by Thom Yee
6×06: “Basic Email Security”
As has become increasingly common with this year’s batch of Community episodes, the best parts of this week’s “Basic Email Security” come from further exploring the mythos of Greendale and its ersatz “activities committee” nee “study group”. The group tested Annie’s blood for amphetamines because she was “extra jumpy last spring? The group has a betting pool on Frankie’s sexual preferences? Elroy’s being called out for his “House Guest-era Sinbad-esque wardrobe? Garrett had a girlfriend in 2009? And has therefore been attending a community college for at least six years? All gold.
Still not that funny, though.
This week, Greendale is under siege, terrorized by an unidentified hacker who threatens to expose every Greendalienite’s private emails if the school goes through with its plans to showcase famously racist comedian Gupta Gupti Gupta (played by Jay Chandrasekhar, who’s directed several Community episodes throughout its run) at an on-campus comedy night. It’s a solid premise that’s obviously referencing Sony’s recent hacking incidents with its release of The Interview, and it’s all the more interesting with Community being a Sony Pictures Television production, but it’s also a premise one that would’ve landed better if more of the original cast were still intact or if we’d had longer to familiarize ourselves with Frankie or Elroy. Especially with those two, the threat wrung pretty hollow given how little time we’ve had with them.
In terms of plot, the strongest part of the entire episode stems from Britta insisting on Gupta being allowed to perform in the name of freedom of speech, especially as it contrasts her plans to protest the performance anyway, but the writers really don’t focus on it long enough or often enough for that paradoxical reasoning to land. Eventually, Gupta’s sadness over not being allowed to perform is mined for all of the sentiment it can be, but in ending with a Greendale-committee-wide dispute over the meaning of what the school’s just been through after everyone’s emails are eventually revealed, we’re further reminded of how pointless the show’s allowed itself to become. And then when we see the tag referencing True Detective, it all seems even more pointless since it doesn’t pay anything off or say anything new about Community or True Detective. There is one big laugh in the episode, though, when Frankie and Elroy learn about the origins of the Greendale Committee, in all of its sordid Jeff and Britta used to date / the group used to study Spanish together / Chang used to be the Spanish teacher details.
What’s actually fascinating about “Basic Email Security” is the central conceit, as vocalized by Abed, that it serves as the final piece in the group’s “Revealed Secrets” trilogy. Following season two’s groundbreaking “Cooperative Calligraphy”, the bottle episode in which Annie’s lost pen leads to the group rifling through everybody’s belongings, and season five’s equally excellent “Cooperative Polygraphy”, in which the group submits to Pierce’s posthumous lie detector testing, “Basic Email Security” is by far the weakest of the three, but the most meta simply for framing the three instalments in such an organized and structured fashion. But if we’re being honest, you can’t talk about “Revealed Secrets” episodes without recalling season four’s “Intro to Felt Surrogacy”, the musical puppet episode featuring Sara Bareilles where the (then) study group revealed deep secrets under the influence of unidentified forest berries.
As much as the creators and fans have wilfully forgotten most of season four to the mists of wind and time and gas leaks, “Basic Email Security” reminded me more of “Intro to Felt Surrogacy” than any of the others in the “Revealed Secrets” series, mostly because of how pointless and laugh-free the show is starting to be. I have all the time in the world for a version of Community showrun by Dan Harmon, but that doesn’t mean I’m not also hoping for a serious uptick in this season’s back half. If we’re going to merely continue on the path that episodes like “Basic Email Security” are setting, the back half of this season is really going to be a stretch to watch, let alone write about every week.
Community “Basic Email Security” final score: 7
Items of Note:
- Y’know what? Hackers do use a lot of ‘Z’s.
- The Avengers references were timely, but it feels like a better show would’ve done something with them rather than leaving the references to just lie there, untouched after their first use.
- Boy, Sinbad’s 20th century clothing choices have really been taking a pounding lately.
- Elroy: “Did anyone see Jeff’s letters? He writes to astronauts!” Jeff: “They’re national heroes!” Elroy: “Yes they are! Leave ‘em alone!”
- Feels like I’ve heard that joke somewhere else before.
- “Hot-lunch lady” or “Hot lunchlady”? I love it!