The core reason that I admire Communityis it tries so damn hard to make you believe in whatever nonsense it’s pulling. Sometimes that nonsense is the show’s own brand of it (i.e., any of the homage episodes). Other times it takes a conventional sitcom premise, but does so much more legwork than your average sitcom would to make sure you’re on board with it.
Lesser shows will sometimes fall back on the accepted conceit that golly, gosh characters on sitcoms just can’t help but get into wacky situations! To explain by way of example, I caught some of a Modern Familyepisode the other day, and it was about the wife in one of the families (I don’t watch the show, okay?) being sick of this old, broken down car that was gathering dust in their garage. So, after some cajoling, she convinces her husband to get rid of the thing. He manages to find a buyer, which means the whole family has to clean out the car. They find it’s full of all manner of junk that reminds the wife of many a happy family memory. Suddenly, she’s all sad and can’t bear to lose the car.
Now this technically works fine as a sitcom premise, but it’s sloppy and falls apart under just a touch of scrutiny. I mean, it’s pretty simple. The mother clearly has no attachment to the actual car itself if she was so adamant to get rid of it in the first place, and it’s demonstrated that her memories are all tied to the crap that was inside of it. So, can’t they just keep the smaller pieces of crap and get rid of the big, hulking crap that is the car? Perhaps the notion is that she now loves the car by association to the crap that was inside of it, but that should still be conveyed in such a way that I believe in her newfound emotional attachment to this car, and the show didn’t work hard enough to bring me to that point.
I’m not asking for real-world logic. I get that sitcom situations are just artifices through which comedy and characterization are conveyed. And whether I laugh or feel sad or feel happy for the characters is dependent on whether, emotionally, I’m on the same page with them. Simply put, your sitcom doesn’t need to make logical sense, but it does need to make emotional sense.
Communityis typically the master of this, which is why it can do a bottle episode in which everyone stays in the same room the entire time simply because Annie is pissed off that she lost her pen. I know it’s a dumb premise; hell, the show knows it’s a dumb premise. What’s important is that I believe Annie is angry and I believe her friends care enough about her to stay in that room and look for her pen. I can’t say I know exactly how they pulled it off, but the writing in that episode is so on-point, the way the characters play off of each other so naturalistic, that when they actually decide to hunker down in the study room, I’m like, “Yeah, that makes sense.”
It’s a tightrope act, so when a show fails at this, it’s much easier to point out the reasons why. It’s not as though Communityhasn’t failed at it, too. There’s, well, pretty much all of Season 4, but if we’re talking about real episodes, “Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps” from the third season is one of my least favorite. The premise is that Britta ran a psych test on everyone and discovered that one member of the group is psychotic. It takes her about two minutes to convince Jeff that they should all stay in the study room to figure out who it is instead of going to a Halloween party. From what I know of Jeff and Britta, it just doesn’t add up that he’d be so convinced of Britta’s argument so quickly. I mean, he’s a cynic and she’s a screw-up. The premise is not emotionally earned.
So, guess what? I didn’t like “Analysis of Cork-Based Networking.” In fact, I think it’s the worst of the season so far. The premises and jokes feel lazily thrown together, and I don’t much believe any of them.
First is that, right at the opening, we’re introduced to the fact that Professor Duncan and, more importantly, Chang are now on the Save Greendale Committee. But in the second episode of this season, Buzz Hickey was added to the committee and, seemingly, the study group at the same time. So the implication is, just like that, after all these years, Chang is now a member of the study group (and I’m ignoring his induction in Season 4, the gas leak year). As Chang’s admission into the group has been debated throughout the entire series, it’s jarring to begin the episode this way. Do I think Chang is going to be a staple in the group from now on? No, I don’t. But I do think the show is betraying its own character logic.
Shirley, Chang, Jeff, and Duncan team up to plan a dance. Chang suggests a weird theme about bears. It turns out that Chang accidentally picked up the idea from a big news story that aired that morning about a bear breaking loose at a kid’s birthday party in Wisconsin and mauling a bunch of people, thus rendering the bear decorations they’ve made tasteless. This is revealed halfway through the episode and doesn’t work comedically because it seems to come out of nowhere. The joke didn’t feel like it had been set up enough to be earned. I was not onboard with it, so it wasn’t funny; it just seemed dumb.
Britta gets mad at Abed for spoiling a moment she hasn’t gotten to in a show that’s obviously meant to be Game of Thrones but has a much longer name. So, through hugely circuitous methods that ultimately involve getting Abed to fall in love with a deaf girl, she spoils the ending of the novels for him. Would Britta do this? Is Britta this ridiculously vengeful? She’ll go to extremes to get people to reach what she believes are psychological breakthroughs, but this is just her being kind of villainous and it goes pretty significantly against the Britta of one episode ago who pretended to clone Abed just to avoid him having a psychotic break. Britta could technically be built up to be a villain for the episode, but she seems to just turn villain right from the start. I was not onboard with Britta’s characterization, so I did not believe in this storyline.
(This plotline also made me think of Season 4’s “Herstory of Dance” where Britta came off as unnecessarily nuts, insisting on planning a whole dance rather than admitting to a slip of the tongue. And, like this one, it had Brie Larson in it. So, in other words, this episode brought back Season 4 flashbacks. Not good…)
Annie and Professor Hickey go through increasingly ridiculous levels of bureaucracy and backdoor dealings all in pursuit of getting a bulletin board hung up in the cafeteria. This plotline worked the best, as I believed in Annie and Hickey’s character development together. Hickey is a cold guy burned out on dealing with red tape from his days on the police force but is revealed to have a strong, moral core while, contrastingly, Annie has always been the moral center of the group but allows herself to be corrupted by bureaucracy. It works, it’s solid, and it culminates in a nice emotional payoff.
However, as far as the comedy goes, this plotline seems to be relying mostly on the viewer being bowled over by the fact that all these bureaucratic characters who we only see for a minute or two are played by incredible guest stars! Hey, it’s the T-1000! Hey, it’s that Fireflyguy! Hey, it’s some attractive lady who people probably know from stuff but I personally don’t. And I’m sure I’ll be the eighth-billionth person mentioning this, but just one episode ago Chang name-dropped Nathan Fillion and now he’s on the show playing… not Nathan Fillion? How does that work?
Also, Annie channels Gary Oldman in Léon: The Professionalat one point, and I’m not sure why. I guess it’s because he was a corrupt cop in that film, and she’s becoming corrupt? But it’s a bit of a stretch. I was not on board with this reference and I refuse to give kudos for it.
Okay, listen. I’m just going to warn you in advance. I’m giving “Analysis of Cork-Based Networking” a 2 out of 5. I recognize that seems a terribly damning score, but do keep in mind that, ugly as a 2 might look, a 2.5 should technically translate to “average.” As I found this episode to be below average, this is as high as I’m willing to go.
So I’ve prepared you sufficiently then, yes? Okay… Ready?
This may sting a little…