If there’s one joke in Community that perfectly encompasses the show’s sense of humor it’s the snake in a can gag at the beginning of “The Science of Illusion.” Like the show’s characters, we’re all aware of the old snake in the can prank. I’ve seen other shows comment on this before, but the commentary is usually, “Let’s mention how dumb this prank is.” Community took a different route, which is instead actually infusing the joke with comedy by changing things while simultaneously recognizing the joke along with the audience. Offering a totally empty peanut can is funny, and the show doesn’t even end there, as Troy literally offers Pierce a snake in a peanut can only to be declined not because of the gag but due to other reasons entirely. It’s a nice little synecdoche for the entire show and its method of twisting tired cliches not just through acknowledgment like Family Guy but instead with an homage and a twist.
“Just reminding you to keep any April Fool’s pranks physically safe, politically balanced and racially accessible.”
“You’re more of a fun vampire, because you don’t suck blood … you just suck.”
-Prof. Chang wondering why the hell his class has become show-and-tell for the principal is pretty great. Reminds me that, oh yeah, he teaches an actual class.
“I’ve got moves I haven’t even seen before.”
“Tell that to what our equivalent of a judge is.”
“That African-American police chief Abed was playing was right.”
“Then why is there a photo on your facebook page of a cat wearing a necktie?”
“This investigation is going nowhere … you need a psychic.”
“If I have to hand you off to Shirley you’re going to enter a kitchen of pain.”
“Knock knock, who’s that? Cancer? Oh that’s good, I thought it was Britta.”
“Let’s never let Jeff divide us again.”
-Quite enjoyed Troy and Abed in the Morning. I’d watch that, no wonder it has such a large crowd.
This episode went in the buddy cop-comedy direction, with Annie and Shirley deputized to deal with possible high-stakes shenaniganery that may be afoot on account of April Fool’s Day. As with all good television and movie watchers, they understand the dynamics of a buddy cop picture, which is the reference the show’s riffing on here (and if it’s too difficult to see, then Abed can point this out for you). The thing is, because everyone including the show’s characters knows that the cool cop is always the rebel who plays by his or her own rules, both Shirley and Annie want to be that maverick. It’s an elegant way of going beyond merely referential comedy, as well as a lot of fun to watch.
The rest of the episode is also spent dealing with television cliches, these having less to do with genre and more to do with typage. NBC’s commercials have long mentioned the Community characters as like the Breakfast Club, but there’s something to that. Everyone on the show has their thing and easily identifiable role within the group. But because of that, and awareness of that cliche, characters on Community are constantly trying to break free of these constraints. Here it’s Britta who would rather not always be a wet blanket and so she tries to out-prank Jeff and his fun-loving ways. Her version of humor still consists of putting a hat on a frog, but at least she’s trying.
When she does go frog hunting, Britta accidentally knocks a corpse through a window, which leads to the dynamic duo of renegade cops on a search for the culprit. Tipped off by Britta and easily convinced of the truth of this tip due to their love for groping him, the pair goes after Jeff, who eventually argues his case by noting that the prank in question was pretty stupid. After some good old fashioned torture, Britta confeses and everyone bonds with a series of group hugs.
There’s also a big, extremely silly plot where Pierce is gaining a level in Buddhism and as such is given in a robe, only as a prank Jeff replaces it with a wizard robe and, eventually, a cookie crisp wand. Like most Pierce plots, there isn’t too far for things to go here, but they sure are funny to watch, even if like Troy I was born too late to know about this cookie crisp wizard the show speaks of.
All in all, an excellent episode and one that I’ll probably be using to introduce people to the show in the future. It has some great laughter, impressive set pieces and still managed to have a lot of heart. Not only that, the entire cast weaved in and out of the various plots to create a truly cohesive episode where all seven main characters were used well, no mean feat. There’s simply no other show on television right now that can achieve all of that and do so while making it look easy. Hats off to you once again, Community.