After being three for three at recapturing, at least for me, that old school Community feel, it seems our Greendale heroes were bound to stumble and fall. Yep, this week is perhaps the oddest duck episode of Community that I have ever seen. We have seen broader “concept” episodes, such as Star Wars, Spaghetti Westerns and Ken Burn war documentaries. Yet, never have we gotten one that is just so absurd. I remember hearing on one of the commentaries for the first two seasons that an NBC executive told Dan Harmon that this show reminded him of the Family Guy cartoon. And while that assertion was woefully misjudged by someone who absolutely did not get this show, it is the perfect description of this particular episode. Community: The Animated Series.
This week, the Greendale Seven crossed the line into something freaky… Freaky Friday that is. As the show wisely points out, there has been an overbearing plethora of personality reversal films like all three versions of that oh, so Freaky weekday. We got The Change-Up, 13 Going on 30, 17 Again, etc. Those last two are actually closer to Big than Freaky Friday, but we digress.
To set this absurd premise up, the study group is working on their final for Cornwallis’s history course. This also creates a curious timeline paradox, because last week’s episode featured Cornwallis at their Christmas Eve party (obviously after the semester ended). In that episode, they were also reeling from Jeff screwing up the final. So, did NBC just air this episode out of order? It wouldn’t be the first time. Except something major happens in regard to Troy and Britta that is in direct contradiction to a very much still-together Troy and Britta from last week (more on that in a bit). It is a perplexing piece of lazy writing…unless this is one of the alternate timelines? Perhaps, this is not the darkest one, but the one where Troy and Britta enjoyed a lovely slice of pizza in “Remedial Chaos Theory”? That is why Pierce is still (briefly) in this episode when Chevy obviously checked out last week! And perhaps Broy’s break-up at the end of the episode causes a major shift in the timeline that…eh, it’s just lazy writing.
Anyway, Troy and Britta have both forgotten the one-year anniversary to their first date. Granted, they did not actually become a couple until some time over the summer break, but Annie and Shirley insist that the two celebrate it anyway. Simultaneously, Troy seems much more excited that it is his three-year anniversary of watching Freaky Friday with Abed. The two are going to have a marathon, but first they actually attempt to switch bodies with each other. The rest of the study group rolls their eyes, but come the next dawn… IT HAPPENED! In that moment, the show quit all pretense of trying to ground its absurd concepts in the real world by having Troy and Abed literally think they switched bodies. At this point, it is more of a sketch one could imagine Brian and Stewie sharing on Family Guy or even Cartman and Kyle in a high-concept episode of South Park. Community is not adverse to (amazing) concept episodes. I will even be generous and say that the Muppets homage the new writers crafted two weeks ago was a great addition to that pantheon of satire. But this is just too out there.
Yet, I will not deny that the cast commits the Hell out of this oddity. Both Donald Glover and Danny Pudi give a 120 percent in capturing the crazy mannerisms of the other’s performance. And it is all on mark. Glover captures the brisk walk and emotionless stare of a soul-devouring cyborg perfectly. Meanwhile, Pudi recreates everything about the Troy character, right down to his blissfully happy boyish grin. They have spent so much time on screen during their epic bromance, that I suppose it should not be a shock when they completely master the other’s tics.
Also worth crediting in this episode is Joel McHale, Alison Brie and Jim Rash. The amount of disbelief that McHale finds in Jeff’s exasperation over this stupidity, combined with Rash getting a chance to give a hilarious (if less-detailed) impression of McHale, does make for a few genuine laughs. Plus, one subtle in-character moment is Annie being attracted to the Dean’s “Jeffrey.” Considering that she has been seduced in five seconds by Abed Draper, Abed Solo and even Britta, it stands to reason that Dean Winger would also capture her oh-so hapless heart. Oh, Annie.
Another nice throwback is to the restaurant where Troy and Britta shared their first “date” last season. They even bring back the waiter who despises Die Hard (making him Abed’s most hated foe). There are more than a few laughs from this alienating premise. However, something is just WRONG about these jokes. They are funny, but they break Harmon’s original tenants about Community. Now, it is essentially a live-action cartoon, thereby making our emotional connection to these characters meaningless. They try to take it back by suggesting that this was an elaborate ruse by Troy, as he did not want to break-up with Britta the natural way. But it’s too late for such a half-hearted excuse. Besides, the deus ex machina still does not work, given how much Troy grew up last season. He understood that retreating into fantasy worlds with Abed was dangerous and even forced his buddy to grow up a little. That was his entire arc that was superbly concluded in Harmon’s final episode of Community. Yet here, he supposedly is so in denial of his need to leave Britta that he concocts a scheme that nobody should give five seconds of patience to. And why on Greendale’s Green Quad is Britta so cool with this?! This is NOT how you are supposed to end it. Girl, he needs a slap more than a hug.
Well, Britta and Troy decide to call it quits but remain friends in the end. Dean apologizes for acting like Peter Griffin and Chevy shows up for twelve more seconds with a glazed look in his eye.
It is not necessarily a bad episode. I actually laughed quite a few times at the Dean, Annie and Jeff. I also appreciated the return of “Die Hardy Guy.” But it was not a good episode of Community. As we approach the final two episodes of the season (and series?), I ponder how they are going to end things. My worst fear is that they now want to potentially end the series with Jeff and Britta walking off into the sunset. Or at least sharing a cliffhanger kiss. Kind of makes sense, as the writers never got Troy and Britta’s relationship, even though they tried for 10 episodes while Season 3 hinted at it with more heart in a few seconds. In contrast, they have been pairing Jeff and Britta in a lot of subplots together, as opposed to Jeff and Annie’s early flirtation from the third episode of this year. I just have a hunch that they are going to Ross and Rachel us for the finale. Turning to that classic sitcom trope would be worse than any peculiar Seth MacFarlane impression.