One of the best jokes ever made on The Simpsons was the rake gag from “Cape Feare,”, in which Sideshow Bob keeps stepping on rakes and hitting himself in the head. It’s just that simple, and though since then similar jokes have at times played that sort of thing to death, that doesn’t mean that this sort of comedy of repetition, in which things go from funny to annoying to hysterical, should never be used. It just means that it’s time for a fresh spin on the formula, rather than Family Guy bringing out that same dead horse again to flog it once again.
There was a lot going on in this week’s episode of Community, but the episode’s high point came from just such an experiment with repetition into the realm of absurdity. Of course, it takes some time to get there, and the show’s main plot is entertaining enough on its own until then. Jeff fakes a class and rather than being caught in the act, his lie turns into truth when the professor of his fake course, the wonderfully named Professor Professorson, suddenly pops up. From there, Jeff and Annie go on a search for the cause of this impossibility and sleuth out the truth of the matter in the style of a hackneyed conspiracy thriller.
When it turns out that Prof. Professorson is just an actor, the pair uses him to act in a scene against the Dean. But then it turns out the dean was in on it. Then it was actually Annie who was helping the dean, I think. And then two, three … four more insane reversals happen from there, each one less plausible than the last. Keeping track of what happens in this scene is unnecessary, the point is that it’s a wonderful take on bad twist endings that by the end becomes nearly sublime. It’s a joke that keeps on ratcheting up the ridiculousness again and agian, a rake gag with commentary and a certain cleverness to it that keeps it from being just joke of things going on uncomfortably long.
The other half of “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design” isn’t as successful, despite featuring equal level of surreal ambition. Troy and Abed build a fort with sheets and pillows, and when that becomes unsatisfying, they make it larger. They keep expanding it until everyone in the school is involved and has converted a good deal of the campus into a fort/city. Eventually the fort’s caught on too much and, as the episode ends, they decide to take it down since it’s become mainstream.
It’s probably not the fairest criticism against Community to say that a certain plot takes things too far, since many of the show’s best plots are a result of pushing the boundaries of what a live-action TV show can do. And it’s not as if the fort plot didn’t have some great moments, particularly during the chase sequence. But as a whole, it felt like it was forcing the craziness of the show too far, and while the jokes worked well, the plotline always felt out of place. It tried something new, which is respectable, but something about it never had the residue of reality that Community normally has, leaving it ultimately disappointing.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that finally the Jeff/Annie plot is both being addressed and moving forward in some way again. Annie’s little “ad lib” worked perfectly in the bluffs, double bluffs, etc. of the shoot out, telling us her feelings but still leaving us unclear what’s going on with Jeff. The will they/won’t they Community resolved with Britta and Jeff is now long gone, so now we have a new one, but this time I’m at least interested in the direction the romantic subplot may take. With any luck, it won’t take another half of the season before their sexual tension rises to the surface again, but I wouldn’t expect to see much of it anytime soon.
-The future of that diorama is so bright the animals have to wear shades. Yeah, I went there.
“My boys are in elementary school and they don’t build nearly as many dioramas as we do.”
“I have always dreamt of playing charades with you, Jeff, but not like this. And not on dry land.”
“It looks like somebody sent us a message. A tiny, thoroughly underwhelming message.”
-The Pierce’s mom memorial’s an odd addition to the fort.
-But they do have a civil rights museum. Seems like a pretty well-managed country, all things considered.
-Whatever was going on with Britta’s room was awesome, though I have no idea what it could possibly be. Where was Pierce this whole episode?
“Would that this desk were a time desk?”
-Annie keeps her cell phone in her breasts?
-Some references were made to Scotland PA, another Kevin Corrigan project. Not much more to say about this.
“There were only three prop guns.”
“I just keep teaming up with whatever’s suggested.”
“Fact: in 100% of all fake gun shootings, the victim is always the one with the fake gun.”
“Would that this hoody were a time hoody.”