by Thom Yee

Community images courtesy of Sony Pictures Television.

Community images courtesy of Sony Pictures Television.

6×07: “Advanced Safety Features

I feel compelled to begin this week’s review by telling you that I drive a Honda — a proper hatchback Civic and the last such hatchback released in North America. It’s fast [relative to Civics], it’s agile [ relative to Civics], and most importantly, for some reason most of the girls I talk to really like it.

Honda is strong in my family. My father drives one. I drive one. My sister drives one. But… my mother drives a Subaru… and I probably would too if I could afford a new car right now.

We’re now at the exact midpoint of Community’s sixth season in what I would call the most disappointing run in series history not referred to as the gas leak year. The show still manages to be worth my time, but I’m starting to wonder how much of that is reflective of its actual value, how much of that is how little value my time actually has, and how much of that is the result of building up strong tolerances for mediocre TV (after all, I did sit through the first nine episodes of Gotham). This year there’s been a marked downturn in the show’s plotting, premises, writing, and especially its ambition, and part of me has grown quite indifferent towards Community. Especially lately, the most active parts of my weekly Community viewings have come from the continuing ordeal that is trying to watch it on Yahoo Screen rather than from engaging with the show itself.

But this week it was finally, finally worth it.

Good to see you again, Rick.  Looks like your plan to open a non-profit shelter for handicapped animals is going well.  Tell me, how are the deaf hamsters doing?

Good to see you again, Rick. Looks like your plan to open a non-profit shelter for handicapped animals is going well. Tell me, how are the deaf hamsters doing?

“Advanced Safety Features” marks the triumphant return of Rick, nee SUBWAY (“Eat fresh!”), the former corpohumanoid who had a forbidden/deviant dalliance with Britta back in season three. Now finally able to self-identify as a human being, Rick has instead become a successful guerrilla marketer for Honda, seducing Britta into his web of marketing lies. Meanwhile, Elroy seems to have a problem with Jeff.

Britta and Rick’s reunion is surprisingly earnest all things considered (and there are a lot of things), but when it turns out that the only way the two can be together is for Britta to be with Rick is to join him in his guerrilla marketing efforts, the whole thing rings a little false considering Britta has, at various points, been called a buzz kill, a fun vampire, and the opposite of Batman. By now we’ve invested so much time in Britta being a screw up that it’s hard to believe she’d be good at anything, especially anything involving subtlety, but still, her heretofore almost entirely unseen skills in persuasion speak to an ongoing rehabilitation of the character that’s been frequently ignored for the sake of more jokes and skipped over for long periods, but is nevertheless there. Seeing her Honda boss (played by the incomparable Billy Zane, who now looks more fit to captain the Titanic rather than be its most notable jilted lover) actually wanting Britta around and part of his team is a huge win for the character, and one I’m entirely behind as an admitted Britta booster.

The episode also affords us our first real insights into Elroy, who we now officially know is attending at least one class at Greendale rather than just parking his camper at the school.  What starts off as a few moments of Elroy passively disliking Jeff by leaving whenever he arrives turns out to be part of a pattern of avoiding people for fear that they’ll eventually hurt him as we learn that he used to date and was dumped by Natalie is Freezing’s lead singer, Julie. I’m just going to stop right now and say:

Lisa Loeb!!! Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!!!!!!

Moonlight / Bleeding glass and healing needles /  Amputated hearts are never whole.

Too bright / Dreaming as the Screaming seagulls / Feed on parts of me I keep below (oh oh oh-oh).

Anyway, through concerted efforts to spend time with him and a few brief moments of human vulnerability, Elroy finally grows closer to most everyone on the Greendale Activities committee, but continues to shun Jeff, which is plausible but also rings a little false since it was Jeff’s original overtures toward Elroy that got through to Elroy, got Elroy to refund the school for the Dean’s VR system purchase, and introduced Elroy to the group (remember?). Eventually, Elroy gives in to Jeff’s attempts at friendship, but it comes off more like Elroy’s just gotten too lazy to continue shunning people than any psychological healing on the character’s part.

Y'know, taken out of context, this Annie tongue is pretty erotic.

Y’know, taken out of context, this Annie tongue is pretty erotic.

By the end of the episode, I’m not sure we’re provided a particularly meaningful (or sensible) coda for any of our principal characters, but a Britta win is a Britta win, even if it ends in emotional heartache, and it’s still nice to learn more about Elroy, who’s slowly creeping ahead of Frankie for best new addition to the show. What really makes the episode work, however, is two things: 1) a manic rate of weird jokes and 2) thoughtful use of the show’s mythology. Part of the appeal of Community has always been that the jokes would come so fast and so hard and at such a high calibre that there was something for everyone paying attention to latch onto (and everyone not paying attention to completely miss). Compared to this episode, most of season six has been extremely lazy and laid back and plot first, and a lot of it really didn’t work. “Advanced Safety Features”, in sharp contrast, is overloaded with quality material, and whether it’s the delayed gratification of steel drums or Chang’s PowerPoint that’s so funny because it’s pointless rather than so unfunny that it becomes pointless, it pretty much all landed. Combine that with organically building off of past seasons and leaning heavily on recent additions like Britta’s parents (after the perfect amount of time away from the show) and Natalie is Freezing, and you’ve got a huge win of an episode (relative to Community season six).

Community. Part of a landscape that inspires curiosity, its elements invite exploration. Its character challenges the norm, its contours favour the bold. And above all else, it’s a place where the CR-V fits right in.

Plus an extra 0.5 for the Lisa Loeb guest appearance. If only the show could afford a Kurt Russell cameo and we’d have a perfect 11.

Community Advanced Safety Features” final score: 9.5

Items of Note:

  • I would kill for a full-length copy of “Pillar of Garbage” right now.
    • On the same note, how much more fulfilling is that song now that we know it’s from Lisa Loeb? Let’s hear it for more delayed gratification!
  • Weird that I just happened to watch “Digital Exploration of Interior Design” on Much the day before watching this.
  • I see Elroy’s back to his “House Guest-era Sinbad-esque wardrobe”.
  • “You’re a Level 7 Susceptible.” And so another Community meme is born.
  • “One mechanical alligator!” I hope that becomes a meme.
  • “I cheat my ass off at everything. I’m cheating at a game of hide and seek right now. We weren’t supposed to leave the rec center.”
  • “People don’t want to drive what a monster drives.”
  • “The name of the band is Natalie is Freezing. Why would anyone in the band be Natalie? We’re artists,” she continued to proclaim at every opportunity for the last twenty years.
  • I can’t stop picturing Britta and Titanic-era Billy Zane together. And to this day I’ve still never seen Titanic.
  • Hasn’t Elroy already been to the bar that Britta works at?

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