I know we started off this season with a supposed “Repilot” to get new viewers acquainted with the show, but Community is far too familiar with its own history and refuses to deny that you are too. And this particular episode about Troy leaving for good perhaps unavoidably relies heavily on its own legacy.
In Community’s world, it only makes sense to say goodbye to a character with a ridiculous concept episode. Or, rather, it makes sense for certain characters. Pierce’s official goodbye last week was about as grounded as the show gets, canisters of sperm notwithstanding. But Troy is one half of the Troy and Abed Manchild Make-Believe Team, so ending his time at Greendale with a post-apocalyptic war about standing on chairs is the way to go.
The concept of “Geothermal Escapism” is that Abed wants to see Troy off in style with a campus-wide game of Hot Lava. Whether you buy the notion that the Dean is willing to allow this and that the study group is instantly ready to go along with it feels fairly dependent on whether you’ve followed the show till now and, of course, whether you’ve seen the paintball episodes. The way (nearly) everybody falls in line to go along with Abed’s nonsense really only works because we know this sort of thing just happens at Greendale. Otherwise all the people attending this college, not just Troy and Abed, would appear to be suffering from some kind of developmental disorder. Britta essentially points this out, but I would still be worried about these people if this were my first time meeting them.
That said, the idea is sold more by (as was done in the paintball episodes) the introduction of a grand prize to the proceedings, in this case, a comic of Abed’s worth $50,000. And, even though we’ve been here before, the moment when Abed announces the prize, marking exactly what kind of episode we’re in for, still manages to be pretty great.
Of course, another major difference between this episode and the paintball ones is that Britta isn’t really going along with it. In previous concept episodes, Britta was right there alongside everyone else, getting into the spirit of things but, now fueled by her studies in Psychology, she’s upset with everyone for being in denial of their grief and wants the game to end so that they can face the fact that Troy is leaving. This makes the episode largely Britta’s, which is great because it’s awesome to witness her come into her own as a formidable force rather than as just the butt of so many jokes.
Once she commits fully to the game (with the goal of ending it)—suited up in a bizarre Mad Max–ian outfit replete with a weird artificially windswept haircut and piloting a rolling chair with the help of two plungers—the brilliant Britta moments keep coming. Her battle of wits and plungers with Jeff feels like it’s going on too long until Britta’s victory. Her shouting “Who’s there, bitch? Floor! FLOOOOOR!” is both extremely hilarious and cathartic. Also, teaming her up with Buzz Hickey is a nice touch as it helps further his character’s qualities of being half-heartless, half-softie.
Ultimately, it’s great that Britta’s struggles actually result in her finally positively helping Abed, something she’s attempted to do in the past but has largely failed at. This also reveals, in a roundabout way, that this is more an Abed episode or at least an Abed-through-Britta episode, which is something else that could be off-putting to newer viewers and well, me. The childishness of Abed and Troy’s relationship has often dipped too far into a creepy realm. Everyone going along with Troy and Abed’s immature needs just rubs me the wrong way and this episode pretty much takes the cake on that front.
The sappy stuff at the end was played so straight that my blackened heart’s instinct was to reject it outright but, luckily for Community, I love these characters too much and found it mostly genuinely sweet and almost (almost!) tear-inducing. In fact, what I enjoyed most about this episode were the moments of sincerity between the characters, because the parody framing the proceedings didn’t quite land for me.
The main issue is that it feels kind of done already. This is a post-apocalyptic homage, something Community technically hasn’t done before. But the unfortunate thing is that, though the paintball episodes covered action movies and westerns, they were also about survival and consequently, inadvertently or not, occasionally strayed into apocalypse territory (remember the scene around the fire in “Modern Warfare”?). Therefore, “Geothermal Escapism” can’t entirely escape coming off as a little retread-y.
Plus, maybe people standing on objects and avoiding the floor is just less exciting than people shooting at each other (Though, admittedly, the consequences would be pretty severe. Some of those falls looked pretty bad, especially for those whose legs were tied to stuff). I can’t say for sure why, but there were times where the show was much more committed to the concept of, er, standing on things, than I was. There were a lot of moments where the combination of total ridiculousness and utter sincerity just made me feel a little embarrassed for everybody. Maybe because this sort of homage episode doesn’t feel as wildly novel as it once did. Take, for example, Shirley’s Island. Pierce started his own little gated community in the last paintball episode. With Shirley’s Island, this episode is relying on a hugely similar conceit to be at once taken as hilarious and important to the plot, but without that coat of freshness to distract, it feels a little silly.
There were also times I was surprised the show didn’t acknowledge the absurdity of the premise more. I expected some joke at the part where Troy chooses to “die” by falling into the lava because, I mean, he falls straight back onto the floor. I thought for sure someone would step in and stop him from severely hurting himself or that he’d be bandaged up later, but apparently he just gracefully slammed into the ground flat on his back.
On reflection, I suppose last week’s “Cooperative Polygraphy” was Troy’s episode. We got far more great one-liners from him then and the entire narrative built to his choosing to leave Greendale to become a man. It also makes sense for this episode to be more about Abed coping with losing Troy as we just know he’d take it the hardest. But it is still a bit unfortunate that Troy felt often underused and pushed to the background for the only episodes Donald Glover was available for this season, including his very last one. But maybe it’s wise to not overload a rebooted season of a show with a guy you’re going to have to lose only five episodes in.
Hey, also, did Britta win Abed’s $50,000 comic? Or is that just irrelevant at this point?