Community season 5 episode 11 review: G.I. Jeff

Review Caroline Preece
4 Apr 2014 - 08:55

Jeff retreats into childhood fantasy in this week's G.I Joe-themed episode of Community...

This review contains spoilers.

5.11 G.I. Jeff

This week’s episode of Community was made entirely with 80s kids in mind and, if you have zero knowledge (like, regrettably, me) of one of the decade’s seminal Saturday morning cartoons – G.I. Joe – then G.I. Jeff might leave you feeling a little lost. But chances are, if you’re a fan of Community, then you at least have an understanding of what these shows mean to people of a certain age, and a sympathy for how much joy their favourite sitcom doing an entire episode in the style of their childhood fantasies would bring to them.

That’s the entire point of the episode, after all, with Jeff escaping his issues with an Abed-style psychotic break for our enjoyment. But G.I. Jeff doesn’t ease us in with any explanation as to why we might be watching such a complete departure from the norm (honestly, at this point, did anyone even bat an eye?), but instead decides to begin as a completely passable new edition of the original cartoon before slowly introducing us to Wingman (Jeff), Tight Ship (Annie), Buzzkill (Britta), Three Kids (Shirley) and Fourth Wall (Abed) in their various guises.

In one of those Community episodes where most of the humour is pretty indecipherable for a large chunk of the audience, what we could all appreciate were the moments when it used the silly conventions of G.I. Joe to point out its own shortcomings. Season five has seen a heck of a lot of improvement but, for all the great new characters and return to cynicism, there’s also been the sidelining of Shirley and wayward status of a post-Troy Abed. Shirley’s reductive name and catchphrase spoke to this brilliantly but, with Abed assuming his usual role of relentlessly pointing out the conceit, his dialogue has started to grate.

Jeff’s surrender into his old childhood games after turning forty and downing an unadvisable cocktail of whiskey and pills was resolved in a very Lego Movie way, and those trips into the familiar world of crass toy commercials were one of the best things about the episode. As with any instalment of the show with this many great ideas, of course, things just ended up escalating and escalating until the only way out was for Jeff to wake up and talk about his feelings and, although the resolution to G.I. Jeff might have dissipated the fun somewhat, it’s always welcome when Community attempts to deal with anything real these days.

And, while watching this eleventh episode of the season, it’s striking just how much time we’ve spent in imaginary worlds and heightened realities and, while it could be said that this is the madness Community thrives on, the shortened thirteen-episode seasons have left little to no room for those ‘ordinary’ episodes to live in. While the show has to be commended for being entirely different from anything else on television, speaking to an audience ill-served by sitcoms in general, sometimes it’s easy to forget who these characters actually are without their moldable quirks, constantly adapted to whatever Dan Harmon and his team dream up.

Is this a problem? Not as such, and G.I. Jeff was definitely a great, funny and clever example of what Community does best. As another spiritual sequel to an old episode (this time Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas), it managed to craft far more originality for itself than last week’s Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons but, with only two more episodes to go before we wrap up for another year, a return to the characters we love doing things that don’t always require an encyclopaedic knowledge of pop culture might inject some humanity back into things. Next week, a Subway-centric adventure! Chuck would be proud.

Read Caroline's review of the previous episode, Advanced Advanced Dungeons And Dragons, here.

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