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Is it just me, or have Community writers really upped the over-the-top movie references in their show this season? Sure, season one had the action film-inspired “Modern Warfare” and the Goodfellas-like chicken fingers episode. But that was over the course of an entire season. But now we’re only six episodes into season two and we’ve already had the big Apollo 13 parody and now our zombie-movie Halloween episode.
Of course, this is not entirely unexpected. In the season premiere, Abed did say that he was hoping this year would focus less on the ongoing soap opera elements and more on “standalone escapades.” And while those episodes have always been larger-than-life, this week’s “Epidemiology” takes it even further than normal, with the dean serving toxic materials as taco meat turning everybody at the Greendale Halloween party into zombies. Literal zombies who wander around craving the taste of human flesh.
Considering how most of the ridiculous Community episodes started in places that were at least somewhat believable (a game of paintball, the fact that everyone loves chicken fingers), it seems a bit out of place when 5 minutes in everyone started turning into the walking dead. But once I got past the initial concept, what followed was the funniest episode the show has had in this new season.
Many of the problems I’ve had with the previous movie-based episodes have come from when the concept of the episode takes precedence over the characters. Here, that’s not the case at all. Jeff remains his too-cool-for-school self, worrying about his appearance over his safety and casually texting even after he’s become a zombie. Pierce doesn’t want to seem like a helpless old man, even after becoming infected. And through it all, there’s Troy dealing with whether he’s become too much of a nerd since becoming friends with Abed.
It no longer gets mentioned much, but Troy was the prom king football star in high school. At Greendale (mostly thanks to Abed’s influence) Troy has become a full-fledged nerd, as evidenced by his tandem costume with Abed: Abed as an alien from Aliens and Troy as Ripley (before he decides to change into "sexy Dracula"). It was inevitable that Troy would question his development at some point, and this episode provided a surprising opportunity for Troy to embrace his inner-nerd as he goes to rescue his friends (one nice thing about Community is that with so many strong characters, it can have an episode like this where Jeff, the “main” character, gets pushed to the side for most of the running time).
Of course, with all of this character development, there was also a whole lot of hilarious zombie-fighting. The gang fighting off zombies? Funny. The gang fighting off zombies wearing ridiculous Halloween costumes like a hamster and a banana? Really funny. The gang fighting of zombies wearing ridiculous costumes while Abba blasts on the soundtrack, thanks to the dean’s iTunes playlist? Hysterical. Community attempts to walk a fine line each week balancing it’s characters with the shows more outlandish elements. It doesn’t always strike the perfect tone, but when it does, there isn’t a funnier sitcom out there.