Community: “App Development and Condiments”- Strong Concept Lacks Strong Execution
One of the things that Community
can sometimes forget to do, in the midst of their high concept episodes and social parodies, is provide a balance in screen time for their different characters throughout a season. And no one is more often the victim of this than Shirley. While "App Development and Condiments" wasn't a true Shirley episode, it did give us some quality time with everyone's favorite Greendale mother, while still finding time to give each of the other characters some time in the sun. I just wish the episode was a bit more cohesive.
Shirley is a challenging character in many ways, as she is, ultimately, the mother of the group. While Jeff often stands in for the stern father (even if that's something he would never accept as a possibility), Shirley is nearly always looking out for those around her- and manipulating them (or, at least trying extremely hard to manipulate them). We've dealt with Shirley's competitive streak and her manipulations previously, but this episode truly puts her skills to the test.
Pitting Shirley against Jeff has paid dividends in the past (in "Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism," which was written by Anthony Russo, whose brother Joe wrote "App Development and Condiments"), and it does so again here. Rather than battling it out on the foosball table, the pair duke it out over popularity, with each successfully manipulating the student body to give them "MeowMeowBeenz." The rapid escalation of MeowMeowBeenz from an innocent ratings app into a social class generator is typical Greendale, and might be eye-roll inducing were it not for the incredible futuristic society that develops as a result.
But as slick as it all looks, and as great as it is to see Shirley have a strong storyline, a lot of it feels like a retread. Britta successfully staging a coup is nice, but we have to sit through another episode of her going through a series of false starts to get there (and, she really only gets there thanks to mustard on her face, which was funny the first time, less funny as the episode goes on). Abed finds some aspect of the new hierarchical world that appeals to him. But while he may make some temporary social strides, he ultimately cannot function in a world where you are expected to manipulate your way to the top, and continue destroying others to stay there- which we already knew about Abed. Annie is happy being close to greatness, but not able to attain it for herself- which is something we've known about her for the entire series as well. And Jeff can successfully manipulate the entire school into giving him what he wants, only to have him blow his chance to take down the hierarchy because he gets too competitive with Shirley.
We don't learn anything new about the characters that we hadn't already dealt with over the last five years. It's a very slick episode, and it's certainly funny (and, bonus points, it uses Chang effectively, which is always something nice to see), but it's not a great episode. I would have liked to have seen the episode from Shirley's perspective rather than from Jeff and Britta's. I would have liked to spend more time with the lower ranked individuals, or even have spent more time watching one of the study group rise to the top of the rankings. So, while I liked the idea of the episode, I feel it lacks the execution to really bring the idea to fruition. There just wasn't enough background for Jeff's journey to the top (beyond a petty desire to best Shirley), and just not enough we haven't already seen several times before.
-- Koogler, the strange Bacchanalian dude who was amongst the 5s, was played by Arrested Development
creator Mitch Hurwitz. I was hoping he might let slip a clue as to where Lucille 2 is being held. Alas, no such luck.
-- The one person who is perfectly suited for the world of the 5s? Hickey. And I guess Chang, since that man has more lives than a cat.
-- I'm assuming the Dean was a 4? I really loved his announcements to each of the factions.
-- With all the dystopian literature making the rounds, this parody was pretty much inevitable. I just wish it were done a bit better.
-- I'm glad Shirley and Jeff made up (again) at the end of the episode. For some reason, I just really want those two to stay friends. Even though she's a master manipulator and can give Jeff a run for his money, Jeff needs her in his life.