by Thom Yee

Community images courtesy of NBCUniversal Television Distribution

Community images courtesy of NBCUniversal Television Distribution

5×13  “Basic Sandwich” (Part 2)

So… that was… something.

It’s hard to describe what I’m feeling right now as disappointment, even though that’s pretty much accurate. It’s not quite true through, and putting it that way would almost feel like a betrayal, so I don’t think I’m going to. But I’m certainly not satisfied.

If there’s one central theme that Community tends to gather around and circle through its five seasons, it’s the idea of accepting people for all of their quirks. That may not translate to welcoming people with open arms (see: Chang or Todd or Jack Black’s Buddy), but there’s a slow, yet tacit admission throughout the series that every one of our Greendale Seven (and various newcomers and hangers-on) have significant issues and hang-ups (if not outright social disorders). Even though we all have our own hang-ups, it’s up to each of us to embrace who we are if we’re to find any kind of meaningful success or relationships, and that’s really what Greendale stands for to our disparate group of, among other things, remedial teens, twentysomething dropouts, middle-aged divorcees, and old people keeping their minds active as they circle the drain of eternity. After all, at Greendale, “You’re already accepted.”

And then there’s the legend of the Greendale professor who had sex with a computer and died of the world’s first computer virus.

Yeah, this is happening.

Yeah, this is happening.

Community’s never really been a show built on a firm, solid foundation of reality, but it’s also rarely been an outright cartoon (except for a couple of episodes ago… and Greendale Babies … and do Muppets count as cartoons?), instead usually finding a deft way to wed the absurd (say, an entire Claymation episode) with something more down to Earth (say, a mental breakdown). This time around, the group’s discovery of a hidden treasure leads to the whereabouts of the long-missing Russell Borchert (Chris Elliott), founder of Greendale (originally) Computery College and builder of computers with circuits made out of gold (which he believed was a better conductor of human emotions). In hopes of using the gold from these computers to truly save Greendale and snatch it back from the clutches of the two school board guys’ plan to sell the land to Subway, the group finds more than it bargained for when Borchert turns up very much alive, with a handy duffel bag full of cash, the rights to the land Greendale’s built on, and a desire to keep Greendale going. The whole thing is a little too out there, almost screaming the idea that conclusions that don’t fit, don’t really make sense, and come out of nowhere are the new meta. It’s kind of worth it though, if for no other reason than the nipple play.

For those of you more concerned with the impending nuptials of Jeff and Britta, you needn’t have been as that was almost entirely a red herring. In some ways speaking to the ways we all seek to be together in the face of impending finality, both for Greendale and the perhaps the ovarching reasons for this show’s existence, it’s still a storyline dropped under the weight of its own implausibility. I don’t think there’s a world that any of us who’ve stuck with the show this long could possibly imagine where Jeff and Britta stay together for anything more than casual sex. Furthermore, as Abed points out in one of the show’s most poignant moments of meta-commentary, the reason that Jeff and Britta will never end up together is because “It isn’t just their show. This is our show.”  And that’s a declaration being spoken as much to the audience as it is to any characters involved.

He's robbing their brains!  he's robbing them!

He’s robbing their brains! He’s robbing them!

One hopes that Harmon and co. have a better idea of the chances of a sixth season than most of us do, but if the unimaginable happens, our timeline takes a decidedly dark turn, and season five turns out to be our last, “Basic Sandwich” is a comparatively poor episode to end on. Season three’s finale played like a series ender (Harmon sensing that his time with the show was ending), offering synopses, new beginnings, and emotional codas (and an exceptional use of the 88’s “At Least It Was Here”), as did season four in its own clumsy and character-arc-retreading ways. “Basic Sandwich”, on the other hand, ends season five defiantly, almost daring the network to cancel it. I think everyone involved knows that — by virtue of a one-off line referencing NBC’s short-lived (and ill-conceived) night-time superhero drama, The Cape, that grew into a meme that would define the entire show — we’re all likely to see one more season (and some sort of movie), but I sincerely hope the producers have found or will find something more to say in the time they have left. For a season that started incredibly strong and found fairly plausible new reasons for its characters and us to stay, we sure spent a lot of episodes back in the study room without much more set up than “Here’s another episode.”

Look, I’ve been writing reviews about Community for almost a year now, and yeah, in that time, I’ve written a lot of crap about it. But all of those reviews have one thing in common: they all contained some level of hope. With creator Dan Harmon’s return, this show isn’t getting worse because it lacks vision, it’s just running out of ideas. But it’s a show… that runs… ON US. And the only thing that’s really holding it back is fear: fear of change, fear of progress, and the fear of not knowing when it’s gone too far. Because its problems aren’t the ones we see on the screen. And there’s no such thing as a perfect show, and even if there was, we still might not love that show as much as we do this one. And I’ll tell you why: the heart of Community is acceptance. To think otherwise is a lie. Community is TV that shows us what’s possible, not necessarily what’s best. So maybe we are caught in an endless circle of low ratings and praying for six seasons and a movie, but I choose to believe that it’s just the universe’s way of moulding us into some kind of super-audience. Like the Travelling Wilbury’s of pain, prepared for any insane episode that life throws our way.

And I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to every one of them.

Just not as much as I used to.

Community “Basic Sandwich” (Part 2) final score:  7


Items of Note

-This entire season — Pierce’s death, Troy’s farewell, Harmon’s very return itself — was all just an excuse to play Dave Matthews Band, wasn’t it?

-F*ck me, the one day Subway’s subliminal advertising finally gets to me and the Subway at the bottom of my building is closed for something called “Good Friday”.

-It’s hard to imagine Shirley and Hickey’s interactions on their way to get the Greendale blueprints from City Hall. Would… would they talk about their kids?

-“Idiots won! Which means my work down here is done.”

-Chris Elliott has lost a lot of weight.

-“Get back! This pickle’s a magnet!” I’m pretty sure that if anyone’s still paying attention, that that’s gonna start showing up on t-shirts à la “It’s so damn hot. Milk was a bad choice.”

-Abed: “Jeff, in case you ever have to remember me, can I give you some options for voice-over quotes?”

-Chang didn’t dial after he got that bag of cash. Did he already have the dentist on the line?

-So that’s it, major status quo change — Jeff’s a teacher — and we see all of ONE episode dealing with that?

-And now, for no reason, Amber Tamblyn!

-Aah, what the hell:


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