The first part of Community’s two-part finale, “Basic Story,” was really rather a mess that felt like several disconnected plotlines and underdeveloped concepts tossed together. It was absolutely crammed with stuff, which didn’t leave much room for it to actually be funny or emotional. It did have those brief moments where it felt like possibly the show was returning to a familiar, good place, like with Britta and Jeff getting back together (and then going so far as to decide to get married, but let’s just stick with the first part), and Chang turning evil again (though for no real reason aside from “Chang’s nuts!”).
Well, the second part, “Basic Sandwich,” gets rid of all the complicated stuff, but even the few good bits get thrown out with it. The episode is even less funny, more emotionless, and at times feels so comically unfamiliar; it’s like if the Farrelly brothers made a Community movie.
The notion that there might actually be buried treasure under Greendale Community College that could save the school from being bought out by Subway was introduced at the end of “Basic Story,” and the finding of this treasure is the plot we follow in “Basic Sandwich.” There’s no easing the viewer into it. This episode doesn’t pretend it’s a normal sitcom for even a second as, from frame one, we’re learning about the myth of the college’s founder disappearing and leaving behind somewhere in the forgotten bowels of the campus an emotion-processing computer with circuitry made entirely from gold.
It’s not like Community hasn’t pulled off stuff this weird and ridiculous before. I mean, Chang tried to blow up the school once. We had a whole episode this season about an ass crack bandit. But those episodes also established their tones clearly. The former was a heist episode, and the latter was a parody of director David Fincher’s style. When Community lets you know you’re going to be in a sort of “alternative version” of its world for the next 22 minutes, swallowing ridiculous concepts is easier.
But this finale doesn’t seem to be any sort of homage or parody. It just wants us to go along with stuff like a secret room in a forgotten basement, protected by a jukebox that only moves out of the way when you play a song on it called “Open the Door” by The Secret Doors. And we’re meant to accept a major story and character turning point is a scene in which Jeff puts on some headphones attached to a computer that can understand emotions and reminisces about the good times he’s had with his friends.
The only thing “Basic Sandwich” really has going for it is that since it doesn’t feel like a “normal” episode and it doesn’t clearly identify as a parody one, it gives off a unique vibe like this might actually kind of be like what a movie of Community would look like. I really don’t mind Community having a silly mystery with no concern for the fact that its characters are meant to be students and teachers attending a school. I don’t mind that it was almost all based in entirely new, weird and spooky locations in a forgotten basement level of the college. What I’m trying to say is that the look, feel, and focus of this thing made me think that the style of it might work just fine as the basis for a Community feature film.
But the other thing Community needs to be is witty and, as mentioned, if this had been the movie, it feels as though it would be one with the completely wrong people working on it. I just don’t get what the hell happened with the jokes here. They’re often quite broad and basic, like Duncan, after being “hilariously” electrocuted, commenting on the birds he sees floating over his head. What is this, Looney Tunes?
Then there’s just stupid stuff that’s so over the top like the one school board guy’s absurd, blue-screen-effected non-sequitur or Chris Elliott rubbing his nipples to make his emotion computer happy. Speaking of which, the presence of Elliott acting rather like he does in most of the things he’s on only further jars with what I know of Community and drives home the feeling that I’m watching one of the many dumb Hollywood comedies he’s been in, like There’s Something About Mary or one of the Scary Movies.
The unfortunate thing about Chris Elliott is that I became familiar with him, as I imagine many others did, for chewing scenery in not very good comedies, but the guy’s actually secretly kind of a genius. I think it’s fair to even call him one of the pioneers of doing the meta thing on TV with weird shows like Get a Life or his thoroughly bizarre 1986 one-off, Action Family. In fact, Dan Harmon has specifically cited Action Family as an influence, and I’m sure having Elliott on the show felt like a major “get.” But as an actor, he kind of just does his “Chris Elliott acts nutty,” thing and the absurdity of his comedy doesn’t do “Basic Sandwich” any favors. In fairness, having him hooked up to a computer with a face on it while rubbing his nipples can’t really come off as anything except over the top.
The other thing this episode forgets is that Community is supposed to have emotion. Probably the best moment is Annie addressing the fact that, with all the changes like Pierce dying and Troy leaving, even if they do save Greendale, which version of it will be saved? This is obviously her addressing the state of the show itself (made even more transparent by Abed’s response to this), but it works (or at least Annie’s part does; Abed’s is a bit too on the nose) in the way the show often used to have its cake and eat it too: with unapologetic sitcom sappiness and simultaneous self-awareness of the hokey nature of sitcoms.
Beyond that, however, where’s the emotion? Britta and Jeff getting back together felt real for like fifteen seconds in the previous episode, but now they’re just alternating between hyperbolic fights and love declarations with the future of their relationship entirely losing any authenticity as soon as Abed reduces it to them seeing a life together as a spinoff to the show they now live in. And then we’ve got the aforementioned “Jeff thinks about good times with his friends” moment, which feels abrupt, shoehorned in, and unearned. And, by the way, it sucks that Shirley isn’t even there to experience the main plot with everyone else. Again.
Oh yeah, and there’s one other thing that demonstrates this episode forgot how to be Community: progression. Remember when the characters developed? Well, we get a bit of that, again, from Annie who manages to give her own Winger speech. It’s played well; we see Annie realizing that she’s now capable of doing this, and Jeff simultaneously recognizing how far she’s come. But unfortunately that’s all the progression there is because the rest of the episode aggressively pursues regression. Britta and Jeff getting back together is swiftly done away with as though it was a joke from the start, and we were all silly to think anything otherwise, and Greendale is delivered back into the hands of the good guys.
Remember how different things were in the other season finales? The first one ended on a love triangle cliffhanger, Season 2 ended with Pierce leaving the group, and Season 3 showed everyone moving into new stages of their lives. Hell, even the horrible Season 4 finale had Jeff and Pierce graduate (though the episode on the whole was still far, far worse than this one). The end scene in “Basic Sandwich” is such a cheesy, self-satisfied piece of sitcom nonsense with everyone just happily jumping around to Dave Matthews and spouting pat, conclusive one-liners, ready to come back to Greendale for another year and do it all over again. Something I always criticized the non-Dan-Harmon season of was how anti-development, anti-change it seemed to be, so it’s a bit horrifying to see a Dan Harmon finale seemingly openly embracing this very thing.
Season 5 started out strong, but the tail end of it just made me increasingly frustrated and exhausted with confusing yet unstimulating episodes from a show that used to so totally surprise me from week to week. Six seasons and a movie? I don’t know. I guess. Fine.
Have you guys seen Rick and Morty? That’s a good show