One of the reasons I, and so many other people, latched onto Community was the show’s willingness to go anywhere and do anything, so long as it had a good reason to do so. And while that first part of the preceding sentence was what set the show apart, the latter clause is ultimately the most important part of the whole thing. As Community’s gimmicks have taken over the show’s writing process, eventually the concept has come first and the writing a distant second, the end result being “Intro to Felt Surrogacy,” a puppet-themed episode that existed for the puppets and not, unfortunately, for the characters.
Most of the episode is told through flashback puppets, and admittedly Community does an excellent job explaining why the puppets make a sort of sense. At least, they make sense within the show’s world, and that’s certainly good enough. However, once the show goes into the flashbacks themselves, the writing, not to mention the songs, enter into a world of subpar non-jokes that felt more fitting for a children’s show than a primetime comedy. A certain element of homage may be present here, but the Muppets have certainly always been a lot funnier than the material here. The dearth of jokes was simply astounding.
The cast used the puppets as therapy, trying to let them move past confessions they made to each other while high on forest berries—seriously—almost all of which are based upon the stereotypes that the characters have become rather than anything remotely interesting. It’s a premise so forced that I sighed at each belabored plot point as it came to pass, wishing that something less contrived would finally appear. Unfortunately, this soon overwhelmed the episode, which was particularly annoying because Shirley’s confession was of a really horrible thing that she did (as in, child services should be looking into it) while everyone else suffered from some mild embarrassment. Making light of child abuse is always a bowlful of laughs.
I wanted to love this episode, because I love puppets, and the show’s full-on style parodies have in the past been excellent. With the studio teasing the puppet episode for so long, it seemed possible that even though the rest of the season had been largely a mess, perhaps Community could put together one more great episode. When it came to production, the look and feel of the episode, it did succeed. Visually this was the most fun the show’s had in ages, and the designers perfectly captured the look that “Intro to Felt Surrogacy” needed. The jokes about the puppets themselves were frequently on the mark, too, and the way each character played with their own puppet overshadowed the rest of the episode.
The overarching story, though, was so miserable, and the songs were so disastrously without humor that the whole episode was almost an embarrassment. Community clearly wanted to capture the vibe of an Avenue Q, but production on its own doesn’t do that. It’s the writing that has always needed to carry Community, and all the clever puppeteering in the world can’t cover up for a dull, cliched story centered around increasingly bland characters. “Intro to Felt Surrogacy” featured yet another of the show’s commentaries about how Community has been growing stale, but rather than do something about this, yet again it’s decided that acknowledging these problems in the midst of a clever homage is easier than actually fixing them.
•I initially assumed the entire first scene’s silence was about Jeff’s hair. Because eww.
•Abed’s puppet is just a slightly discolored Ernie.
•More on Jeff’s hair: it was better as a puppet.
•I did think Donald Glover was excellent with his Troy puppet. Pretty much no good jokes for him, either, but he did the best he could.
•I watched a season two episode of Seinfeld immediately before this, and Jason Alexander looked younger with that wig than he did for a moment of Seinfeld.
•”Treating me like Judas, judging me like Judy.” – The episode almost had a great joke! Oh wait, then they killed it by having Shirley beat the line into the ground. Oh well.
•Another week, another episode where Annie’s supporting. Will she get a lead story before the season’s done? The chances grow even slimmer.