by Thom Yee
5×09: “VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing”
Probably like a lot of Community viewers, I hadn’t given a lot of thought towards Annie and Abed being roommates without Troy. But really, as soon as you think about it, as soon as there’s even the slightest mention of it, your thoughts start going down some weird, largely unnatural paths. As Abed identified early in season one, Annie and Abed are like the Chandler and Phoebe (in that order) of the show, and the two really just don’t fit together that well, with natural pair ups virtually never resulting in the two being together without a separate mediating force. Now that Troy’s gone, we find out that there’s a natural friction between the two, and it makes sense, even if you never thought about it. Sure, Abed isn’t academically driven or competitive, and Annie isn’t a near-emotionless pop culture cypher, but if the two ever have to compete for the same thing, they’re probably the two most dangerous characters on the show.
The title of this week’s episode, “VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing” is more on the nose than usual, with two totally discrete stories, the first involving VCRs and the second involving textbooks. In first our story, Annie wants her brother Anthony to move in with them because he’s handy and has money, while Abed wants Rachel to move in for reasons we find out later that open up the character in ways we rarely see. Over dinner with the four, Annie and Abed wind up using the VHS-based, Wild West shooting game Rachel bought as a kitschy gift for their one-month anniversary to decide which way to go. Of course, the game is utterly and completely incomprehensible to all but the most dedicated, and while Anthony and Rachel quickly give up, unaware what meaning the game truly holds, Annie and Abed proceed through the game with such zeal that it tests their relationships with each other and with those they’re playing for.
Meanwhile in our second, the rest of the gang run across a stash of pristine, seemingly forgotten text books in an obscure alcove of the Greendale grounds that they plan to sell for profit. But as their plans grow, so too does their distrust for each other, resulting in more and more members of the group being tied up in a chair (first Chang, then Jeff, then, suddenly and off camera, Britta and Hickey). Clearly the lesser of the two stories — the concept doesn’t really have anything to do with anything, doesn’t really say anything new about our characters, and doesn’t connect back to our overall episode arc — it’s still the kind of wacky, contained adventure that’s enjoyable to watch, though less so with this little time left in the series (we’ve only got four episodes left and no guarantee of a sixth season yet). It’s illustrative of the level of flexible reality the show enjoys, particularly the fact that Shirley somehow overpowered and tied up both Britta and Hickey at the same time. It’s the kind of thing that stretches the central conceits of the show without breaking them while also feeling somehow entirely plausible and even preferable. There’s something so satisfying and almost reassuring about Shirley being the physically strongest member of the group.
For the most part, though the two are far from receiving the lion’s share of screen time, “VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing” winds up being an Abed and Rachel story. While Abed establishes early in the episode that, even though they’ve only been dating a month, the hyper-compressed nature of their relationship means that it’s more like a year in normal relationship terms (a possible jab at last season’s writers who just dropped her right away) and he’s, therefore, justified in wanting to live with her. They really are kind of cute together — they’re clearly on the same page, are aware of what they should and do mean to each other, and it’s a nice relationship to see, particularly considering the emotional vacuum of Troy’s absence.
Like most of this season, this is far from an episode I would use to convince anyone to start watching the show, but it’s a meaningful one for long-time fans. Sure, the B story didn’t really matter at all, but the A story was sincere and gave meaningful further backstory to two main characters whose relationship deserved examination. And if I had been there for the VCR-based adventure games that apparently existed in the early ‘90s, I’m sure the whole thing would’ve been hysterical.
Also, half a bonus point for more Brie Larson.
Community “VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing” final score: 8.5
Items of Note
-Rachel: “Is this a real conversation, or are we being bugged by the Feds?”
-Guest star Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad!
-Rachel is a student at Greendale?!
-Anthony Edison is younger than Annie?!
-Also, what the hell happened to Annie Edison’s younger brother, Anthony?
-Are we ever going to see the repercussions of Jeff being a teacher again? Like… seeing him teach some classes or mark some papers?
-So is that it for Duncan? He’s been missing for two episodes and I didn’t see him in the preview for next week.
-Poor Dominik Musiol (Abed’s friend Pavel who held the watering can and then rainbow above Abed this episode). He’s been on the show since the beginning, done almost nothing memorable, and has only managed to appear in seven episodes over five seasons. And if you look him up, he’s got a real LinkedIn page (he’s an engineer) and a normal Twitter account (i.e., not followed like some quasi-celebrity).