Brie Larson’s Rachel appears to be the anti-Frank Grimes, that is, the one-time Simpsons character who has come to represent the idea of a person seemingly transported from the real world to be totally put off by TV characters’ craziness. Rachel, on the other hand, sees the craziness of the Greendale crew and says, “Yes, I like that.” And she actively contributes to it by being the one who gives Abed the interactive VCR game “Pile of Bullets,” a game that is really crazy, even by Community standards. But, like someone who seems to have come in from the real world, her craziness or attraction to it is tempered and self-aware, putting her foot down as she does when the craziness gets too manipulative.
So anyway, I’m happy that Brie Larson is finally back for more than just the last two minutes of an episode. “VCR Maintenance” only further cemented my belief that she should be a regular or semi-regular. (Apparently, her film career is taking off, so she might have trouble fitting it into her schedule, but she better make time for at least a few episodes should there be a Season 6, because Rachel is simply not a character that should fall victim to Chuck Cunningham Syndrome.) Did it bother me that Abed and Rachel had suddenly become the “Aww” Couple since the last time we saw them? No, because their courtship was convincing and extensive enough in “Herstory of Dance” and all the lost time between then and “Analysis of Cork-Based Networking” was brushed off with a “Let’s just forget that and start dating.”
Rachel finds herself in the cross-hairs of an Annie-Abed plot that puts Alison Brie’s and Danny Pudi’s boisterous chemistry to ideal use. If you’ve ever watched interviews with the Community cast, you know that these two tend to goof off together with boundless energy. So getting them rolling dice, collecting tokens, finger-banging, and tornado-ing in tune with an especially nonsensical piece of interactive technology was the perfect method of corralling all that enthusiasm. Plus, it fit their characters exactly, appealing to Annie’s intense perfectionism and Abed’s commitment to the bit.
Somehow the game of Pile of Bullets was the method of Annie and Abed choosing a new roommate, and somehow that made perfect sense in the context of the episode. Rachel moving in may not have been the best idea, but it did make sense that Abed would want her to move in, beyond just the typical reasons of someone trying to move things too quickly in a relationship (more on that later), and actually, her moving in could work (more on that later also). Annie’s brother moving in might make sense because he’s family and they’ve lived together before, but also, this appearance is the first time that Anthony has ever even been mentioned on the show.
Coming into this episode, I was concerned that this brother who was hitherto unknown would be a problem, and it still kind of was, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. As he mentions, he was 13 when Annie become addicted to Adderall, so it makes sense that he wasn’t in a position to independently stay in touch with her after their parents cut her off. And Annie has never really divulged that much information about her family, so I can believe that she never happened to be inclined to bring up his name. Ultimately, I can believe that he would never be mentioned over the course of five years; I think the only thing that was missing was some in-show acknowledgement of his previous total absence.
Played by Spencer Crittenden (who Harmontown listeners know as the podcast’s Dungeons & Dungeons Dungeon Master) basically as his monotone self, Anthony confused me a little at first, thinking he was supposed to be slow in wild contrast to the quick-witted Annie. As the episode progressed, though, he ultimately projected a sort of Zen wisdom with his flat affect. They didn’t exactly have a whole lot of sibling similarities, but I did get a sense of Anthony having resigned himself to being bossed around by a controlling older sister.
In trying to find a replacement for Troy, Annie and Abed drive both Anthony and Rachel away and therein demonstrate how much they need someone like Troy to counterbalance their intensity. Anthony departs a little annoyed at Annie, but not so annoyed as to preclude the possibility of a return appearance, which I would be happy to see. Spencer really seems like he’s going places. Meanwhile, Rachel is understandably upset at Abed at his most manipulative, and I’m momentarily experiencing the same abandonment issues as Abed, worried that Brie Larson is going to disappear from Community yet again. Luckily, Abed remembers that he has found the perfect girl for him and knows that she will forgive him if he offers a “third act apology.” And here is evidence for why Rachel would be a solid roommate choice. I’ve compared her to Troy in the past, and that is exactly it – she happily goes along with Abed’s homages but not quite as intensely as he does, but she is able to rein him in from his worst tendencies, much better than Troy ever was able to (though, to be fair to Troy, Rachel may have benefited from Troy’s influence on Abed before she met him).
The “third act apology” really is an incredible moment. It works according to the same principle as Abed’s big, public declaration of love at the end of “Herstory of Dance” – he takes a fictional trope and shows that it does have meaning when applied to real life, but he tweaks it a little bit for his own purposes. Abed and Rachel could have just kissed as Pavel poured down the rainwater, and Rachel would have been fine with that, and she was right to think that that would have been adorable. But Abed also wants to explain himself, and it is beautiful when he says, “Just because it’s adorable doesn’t mean it’s not important.” This is a cool gesture, but it is also how Abed knows best how to communicate, and even without the two of them kissing in that scene, it is incredibly romantic, and I am left thinking how much I need to find a girl who would appreciate a gesture like that just as much as Rachel does.
In the “Educational Publishing” half of this episode, Jeff, Shirley, and Hickey stumble across a cache of hidden textbooks that they scheme to sell on the black market (or whatever the Greendale equivalent of the black market is). But things get complicated when they need to bring Britta into the fold for her connections and then when Chang stumbles across them. This storyline is basically A Simple Plan (everything goes wrong for amateur criminals because they’re amateurs) crossed with Community characters having a penchant for taking things way too far.
This subplot had its moments. It’s always fun to see Shirley quickly switch gears from moralistic to take-charge. Chang was well-utilized, not only just for dependably delivering bizarre lines (“I stole all these books so I could come kiss them”) but also providing a bit of characterization in that he is concerned about breaking the terms of his parole. Also, Britta shouting “EvErYbOdY!” was a great callback to Annie shouting “EVERYTHING!” and Chang shouting “Everywhere!” I guess they were all referencing Léon: The Professional, so my theory is that the Save Greendale Committee watched that movie together and they are all now finding moments to show off their Gary Oldman impressions.
Ultimately, I don’t think the textbook story amounted to all that much special. These are bad habits we’ve seen these characters fall into before, and it is not the most cathartic to see them fall into them again. It is believable, sure, preventing it from being a failure, but it would have been more satisfying to see more development.
Now I want to go back to the opening of this episode, to focus on the Dean’s peanut costume rapping, which is my choice for funniest Dean moment since the costume montage in “Paradigms of Human Memory” back in Season 2. It is also probably the most elaborate Dean costume thus far for this season. Last season, there was criticism that the Dean had been reduced to a series of cheap costume gags. At the time, I contended that it made sense that he would keep dressing the way he was dressing because that was just a part of his character. I stand by that defense, but this moment demonstrates that for the costumes to really be memorable, there has to be something about the joke beyond the costume itself. Dean Pelton didn’t need to be wearing a peanut costume to do a rap that got out of his control, but the two elements did feed into each other, making them better than either would have been on its own.
And now, the bullet-point portion of the review:
-For the second week in a row, there was a gonzo guest appearance from the creator of one of the best shows of all time – this time, Breaking Bad‘s Vince Gilligan, who played the actor in Pile of Bullets. As far as I know, neither Gilligan nor Mitch Hurwitz has had much previous acting experience, but they both gave such natural performances, so they must have learned a thing or two from writing great material for great actors and spending time with those great actors. Also like Hurwitz, Gilligan got his own tag, which also featured Gina Gershon, because why the hell not?
-I would have liked it if Paul Williams had more to do. I suppose most TV viewers, and even most Community viewers, aren’t as likely to recognize the writer of “The Rainbow Connection” as I am. But he’s the type of person that people who do recognize him will want to see something memorable out of. At least let him sing a note!
–Britta stroking her hair…
-”Why do you have all those muscles if you’re gonna bitch about moving boxes?” – Important pointed question from Hickey to Jeff
-”Just a little Protestant humor”
-”Are we sure this isn’t some art film?”
-Pavel! It’s been mad long, bros.
-There were urinals in the women’s room.
-”Is this a real conversation or are we being bugged by the Feds?” – Uh-oh, does Rachel know about Agent Vohlers?
-”Well, more food for the buzzards.”
Jeff Malone is a voracious entertainment consumer and entertainment creator. He currently resides in New York City, where he is working on a Master’s in Media Studies at The New School. In addition to his pieces on TMRzoo.com, you can check out his blog (jmunney.wordpress.com), where he provides regular coverage of Community and Saturday Night Live, as well as other television, film, music, and the rest of pop culture.