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Full disclosure, I never watched the G.I. Joe cartoon. Honestly, it was a bit before my time. So I didn’t really understand a lot of the G.I. Joe related jokes within Community‘s latest foray into the realm of animation. But I did grow up on Saturday morning cartoons (X-Men, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and, of course, Muppet Babies), so I can certainly appreciate the comforting draw of escaping into a mental realm of your favorite childhood cartoon as a defense mechanism.
While I don’t think “G.I. Jeff” works nearly as well as the Community claymation Christmas offering (which Abed references in this episode before being sushed by the rest of the group), it really is a fun trip down memory lane. What made the claymation episode so strong (I would rank it among Community‘s best episodes) was that Abed’s emotional turmoil was real, relatable, and clearly stated for the audience to sympathize with. In contrast, we spend most of “G.I. Jeff” trying to figure out why the Greendale gang are characters in G.I. Joe. When the cause of the hallucination is revealed- that Jeff has been lying about his age and doesn’t want to admit he is turning 40- it all feels a bit contrived.
Is the episode funny? Absolutely. While there are a number of G.I. Joe specific jokes, there are also plenty for the average Community fan to enjoy. And the cartoon versions of our favorite characters are scarily true to life (Shirley constantly mentioning that she’s the mother of three kids is certainly something we’ve heard before many a time). But once you get past the nostalgia factor, it just doesn’t read as honest or well conceived as I would have hoped it would be. The story turns awfully quickly in the final act, and while we get a great happy ending, it all feels too rushed. Yes, in the world of half hour cartoons things are often tied in a nice bow at the end (except for epic multi-part arcs, something that X-Men was particularly amazing at). But just when I was starting to get acclimated to the new cartoon world, it felt as if the rug were pulled out from under me and everything was ending.
I would have liked some more time getting to know Annie and Britta’s alter egos, but as so often happens with action cartoons, this was the male hero’s tale, so alas Buzzkill and Tight Ship will remain mysteries unless we visit this world again in the future. I also appreciate that the two things that would send Jeff running back into the real world are sex and booze. I guess some things will never change.
So, while “G.I. Joe” was certainly a fun half hour, it was light on the substance. I don’t think it will make the cut for the best episodes in the Community pantheon, but it certainly isn’t among the worst. I would be interested to see if those who grew up as fans of the G.I. Joe cartoon had a better experience with the episode- feel free to hit the comments to add your take.
— Line of the night goes to Dead Pelton with his question of “What clothes did you draw me in?” when Jeff admits everyone was in his dream at G.I. Joe characters.
— After several iffy episode tags, this week’s was really exceptional. I’m sure everyone in the Community audience can remember those post-cartoon PSAs. Excellent work.
— The episode really does an excellent job capturing the essence of the 80s-early 90s cartoon look. And those commercials were spot on.
— Chang as a character named Overkill who shows up as different versions of himself? So accurate and meta.
–And Duncan’s twin who can feel his pain? Loved it.