This review contains spoilers.
5.7 App Development And Condiments
“Fives have lives, fours have chores, threes have fleas, twos have blues, and ones don’t get a rhyme, because they’re garbage!”
Okay, it’s like Dan Harmon and his writing staff are just showing off now. While last week’s more sombre Bondage And Beta Male Sexuality was the kind of episode that no other sitcom could pull off in its stride, App Development And Condiments represents the series at the very peak of its power, doing many of the things it’s best at – high-concept escalations, character interactions, zeitgeist-y satire that never comes off as too arch or obvious – all at the same freaking time.
While that might not lead to the most cohesive episodes of the season, I would be surprised if it doesn’t end up being one of the most talked-about and remembered, with its penchant for social commentary, and the bizarre escalations that it entails.
Dean Pelton lets app developers David and Bixel (guest stars Steve Agee and Brian Posehn) in on a meeting of the Save Greendale committee to introduce their new social media app, MeowMeowBeenz. In the hope that the app will do for Greendale what Facebook did for Harvard, the Dean lets them beta-test it on campus, leading to a conflict of typically exaggerated proportions.
For starters, the study group are quickly divided by the app. Shirley previously felt left out, as per her snarky comment in last week’s episode and an early exchange in this one, but soon becomes the most popular student on the ranking system, ostensibly by being nice to everyone. Annie and Chang willingly fall in with her as she builds an esteemed 5-Beenz profile.
Elsewhere, Jeff is discomfited by the social shift that comes with the expansion of the app across Greendale, and calls Shirley on her passive-aggressive manipulation of the student body. At the same time as Britta discovers a superpower – that people will take her seriously when she has mustard smeared on her face – she and Jeff plot to overthrow the growing tyranny of the arbitrary rankings, as it splits the school into five social castes.
Even campus-carnage snagglepuss Buzz Hickey (unless I say otherwise, just keep assuming that Jonathan Banks is amazing in every episode this season) winds up getting sucked in, resolving to stay hidden by pretending every day is his birthday, with the logic that nobody will down-vote someone on their birthday. Nevertheless, his initial prediction that “MeowMeowBeenz will make East Berlin look like Woodstock” soon becomes reality. Or un-reality. Yeah, I’m beginning to think we need some new terminology when it comes to Community.
With the sci-fi dystopia that unfolds, this is easily the most off-the-wall episode of Community since season 3’s Remedial Chaos Theory, but it’s deceptively simple. If the episode had used terms such as “like”, “retweet” and “follow”, perhaps this wouldn’t seem so complicated. But the episode moves apace after the explanation of how MeowMeowBeenz works, and the student body’s swift, but not unexpected slalom into post-apocalyptic anarchy feel all the more uncontrollable.
It’s also an episode that stacks a lot of different ideas, even if they’re all a little simpler than the script makes them seem. At its core, it’s another episode in which the main two characters involved in a conflict wind up realising that they’re each arguing the exact same point, albeit from different perspectives. Still, it feels churlish to complain when it reunited the Foosball And Nocturnal Vigilantism pairing of Jeff and Shirley, who are just as enjoyable together this time out.
Amusingly, Abed feels right at home in a world where MeowMeowBeenz reigns, because it expresses all the unspoken social interactions that trouble him, in a simple quantity of cat-faces. When he contentedly tells Jeff that being a 3 makes him the same as everyone else, you feel for him, but this is also one of the moments that best shows up the banality of social media relations.
There aren’t as many laughs in this episode as in others from this season, and it certainly errs more towards the conceptual than the comedic, but there are still some solid funny bits. Starburns’ decision to dress as Zed from Zardoz marks one of the episode’s bigger WTF moments, and you can have tonnes of fun just trying to spot the legion of unexpected guest star cameos in this one, from Agee and Posehn, to Tim Heidecker & Eric Wareheim.
But by far the best of the crazy guest turns in this episode was Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz’s role as Koogler. You know Koogler, right? (He’s a 5!) Well, actually, he’s a middle-aged party animal who provides one of the series’ best ever credit tags with a spoof trailer for an old-timey crazy college comedy. Hurwitz is clearly having the time of his life, and it’s actually hard to decide if he’d be better as a perfectly absurd mayfly character, or as a returning guest star in future episodes.
If anyone’s wondering if this season’s reported low ratings indicate a decline in Community’s popularity, you may be heartened to hear that the MeowMeowBeenz hashtag trended worldwide during the episode. That’s an especially strong sign, coming from such an off-the-wall episode- shortly before transmission, Joel McHale took to Twitter to warn us that Dan Harmon may have been worried that they had broken TV with this episode.
App Development And Condiments is instantly memetic, but because it’s Community, it goes far beyond merely launching a hashtag. In fact, it sometimes goes so far that it’s almost too messy to entirely hang together, but the strength of the episode is in it somehow mustering through on a conceptual level.
In the end, the episode effectively skewers the mob mentality and addictive banality of social networking by virtue of its uniqueness alone, but also testifies once more to the infinite flexibility of the situation and characters at the heart of the series. If it doesn’t break television, (early signs would suggest that it hasn’t) then it still deserves a 5 for effort.
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