‘Community’ Review: “Analysis of Cork-Based Networking”
On tonight's all-new episode of 'Community,' Annie and Professor Hickey run into trouble trying to prepare the cafeteria for the midterm dance, as they must contend with the head custodian, the head of the IT department, and the head of parking. Meanwhile, Britta and Abed bicker over spoilers for a television series. We may have lost Troy, but tonight's episode brings special guest stars Nathan Fillion and Robert Patrick ... and a very special super surprise guest, so chin up, guys!
"Analysis of Cork-Based Networking" has the unfortunate duty of airing after two great episodes, and following last week's farewell to Troy, so you can hardly blame it for paling in comparison. But it's not that this week doesn't have laughs! Britta and Abed fighting over spoilers in their new favorite HBO series, 'Bloodlines of Conquest' (a 'Game of Thrones' riff, which gets the incest right, as Professor Duncan gleefully notes) is a lot of fun -- Abed meets a charming deaf girl who seems perfect for him, allowing Britta to make a pointed reference to last season and wonder if this one will just abruptly disappear too. And while the genesis of Britta's revenge seems awfully petty (Abed spoiled the show for her, so now she wants to skip ahead in the books to spoil the whole series for him), it's relatable enough to some real-world arguments I've encountered on the internet. So at least while Britta's being really annoying, she's being annoying in a way that's humorous because it's familiar to anyone who's ever looked at the comments section of a pop culture site.
Their whole story is only my favorite tonight because it allows the return of Brie Larson, who appeared in my favorite episode from last season, "Herstory of Dance" -- which actually was probably the only really good episode of season 4, or the year which Abed refers to as "the year of the gas leak." This is also how he explains his absence to Larson's Rachel, who seemed so perfect for Abed last season, and I hope she gets to stick around a bit longer this time because they were so darn cute together. But also, Abed needs something to help fill the Troy-shaped hole in his life right now. I'm all for this.
Annie and Hickey team-up tonight in a little odd couple pairing which finds Annie ditching her planning of the midterm dance to help Hickey get a bulletin board replaced in the cafeteria -- a job that should've been easy, but since this is Greendale, nothing is ever that simple. At first Annie is sweet and appeals to the softer side of the janitors, but quickly starts bribing them, including the head custodian (a perfectly snide Nathan Fillion), who wants access to all the porn the janitorial and custodial crews could possibly desire. This leads sweet Annie down a dark hole of bribery, to the IT department and finally the parking department, headed by guest star Robert Patrick. And apparently bulletin boards are much more serious business than anyone could've guessed. But it brings out the tough Annie, the Annie who likes to shake people down and posture herself as some sort of gritty crime character. This doesn't play well with Hickey, who used to be a cop, and doesn't like to see people doing things so dirty -- especially someone who means as well as Annie does. The system may have chewed him up and spit him out, but it hasn't broken his morals, and he won't let it break hers. It's actually kind of sweet, even if it is a bit melodramatic and fussy.
And finally there's the big midterm dance: Chang convinces the rest of the gang that he means well and they should go with his theme of "Bear Down for Midterms," which involves a puzzling bears and birthdays motif -- only for it to be hilariously revealed that just that morning in Wisconsin, a bear mauled a bunch of kids at a birthday party. Chang's realization and casual explanation that he accidentally repurposed a grim news report as a school dance theme is pretty great and well worth the effort for the punchline.
Look, this week was never going to live up to saying farewell to Troy -- no episode could. With the high highs of that episode (and the lie detector episode before it) still fresh in our memory, it's just hard to measure up. That said, the stuff with Annie and Hickey just plays a little too serious and straight, and although the stories around them have some good laughs (and okay, Hickey and Dean's 'Labyrinth' references were great), it's not enough to support this plot, which takes up what feels like the majority of this week's runtime. But! The arrival of Brie Larson alone is enough to make me go from being okay on the episode to really liking it because it just filled my heart with so much joy.