I love it when Community gets dark. “Mixology Certification,” “Anthropology 101,” “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons,” and pretty much any episode where Pierce instigates infighting in the group are some of my favorite episodes in the series’ history. Last week’s “Laws of Robotics and Party Rights” seemed to be making occasional attempts at darkness but, with all those silly telepresence robots rolling around, the overall tone was confused at best. “Basic Email Security” is far more focused, much more consciously dark, and is full of great jokes. It’s easily the best episode of season six yet.
Unlike NBC, who went with the business model of having the crew make episodes and then hiding those away in a bunker for half a year, Yahoo actually airs these episodes not long after they’ve been produced. This gives them a fresher feel and “Basic Email Security,” with its plot echoing the Sony email leaks and the Charlie Hebdo shooting, initially comes off as almost South Parkian. Ultimately, however, Community doesn’t have any real interest in commenting on these current events; the premise of hackers threatening to release the group’s emails if they don’t cancel an offensive comedian’s performance is just a catalyst for them to hash out their issues with one another.
It’s another pseudo-bottle episode, but that’s not immediately obvious. It took me quite a long time to recognize that the second act, which takes place entirely in the cafeteria, was deliberately long and not just by accident. In fact, I didn’t even fully get what this episode was going for until the ending when Abed outright labels it the third in a trilogy preceded by “Cooperative Calligraphy” and “Cooperative Polygraphy.” First off, it’s only the middle act that’s “bottled” and “Basic Crisis Room Decorum” from earlier in the season was already more confined than this one. (They also didn’t name it “Cooperative Something or Other,” which would’ve been a good tipoff.)
Still, it’s that second act, with everyone at each other’s throats over secrets revealed from their leaked emails, that recalls the previous bottle episodes. This is where “Basic Email Security” truly shines. It’s a ten-minute-long scene (thirteen if you count the racist comedian’s set at the end) but it’s well-paced and pretty consistently funny. The scene progression is brilliant as everyone attempts, but repeatedly falls, to calm themselves. It’s a pattern of anger, brief calm, another anger flare-up, and so on until it climaxes in an all-out dirty laundry war.
A lot of this is really funny. Chang gets a lot of good lines like when he bursts into the gym shouting, “I read it all! I read all your crap!” And I loved when Elroy finds out that Chang used to be everyone else’s teacher. “That’s right!” says Chang. “And, frankly, haven’t been well-utilized since!” Between this and Abed’s explanation of the bottle-episode trilogy, the self-referential comedy in this episode was pretty damn blunt, but it got giggles out of me so I can’t find much fault in it.
Also great is that this is effectively a Britta episode and she gets a lot of moments to shine. She’s the one that convinces everyone not to cave to the hackers and does so really rather articulately, though of course not without being a bit ridiculous too. It makes her feel a lot more like the character she’s supposed to be, rather than the flailing loon she often was starting in season three. She also gets one of the funnier lines when she describes the situation as “the battle between terror and cool.”
By the time the previous bottle episodes showed up, we knew the characters had spent a lot of time together, so seeing all that hidden animosity come out followed logically. Here, it does feel a bit manufactured that everyone has so many bones to pick with Frankie and Elroy considering they’ve only been around for five and four episodes, respectively. Regardless, some of the darkest reveals come from them and they’re awesome. It’s tragic (but comes up hilariously) that Frankie emails with her dead sister as a therapeutic tactic. And Elroy maintains email correspondence with a family who accidentally contacted him once, just because he’s lonely. Further, that Elroy has apparently made naked 3D models of the girls beats out the creepiness of Abed tracking their periods back in “Cooperative Calligraphy.”
The second act is definitely the highlight, but there are some great moments outside of it. I loved Jeff crying out “I’m being censored!” when Britta tries to shut him up. It also feels very relevant that the hacker turns out to be a little kid all along and his main alias, Fart Mitzvah, is the best. The tag, a loose True Detective homage, unlike the tags in previous episodes this season, doesn’t overstay its welcome and Quinn Friedman, who plays Officer Warburton, the kid cop, is a damn good actor.
“Basic Email Security” isn’t perfect. The premise is dumber than a story from the Golden Age would’ve been. Previous season concepts would start fairly grounded and then the crazy would get built onto them. Starting in season three, this formula often got reversed and this episode is no different. Further, I still feel like the freedom Yahoo affords the show is often to its detriment. Some of the episode feels like it would’ve benefited from tighter editing as it takes a while to get going and takes a little too long showing itself out. The real meat is in the second act and the length of the first and third distract from that.
Still, all in all, with a lot of great jokes and a good undercurrent of thematic darkness, this was easily the most enjoyable episode of season six and an impressive showing for Community this late in its life.