Community – “VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing” Review: A Fun Ride
Well, if you bring the creator and showrunner of Breaking Bad
onto your series, you pretty much have to have some sort of Bad
reference, right? Dan Harmon and the Community
writers took it one step forward, offering a half hour look into the rise and fall of their own Heisenberg in the episode's successful B story.
After being tricked by Annie into agreeing to clear out the storage room, Jeff, Hickey, and Shirley stumble across a set of blue chemistry books. Seeing a chance to make a quick buck, the trio (with Shirley taking the lead with Walter White-esque viciousness), call in their "dealer" Britta (naturally) to help unload their stash. Things rapidly spiral out of control a la Heisenberg's own rise and fall, with Shirley eventually distrusting her compatriots and opting to go it alone. It's only after realizing that the textbooks have misprints that she realizes how awfully she behaved and comes back to apologize. Luckily, the study group gang is a bit more understanding than those in Walt's life, and everything is eventually forgotten.
I do find it interesting that this is the second episode in a row that reminds us how horribly manipulating and just plain mean Shirley can be. Considering she tends to get less screen time, particularly when compared to the likes of Abed or Jeff, I would like to see Shirley showcased doing something other than bending those around her to her will. But, I guess that is one of the chief complaints leveled against Community
on the whole: while the characters may grow a bit, each has a clear tick that is continually mined to the point of diminishing returns. Should Community
get a sixth season, I would like to see the characters stretch a bit more- or at least show some more disturbing or troubling traits.
In "VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing"'s A storyline, Abed's girlfriend Rachel (played by indie darling Brie Larson) returns, bearing gifts for Abed on their one month (which, in Abed time is one year) anniversary. Annie, who along with roommate Abed is feeling the financial strain of Troy's absence, has her really awkward brother Anthony over for dinner. Now, if Abed is cuddly odd, Anthony is just plain strange. While some of the jokes in this storyline just don't quite land (and Brie Larson really doesn't get all that much to do), the fast and furious banter between Annie and Abed remains a truly excellent part of the series.
Watching the pair play "Pile of Bullets" (the world's greatest VCR game of 1993, hosted by Vince Gilligan!) had me genuinely laughing out loud uproariously. While Annie and Abed will never have the same relationship as Abed and Troy, the pair clearly need each other to feed their own neurosis. And, with that in mind, they probably are right to pass on asking Britta to move into their apartment with them and look to Craigslist instead. I mean, it can't get worse than Britta, right?
All-in-all, it was a solid episode. There were several funny moments, and the limited high concept nature of the B storyline spoke to the classic great high concept Community
episodes without taking things too far (as often happened in last season's darkest timeline). I know that not every episode can be a home run, but I'll settle for solid doubles like this.
-- Great work, once again, by Jim Rash as the Dean. That rap was incredible.
-- Since Shirley was clearly the group Heisenberg, does that make Jeff the Jesse of the situation? I'm not sure I buy Jeff's weak front in the face of Shirley's strength, but it was certainly fun to see him in a different light.
-- Again, glad to see that Chang was utilized to his best potential here. A little Chang goes a long way.
-- I was really hoping that Hickey would be in a scene with Vince Gilligan to complete the Breaking Bad
reunion. But I will happily settle for watching Jonathan Banks quasi-reprise his role as Mike.
-- Finally, I thought the episode's final button was one of the strongest of the season. I loved the random Gina Gershon appearance. And, why weren't VCR games the new frontier of board games? I guess people were way more optimistic back in 1993.