With last week being the most grounded of the season, it’s only fitting that tonight’s episode of Community be crazy town banana pants. This is a concept episode and, luckily, unlike that Lava World silliness, it actually works pretty well. And what are we parodying now? Why, the seventies’ sci-fi flick Logan’s Run, of course. Duh-doy.
Usually the brilliance of Community’s homages comes from how they intertwine character development and real dramatic moments with an absurd makeover of the Greendale campus. But there are those rare occasions (like in the Season 3 heist episode, “The First Chang Dynasty”) that the show wins me over just by picking something to parody and then going for broke with it. I can see a lot of people finding this one flat out dumb (and there’s certainly an argument there). I even sort of feel like I’m betraying my standards for what makes a Community episode good (I thought the previous episode was the best of this season). But for whatever reason, the very fact that “App Development and Condiments” is (mostly) ungrounded and unabashedly ridiculous is what made it work for me.
Logan’s Run is a very pretty movie, presenting a future where everyone wears eye-piercingly colorful clothing and there are crystals and crap everywhere. As a result of it being kind of old, it now looks a bit like if some kids got together and made their own little makeshift imaginary world by throwing sheets over things and raiding their parents’ attic for props. So it fits snugly with the idea that this is all just taking place at a community college and that this dystopian society got assembled over several days mostly by, yes, draping sheets over everything (probably helps keep the episode’s budget at a reasonable level, too).
I do have to wonder how many of you out there have seen Logan’s Run. I mean, it’s old and it’s definitely a cult classic more than a classic classic. I only just saw it myself because I heard this episode was coming up. But what “App Development” borrows from the film is its very seventies’ concept of what the future might look like. It’s a stylistic parody, not a plot one, so nothing too huge should be lost on you if you haven’t seen the film. I mean, this is maybe the most bizarre Community (or any sitcom) has ever looked, but knowing that the look comes from Logan’s Run only softens the oddness the tiniest bit.
I haven’t talked about the actual storyline at all and that’s maybe because it doesn’t feel all that relevant this time around. It begins with the introduction of an absurd social media app named (because why shouldn’t it be?) MeowMeowBeenz and it just piles on absurdity after absurdity after that as everyone is suddenly donning “future”-wear and melodramatically articulating silly sentences about how people with lower MeowMeowBeenz ratings are lesser beings and such.
What also makes the episode feel even less grounded is the way it chucks a lot of guest stars from the comedy world at you, including Steve Agee, Brian Posehn, and Jen Kirkman (all of whom Dan Harmon worked with previously on The Sarah Silverman Program and Acceptable.TV). Then we also get Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim (more commonly known as Tim and Eric). Eric doesn’t do a ton, but Tim gets to deliver some wonderfully overacted lines that fit well with the tone of the episode. Mitch Hurwitz gets actually quite a big part in his guest role as Koogler, an aging student lothario. Luckily, he’s really funny, unlike the entirety of Arrested Development’s fourth season! Snap!
There is some character business going on here. As emotionally manipulative as Shirley is it makes sense that she rises to the top of the social media pile. And her and Jeff eventually reach an understanding about how they both like being in control but go about getting it in different ways, which was sweet enough to make do a little Shirley “aww” of my own. But considering the catalyst of this whole “Jeff and Shirley clash over who heads up a dystopian society” was a miscommunication about not inviting Shirley to dinner, it was hardly the kind of conflict that felt as though its resolution was a huge leap forward for the characters’ relationship, especially when compared to last week’s Abed and Buzz Hickey situation, which had far greater resonance.
The joy of this episode comes from how it does that Community thing where the whole campus goes insane and then completely back to normal in just over twenty minutes and somehow has you buy into it completely. I mean, the tide turns because of a running gag about how people find Britta’s intense, righteous ranting more digestible if she has mustard smeared on her face. I scoffed at the introduction of this plot device and then, when it came up again, I was going along with it.
Full disclosure: I am super tired and mildly delirious. I wonder if I won’t be rethinking this 4 out of 5 when I’m better rested, but, hey, I had fun tonight, Community.