Community: Laws of Robotics and Party Rights Review

The latest episode of Community continues the weird, slow, pseudo-serious tone of the season.

Yahoommunity continues its odd, slow march toward… somber… groundedness? Or something?

“Laws of Robotics and Party Rights” is roughly 29 minutes long, which makes it nearly the length of the previous episode. I didn’t feel this one dragging as much as I did “Queer Studies and Advanced Waxing,” but the pacing in that episode as well as this one has introduced a new, weird tone to the series.

As I mentioned in my previous review, it’s not like you can’t pull off a good sitcom that lasts longer than 22 minutes. It’s just that a show’s established style is a combination of multiple factors. Something like Troy leaving is an obvious shakeup to the status quo but more subtle, yet still hugely important, is stuff like editing and pacing. The extra minutes in these recent episodes have given sections of them a measured, melancholy tone and I’m uncertain whether it’s deliberate or just a side effect of the writers enjoying their limitless time freedom.

I fear it’s the latter more than the former. I mean, after all, this is an episode predicated on the conceit that Greendale is allowing convicts to attend classes remotely by way of iPads attached to Segways (they do manage to pull this concept off; it doesn’t feel so silly that it’s unbelievable relative to Greendale). Yes, Jeff comes to some sincere realizations about his relationship with the Dean and to Greendale as a whole, but, considering everything ends with a joust between an iPad on a Segway and an iPad stuck on a broom, it’s hard to imagine this was supposed to be seen as one of the darker, more earnest episodes. Further, the B plot is some fluff about Britta wanting to throw a party in the apartment she, Annie, and Abed now share. (She gets permission for this by telling Abed he can make a movie about a party.)

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But there are some undeniably odd, unfunny sequences here, like when new convicted murderer/student Willy (Brian Van Holt) first shows up in Jeff’s class and there’s an awkward back and forth between the two of them about whether or not Jeff has murdered anyone. It’s long, bizarre, and seemingly devoid of anything that’s meant to be a joke. (As an aside, it features a shot of Jeff where the camera accidentally jostles a bit. I don’t think that would’ve flown on network TV.)

Like the previous episode, the slow, somber tone permeates much of this one. I like the idea that people start looking up to Willy the convict, shedding light on the fact that he and Jeff are both charming liars, making them actually quite similar. But whether this is supposed to be viewed as a silly issue (like it seems to be when Willy attempts to murder Jeff by running his Segway into him near a staircase) or a serious one (Jeff leaving Britta’s party in a huff) isn’t entirely clear due to the erratic tone.

That said, the episode works much better when it’s just being silly. I enjoy Abed and Britta’s running Seinfeldian gag that Britta is a “coucher.” “She SLEEPS on a COUCH!” The aforementioned attempted murder scene is good too, with Jeff incredulously asking “Are you trying to murder me?” As is often the case with Community this late in its life, the cold open is the most consistently funny and competently structured part of the show, with all the stuff about Elroy being unfairly used as the arbiter of whether comments about black people are offensive or not. Also great is Chang’s immediate conclusion about the convict student proposition: “They’ll rape us. They’ll rape us all.”

I’d say “Laws of Robotics and Party Rights” is about on par with last week’s episode except the plot feels less coherent. As often happens when Abed is making a movie, things get too meta-conceptual and the way the B plot is resolved only kind of makes sense to me (and it ends with what’s apparently now a recurring gag—a gag I don’t much care for—of freeze-framing and slapping up a chyron of an imaginary sitcom title). I also thought I got the fairly simple plot device that the Dean was starting to have a crush on Willy instead of Jeff but then Jeff has a line where he says the Dean is just trying to prove a point, something I didn’t realize he was doing at all.

“Laws of Robotics and Party Rights” isn’t a particularly great or terrible episode. It basically continues what season five has managed so far, but that includes the weird, slow, pseudo-serious tone that seems to be emerging. Garrett gets a good moment when he asks “Mr. Winger, when did you stop being funny?” which is either a deliberate meta-commentary on the turn Community is taking or it’s… not? I can’t tell.

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3 out of 5