Community: “Pillows and Blankets” (3.14)

TV Reviews
Community: “Pillows and Blankets” (3.14)

It’s not a given that Community’s theme episodes will be its best ones, that they’ll consistently be television events that everyone’s talking about. But it certainly seems that way, and “Pillows and Blankets” was the most creative one the show’s done since last year’s fake clip show, “Paradigms of Human Memory.” It doesn’t take too big of a stretch to think of turning a sitcom into a western or military show once you establish that you want to regularly parody genres, but a PBS-style documentary is something so far from the show’s original content that it takes things an extra step further.

So let’s begin with the parody itself, which was slick, featured far better-looking digital graphics than anything the show’s done before (even though they were very simple), and managed to be funny despite slowing down the show’s normally rapid pace. The risk of an episode like this is that it’s so tonally different that the audience is disappointed. Unlike simply doing another genre and shooting it like a normal episode of Community, this type of documentary has its own rhythm. But Community’s not just any show, and its creators realize that the audience is willing to follow it to new places. The TV sitcom form is about giving audiences the same thing week after week, so this is always risky, but by building these things into the show’s DNA Community manages to get away with this.

With no disappointments in the parody department, that leaves us with the Community aspects of the episode, namely its character interactions. In these, though, this was actually one of the strongest theme episodes the show’s ever done. The stakes of, say, a paintball episode are pretty much just getting through the episode. There isn’t too much of an emotional core. Here, though, the conflict itself was a metaphor, and as “Pillows and Blankets” went further it became more and more about Troy and Abed and less about the intricacies of battle. Once Troy finds Abed’s letter, it’s no longer just a game; there’s some real emotional scarring.

One of the best things about the episode’s focus on the Troy-Abed friendship is that it was done so gradually and subtly. It’s there all the time, but for the first half of the episode Community is perfectly willing to let the parody be the focus. When that shifts to the two generals rather than the conflict, it’s just a gradual change, and while the end with the two still pillowing each other is as easy to read as Jeff makes it to be, it still works because the episode’s earned that bluntness. Yes, the whole affair was just a small fight between two friends who are still kids at heart, but when you’re one of the central parties it always feels like the sort of war depicted in the rest of the episode.

That’s what made this episode so great, that the metaphor so perfectly fit the relatable, heart of the episode. Even with Community that’s rarely been the case, and while there’s nothing wrong with having an episode parody a random genre for no particular reason, it feels extra special when there is one.

Stray observations:
– I’m pretty happy Community brought “Big Cheddar” back.
– “Do people go to classes?” – obviously no. What kind of show does Dean Pelton think this is?
– “Leonard likes this post.”

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