by Thom Yee
6×10: “Basic RV Repair and Palmistry”
So pretty much nothing happened in this episode. In fact, I had to go back a couple of times just to fully understand what was happening, with the story beginning in media res and taking place over only a few hours inside Elroy’s RV. In terms of plot or character development, this week’s episode is probably the least active of the entire season so far, so it’s weird that it’s also probably the most important.
Community has always been a weird, self-referential show obsessed with and consumed by contemporary pop culture, but at its best it’s also used its eccentricity and self-awareness to insightfully find essential truths and drive home its thematic meanings. Lately, though, that formula has devolved to the point of being weird and self-referential for its own sake, and while that’s okay and has made for an okay season so far, a lot of season six has felt listless, pointless, and just not that special. Abed in particular has suffered this season as he’s become even further convinced that the group is living inside a TV show. It’s been long established that framing everything as a TV show is simply a coping mechanism for Abed, but in season six that character quirk has gone from kooky and insightful to lazy and annoying, and it’s something that’s been quietly exposing the show’s weaknesses more than aiding its storytelling. But not so this episode.
“Basic RV Repair and Palmistry” tells the story of the group’s attempt to sell a nineteen-foot, fibreglass hand that Dean Pelton bought with school money that, for some reason, couldn’t be returned to the original seller, and if you picture a typical writer’s-room-type situation, that’s not a particularly strong premise to share let alone actually go through with producing. It gives us the chance to see the gang in an unusual setting, inside Elroy’s RV as they make their way to driving the giant hand to whomever the seller may be, and that’s a refreshing change of pace, but it’s a premise that’s incredibly unusual and insular and almost transparently nonsense. And that might be the point.
While the majority of “Basic” takes place in Elroy’s RV as most of the group argues over how to handle things, the one other location we’re allowed to visit during the course of the episode is a place Abed establishes as “Three Weeks Earlier”, a flashback point at the school that he repeatedly returns to. While the literal events of the episode hardly matter, it’s Abed’s view of what’s happening that allows the episode to have any real meaning. Ostensibly the disaster our heroes face is the RV running out of gas and power mid-trip, but it’s the hand they’re carrying that literally and metaphorically brings the group together with the understanding that it shows us the power and peril of holding on and letting go in a resolution that’s at once fiendishly simple and incredibly complex. In some ways the episode acts as a microcosm of everything Community has meant for all these years, and in other ways it’s a dumb, empty story about trying to drive a giant-sized hand sculpture from one place to another, one that doesn’t even bother to tell us how the group solves it’s gas and power problems, instead flashing forward to three days later.
“Basic RV Repair and Palmistry” is a Community episode that’s so intricate and well executed that merely describing it doesn’t come anywhere near to conveying its elegance, ambition and ultimate triumph, which is another way of saying I’m tired of writing about it. Its jokes hit at trademark Community pace, it’s complex and thematically relevant, and it works as a whole and in parts. In an earlier season, none of that would be unusual and this episode wouldn’t be that amazing, but “Basic” is an episode that needs to run this late in the game to work, and compared to most of this season, it’s an absolute gem.
A note to readers: Next week’s episode, “Modern Espionage”, is our first return to paintball since Dan Harmon’s return to the series and last year’s spiritually similar “Geothermal Escapism”. So maybe tune into that one at least.
Community “Basic RV Repair and Palmistry” final score: 8.5
Items of Note:
- Why would they eat Annie first? Because she’s the healthiest?
- On the other hand, wasn’t the way Annie asked “Are you going to eat me first?” the most adorable thing ever?
- Direct season two reference!
- For a while I was convinced the straps were now going to be extra thick.
- “I will drive my house off a cliff,” he said without a hint of irony. Love Elroy.