by Thom Yee

Community images courtesy of NBCUniversal Television Distribution

Community images courtesy of NBCUniversal Television Distribution

5×08:  “App Development and Condiments”

With this week’s episode, I think I finally understand what people mean when they say, “I don’t really get ‘Community’.”

Don’t get me wrong, I got most of the jokes, being the learned individual I am, but most of “App Development and Condiments” really didn’t hit home for me.  I’m a huge fan of seventies dystopian sci-fi movies, which is to say I’ve read the wiki plot synopses and then watched the trailers of several of them, but not having lived through any part of that decade (thank god) and not having forced myself to sit through any movies from before the mid-eighties, I’m just not totally feeling the episode I’ve just watched.

When app developers decide to beta test their social media app, MeowMeowBeenz, at Greendale, the resulting ability of everyone to rate everyone else on a five-point scale (with higher-rated people’s votes counting for more than lower-rated) brings about a caste system where Fives rule, Fours follow desperately at their coattails, Threes and Twos are trapped in their (literally) gray social stratas, and Ones are banished to the outlands (with requisite seventies [and eighties]-style blowing dust, garbage, trash cans with burning contents and haphazardly placed barbed wire).

Community s5 - Zardos

The price of dystopia?

I watched this episode twice, partially because of time shifting and mostly because of having nothing else to do on a Thursday night, and it did grow on me on the second viewing, but “App Development and Condiments”, along with last week’s “Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality”, so far represents the low point of the season.  Even being somewhat beyond my immediate grasp, though, this was a funny episode, even if there are few laugh-out-loud moments.  I particularly loved Starburns’ Sean Connery from Zardoz outfit.  To be clear, I have no idea what Zardoz is beyond what’s suggested by that costume, but that costume is definitely striking and iconic enough to leave a pretty strong impression on even the least impressionable.

Now of course most of the point of dystopian stories is to show us a glimpse of a horrific future brought on by the societal changes that we’re kind of already on the road to, and we’re brought back to that fact by the same token that got us here in the first place:  the MeowMeowBeenz app.  I can remember a time when my greatest vision of the future vis-à-vis technology was the thought of a mobile phone connected to and exchanging meaningful data with a computer, and by now it’s pretty clear that smartphones — be they expressed through handsets, tablets, glasses or watches — are the great equalizer that will carry us into the future.  What instantly accessible data portends for generations of thought leaders, cronies, followers and bullies has yet to become clear, but if it means a world where men can publicly wear red underwear held up by crossed, shotgun-shell-holding suspenders outside of cosplay settings… then count me in.

As much as this episode may have missed the mark with me, I can’t say it was due to any obvious lack of quality.  Sure, some of it felt a little lazy (which doesn’t necessarily detract from the apparent ambition), the storytelling is more than a little compressed, and there’s too much thematic material being thrown around, capped off by a Back to School-esque trailer that closed the show (which would’ve fit better in an episode that was in any way Rodney-Dangerfield-inspired).  What lies at the heart of the episode, however, is an attention and dedication to its dystopic seventies inspirations that manages to hold the episode on a level beyond just okay.  The set design and audio cues are particularly Logan’s Run, watching the Fives dance was inspired (and explicitly [and cleverly] called out by Abed), and it all comes together better than it seems at first.  Having said that, I generally feel that, for any reasonably intelligent audience, Community is a show that’s usually strong enough to transcend anyone’s individual lack of pop culture knowledge, and, in that sense, “App Development and Condiments” doesn’t quite make it.

Community “App Development and Condiments” final score:  7

Items of Note

-Am I the only one who’s really tempted to wrist mount my phone now?

-Even after everything we’ve seen this former study group go through together, there’s something about dinner as a regular group occurrence that feels overly intimate.

-Guest star Mitch Hurwitz, creator of Arrested Development!

-I like how when Jeff makes “Girls are objects!” his standard sign off, it just feels so right.

-And just for the hell of it:

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