by Thom Yee
5×12: “Basic Story” (Part 1)
When the exploits of the Save Greendale Committee bring widespread contentment to the entire campus, Abed goes in search of a problem… conflict… a story… anything for this week’s episode to revolve around, breaking down the entire structure of what it means to be on Community.
Given some of the groundbreaking episodes we’ve seen in the series, that sounds like an exciting and landmark episode. It wasn’t. At least not yet.
“Basic Story” is an episode of Community that’s both literally and figuratively in need of direction.
The first half deals with how satisfied everyone is after the seeming success of the Save Greendale Committee, whose chief accomplishments are, according to the insurance appraiser (guest star and inciting incident Michael McDonald [no not that Michael McDonald]) repairing the gas leak, making sure all fire exits actually lead outside, and averting genetic tampering for at least one week. And of course, this lack of crisis drives Abed crazy. At Jeff’s insistence that everything’s fine and that everyone should relax, Abed immediately responds, “Jeff’s heart’s in the right place, but he’s wrong, Greendale is a crazy place where crazy things happen, I have a plan.” While that’s not a particularly funny line to read, Danny Pudi’s manic, hurried delivery really sells his desperation as he tries to engage the group in pretending that Greendale has a world-reknowned physics department (to no avail). Of all the characters and character interactions in this episode, Abed’s are the highlight as he examines Community’s storytelling superstructure, using textbook scriptwriting terms like ‘call to action’ and describing even basic events as part of a story.
By the time the actual story shows up, as it’s revealed that the insurance appraiser’s conclusion that the campus actually has value is really all part of the Greendale schoolboard’s plans to sell the property, it’s a little late. Still, the writers manage to pack in a surprising amount of material in the final ten minutes, including Hickey and Duncan’s shared past, that Chang has been secretly working against the committee this entire time (in a moment that’s neither shocking nor particularly important to the audience or to the committee members), and the legend of the Greendale computer professor who made love to a computer and got the world’s first computer virus, leading to a [lazy] buried treasure subplot. Probably the most notable development is what the ads for “Basic Story” very much led with: Jeff and Britta suddenly getting back together. That’s a cloying, heartstring-pulling plotline that appeals almost entirely to our basest instincts and nostalgia for season one, but it’s one that will have to wait till next week as it’s the last major beat the episode covers.
I honestly don’t have a lot to say about this episode. I like that it continued the show’s ongoing obsession with Subway (the eventual buyer of the Greendale property), I like that we clumsily revisited the idea of Jeff and Britta (even if they really are no Ross and Rachel), and it was still fundamentally intriguing and worth watching (at least for longtime fans), but it was also virtually devoid of any voice other than a half-hearted attempt to deconstruct itself, something it’s done far more effectively several times before (see season two’s “Paradigms of Human Memory”).
As the first of a two-part story, however, we’ll have to see how and where “Basic Story” ultimately resolves itself. Until then, the lack of conclusion—
Community “Basic Story” final score: 7
Items of Note
-Automated call centre: “The information you’ve requested… is on the Internet.”
-Maybe it’s just me, but I find it extra funny that the guy eating the soup is Oriental (also, commentary on how Orientals audibly slurp their soup?).
-Jeff: “This inspection is going to be the most boring thing to happen here since Britta dated Troy.”
-“That’s a Subway black card. It entitles you to $5 footlongs for life.”
-Y’know… when you think about it, $5 for a footlong is a pretty good deal.
-Jeff describing Abed and Annie: “They’re part of the adulthood begins at thirty generation.”
-If there’s one thing this season nailed, it’s getting the exact right amount of Professor Duncan. I’m glad that he’s been back, but that’s enough.