It’s been a while since we’ve covered Community, so let’s go over the basics since we’ve been gone. While we ended last season with Jeff and Annie together, we learned that it never really happened at the beginning of the new season and the main action in the show has been Chang’s attempt to make it into the study group. Since then, we’ve had Betty White pop up, as much John Oliver in five episodes as we got all last season, Abed delivering a baby, Jeff realized his own mortality and the crew flew off to space…simulation in a KFC chicken-mobile. Not a single bad episode among the bunch and while not every episode hit it out of the ballpark, it was still the most ambitious half-hour of comedy being made on network television. The second season’s beginning has had a confidence missing from the first and nothing has been rote so far—no sophomore slump here.
Now to the episode at hand. Like most sit-coms, Community absolutely loves holidays, and there’s a very good reason for this. Not only are there many convenient directions for parodies to go, holidays are also a real event. Most of our lives consist of the boring in-between stuff, with holidays taking up maybe five or so days of the year. In sitcom TV world, holidays are 3-5 out of 22-26 days of the year because something actually happens in them. That being said, this leads to a lot pressure to do something new with holidays when we’ve all seen, say, eight different It’s a Wonderful Life send-ups. Considering that last year’s Halloween episode was one of fans’ favorites for Community, due primarily to Abed’s amazing Christian Bale-as-Batman impersonation, the bar for the show was particularly high.
Once again, Community has risen to the occasion, this time by turning the episode into a zombie movie in miniature. When Dean Pelton cut corners buying military surplus food to cater one of Greendale’s ubiquitous parties he accidentally purchased a toxic substance that turns everyone who eats it into zombies. This soon gets out of control and the gang is gradually infected with the disease. Not only are people infected, but if they stay infected for long they’ll get permanent brain damage, which in fact raises the stakes a bit, because while there’s no way the show would let all of its characters permanently become zombies (unless, of course, it were truly awesome), it might allow a few people to get brain damaged. Eventually, the military arrives to handle things and no one remembers anything from the night, although evidence remains that Professor Chang and Shirley had sex.
There’s no live-action show I can think of that’s ever tried something like this before and there’s a number of reasons why, one being that for most it just wouldn’t work. You have to have a sufficiently flexible universe in order for things like this to happen, which luckily Community has spent a great deal of time building up. Another reason why is because it’s incredibly risky. If a an episode like this or “Modern Warfare” truly misfired it would be disastrous in a way that a traditional episode wouldn’t, alienating fans and putting a cramp in the show for the next few seasons. Lastly, and most importantly, though, it’s that you have to think to do this in the first place. As far as options for Halloween episodes go, zombie invasion isn’t even on the list.
But no, Community gets things so, so right. This is one of those special episodes that really pushed the boundaries of the show, and honestly, I even preferred it to Modern Warfare—this may be the best episode of the show so far. It wasn’t an episode exploring the character’s emotions or anything like that, but that’s not my preference for the show anyhow. In general it’s this sort of boundary-pushing episode that’s about the most interesting thing a sit-com has done since the great Newsradio went off the air. From the all-ABBA dance music to the gang’s study room becoming a “mall” or sorts to be barricaded to the cat jumping around the basement like an Alien, all the jokes were nailing it. There’s not much you can say about good comedy besides that the jokes work, but Community at its best manages to become almost transcendent in the way one joke flows to the next so naturally despite the insanity of its plot.
When all was said and done, the Chang/Shirley plot is the only thing that survived the episode and it’s hard to know what to think about it so far. It certainly has the potential to do interesting things for the show, but despite all of its greatness in other ways, Community is yet to really wish for any real changes in its dynamics. If for whatever reason Chang and Shirley do end up together, it’s hard not to feel that they’d only break up two episodes later so what’s the point?
-”If you get anymore sweaty and puffy your costume’s going to reach new levels of authenticity.” – on Pierce’s Shatner costume.
-My girlfriend on Joel’s costume: “God he’s hot.” I’m not really qualified to verify her claims. I must assume, from her information, that he looks exactly like me.
-Really loved the Halloween intro to the episode. Best part was Ken Jeong’s aliens in sombreros. Apparently Dan Harmon payed out of pocket for it, too. That’s the type of care being put into episodes now—the show’s creators are paying NBC to do the work.
-”I don’t need to know which Dracula I am to know that I’m a Dracula.”
-All zombie attacks should be done to ABBA. I really love ABBA. Screw you, people who have good taste in music [Editor’s note: What’s wrong with ABBA?], I cranked up the volume when Troy charged in to “Waterloo.”
“You punched a ladybee!”
-”Just so you know, I hate you less now. That’s how much I hate your normal self.”
-The insane cat is a strange joke that really slows down the show’s pace … but still somehow works, probably for just that reason.
-”Make me proud: be the first black man to get to the end.”
-”In your face!” – said by Troy as he hits someone in the ass.
-”Jeff…still cool as a zombie.”