Color me surprised! I’m starting to believe in Dan Harmon again, at least a little bit anyway. He claimed at one point that Season 6 would feel like Season 1. “Basic Crisis Room Decorum” isn’t exactly proof of that, but, taking place predominantly in the study room, it’s a near-bottle episode, though I’m glad it isn’t quite one. In fact, it isn’t attempting to be anything except a good sitcom episode. It’s got a simple enough “save the school from a small crisis” premise and doesn’t ever indulge too heavily in outlandishness, aside from some visual gags and the fact that the study room inexplicably gets a crisis room makeover, featuring a series of clocks showing the time around the world, a red phone, etc.
But does it feel like a Season 1 episode? Well, come on now, let’s be reasonable. The core premises here are more over the top than anything Season 1 would’ve pulled. Okay, yes, Season 1 had the chicken fingers and paintball episodes, but each of those introduced a concept that wasn’t all that nuts (respectively, everyone loving chicken fingers a lot and a paintball contest for priority registration), and then we watched it build and gradually spiral out of control.
“Basic Crisis Room Decorum” almost does this in reverse, starting with the absurd idea of City College going public with the dirt that Greendale once awarded a dog a Bachelor’s degree, and then grounding and humanizing it by turning it into an issue of honesty, integrity, and how important these things are to Annie versus the rest of the group.
Like a lot of post-Season 2 Community, the storylines are rushed into rather than reached through a clear progression. Specifically, in the old days, there’s just no way Annie could’ve rung up all her friends in the middle of the night with an undefined Greendale emergency and expected any of them to actually give a crap. On the one hand, this makes perfect sense. We know everyone has come to love Greendale more over the course of five years. On the other hand, it still feels artificial and sitcommy. It’s a simple conflict introduced for the sake of being solved in under 30 minutes, and it’s never entirely believable.
Frankly, with all Greendale’s been through and considering what a consistently bad reputation it has, a negative ad from City College seems mostly harmless. Also sitcommy is that new character Elroy Patashnik (Keith David), after being introduced just an episode ago, is now randomly palling around with the group, even though he serves very little purpose in solving the conflict here.
The plot also unavoidably highlights how the show is often treading water lately. The gang already spent a whole season saving Greendale. At this point it has to introduce ridiculous new problems to keep that objective relevant. It’s just a bit corny that so many episodes now seem to come down to the well-worn “we gotta band together and save the old bookstore/community center/slaughterhouse, gang!” instead of being about characters working through their issues (which, at one time, really was the framework holding up everything else in Community).
But I’ve spent this whole time complaining when what I ultimately want to say here is that, if we accept this version of Community for what it is, this is a pretty solid episode. As noted, its over-the-top ideas are explored over the course of the episode and, by the end of it, pay off well and feel a lot less silly.
Aside from the thing about the dog, there’s also the running gag of the Dean lovingly texting with someone he thinks is Jeff but is actually two Japanese boys long-term pranking him. This seemed a bit much to me at first, but got progressively funnier, like when the boys manage to convince the Dean to bring Jeff five cans of olives. And the idea of having the texts (all in broken English) read out by Jeff’s voice in a halting cadence is brilliant (“Bro I just secret that way with love”). Also, Chang’s plot about filming a porno at City College by himself is really dumb, but the ending of it, when Abed grills him about how he shot it, makes for a funnier payoff than I expected from the concept.
All said and done, it’s a reasonably entertaining “save the school” episode. There are some nice little heart-to-hearts, but we don’t learn much of anything new about the characters. We already knew everyone thinks Britta is kind of a joke (though I want to note that Gillian Jacobs performance and all the physical comedy she’s been doing has thus far been my favorite aspect of the new season). We also knew Annie was idealistic and honest to a fault. We do learn a bit more about the new characters, Frankie and Elroy, and how they might get along with the established ones. But nothing too exceptional happened here character-wise.
For this late in Community’s life, I’m more than willing to call “Basic Crisis Room Decorum” (directed by Bobcat Goldthwait!) a grounded episode. It got a little stupid on occasion and that tag at the end was great before it went on wayyyy too long (something which definitely never would’ve made it if this was still airing on network TV), but it was charming and fairly solidly plotted, featuring a number of decent jokes (my favorite being Annie getting Jeff to back off from a fight by shouting “I am a female student being physically overpowered by a male teacher!”).
No, it’s not Season 1, but this marks one of those times where I feel okay saying I’m comfortable enough with this version of Community.