge. He stops her, reassuring her he has an identity now, Rick. He explains that he came back to the campus for her, which of course probably isn’t true as Honda is paying him to sell their products discreetly. Britta gives up, annoyed that nothing has actually changed. Rick however convinces her to take a look at the Honda’s back seat before they’re just friends. Damnit Britta. Annie and Abed, in a plan to get Elroy to like them more invite him to a game night in the library. Jeff finds their efforts ridiculous, instead employing his usual sit around and look cool approach. Back at the Honda CRV, Britta is again determined to get away from Rick. He explains that they can have a relationship with parameters, but just as she’s about to give in the Dean shows up, ready to buy more crap. Rick is torn between Britta and his job, but ultimately chooses Honda knowing the Dean is the impressionable crowd they target.

As it turns out, Abed and Annie’s plan worked like a charm. Elroy attends game night with bells on. It isn’t until Jeff walks in that he becomes the surely curmudgeon he’s been portraying throughout the season. As Britta goes back to her life working in the bar, Billy Zane suddenly appears! Half bald, and still pretty foxy. He turns out to be Rick’s boss, and the two of them offer Britta a job as Rick’s “girlfriend”, a role she will play in a more complex guerilla marketing scheme. She agrees, and as the two make out, Zane disappears. A moment shrouded in mystery for about ten seconds before Britta points out that he’s actually hiding under the bar. The next day they begin to artfully sell cars to unwitting coeds on campus. Jeff’s suspicions that Elroy may not like him grows stronger as he attempts to join him and the others for lunch, only for Elroy to get up and leave. The group maintains that he must reach out, and be a person. Jeff stomps away, pretending to be indignant, but quietly planning his next move. Frankie goes to check on the Dean where she finds that he’s completely fallen into the Honda scheme. She insults him over and over with impunity before she realizes she’s being an awful bitch. The Dean then breaks, crying in his sea of Honda merchandise.

The storyline in this episode isn’t so far-fetched that couldn’t happen in real life, but it still plays into the magical sensibilities that Community generally does well with. I’m hoping that Honda offered to sponsor the show, and in doing so agreed to any storyline that writers came up with. It’s still spotlighting their product, but allowing the series to keep its wacky antics in a way that aren’t affected by the big name. Billy Zane’s cameo is unexpected and hilarious. Where last week they wasted their celebrity cameo, this week they went all out. Is that what Billy Zane looks like now by the way? Because the whole young Sean Connery thing looks good on him.

Britta takes Rick to meet her parents where he continues to try and sell products to them. Her parents are doing their best to entertain the two, and don’t notice the marketing, upsetting Britta and pushing Rick to do more to make her parents trust them as sales people. Meanwhile, Jeff goes out of his way to get Elroy’s approval by booking his favorite band “Natalie is Freezing” fronted by real life songstress Lisa Loeb. Elroy confirms his distaste for Jeff and storms off, upset that Jeff is doing so much to please him. After Britta angrily storms away from Rick, Elroy shows up to the bar she’s working at and explains that he dated Julie (Loeb) from the band. “She messed me up…” he explains, Britta, still angry about Rick gets into a fight with Elroy about letting down your walls and dropping your “thing that castles have” while wildly swinging her arms about. After a back and forth, and a tiny Britta meltdown, Rick shows up. He is quitting Honda to be with her. Elroy, sad and lonely, sits back down at the bar after Britta abandons her post. “A drawbridge!” He figures out, too late for Britta, but just in time for himself.

Britta and Rick make it to the dance. After a dropped tip from Frankie, Rick explains to Britta that he’s going to do this “one last job”, leaving her alone and inadvertently choosing his job over her. Elroy shows up to confront Julie, explaining that because of her, he cannot love anyone else. He ends the confrontation by calling her a “jaded hipster a-hole”. As he walks away, Jeff tries to do the same to Elroy, only to find that the subject of his problems is no longer mean. Britta tries to catch up to Rick who is being escorted off the campus. The Dean gets validation from Frankie, and as Britta laments her lost love, Billy Zane pops back up. He offers Britta a place in the salesforce, and when she declines, makes her turn away so he may “disappear” once again. This time he vaguely hides behind a pillar.  Natalie is Freezing plays out the episode with Frankie on the steel drums.

Truthfully I will likely remain skeptical of the series, but this was the first time the light heartedness of Community really showed through. The previous relationship building efforts between characters have always felt so forced, but this episode’s storylines were in sync with one another both vaguely and in depth enough to maintain interest. I’m happy to see the difference in writing, and will now hold out hope that Troy may make his triumphant return later in the season.

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