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‘Community’ Review: “G.I. Jeff”

Community GI Joe Jeff Photos
NBC

Community‘ returns with an all-new episode tonight as the gang gets animated for the first time since season 3′s “Digital Estate Planning” episode, which found the study group transported into an 8-bit game. This time around, it’s a special tribute to the classic ‘G.I. Joe’ ’80s animated series. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle! 

“G.I. Jeff” is all-time ‘Community’ greatness, you guys. Not just as a concept episode, not just as one of the show’s few animated entries, but as a whole, everything clicks. The narrative rhythm is fast-paced, and the dialogue exchanges are snappy, but more importantly, the metatextual concept is absolutely wonderful: Jeff drinks a fifth of scotch and downs some youth pills he bought in Koreatown because he’s been lying about his real age and his birthday approaches — so his inner child has taken over in his comatose state, transporting him and his friends to the place where his regressed mind feels most happy and safe: a version of the ’80s animated ‘G.I. Joe’ series.

But what makes the episode exceedingly clever is the middle layer, where Jeff’s inner child is controlling the ‘G.I. Joe’ action figures modeled to look like Jeff and the gang’s ‘Joe’ counterparts (because the cartoon was, of course, based on action figures), all shot like a retro toy commercial, complete with voiceover detailing the action figures and their accessories. In order to break free, as Abed’s “Fourth Wall” character instructs, Jeff needs to surpass this middle toy commercial layer. But Jeff doesn’t want to go because he feels good in ‘G.I. Joe’ world, even if he’s not exactly playing by the rules there — as an adult in a cartoon fiction world for children, he’s actually killing bad guys like Destro instead of just harmlessly shooting at and around him … which is also pretty hilarious.

His adult brain just doesn’t mesh with the naive world of ‘G.I. Joe,’ which, although populated with adults, is populated with cartoon adults, who have no idea what scotch or sex are all about, so while he might be aging, and he might die some day in the real world, he still has plenty to enjoy.

Admittedly, it’s not a very contemplative episode, but the basic message itself sort of mirrors the slight lessons one might glean from a ‘G.I. Joe’ PSA — and don’t think this episode doesn’t end with a PSA tag, in which Abed’s Fourth Wall interrupts Britta’s appropriately named Buzzkill while she’s trying to teach kids a lesson about spray painting, teaching her a lesson about getting too preachy and, well, being a buzzkill.

The character assignments are wonderfully on-point, from the aforementioned Britta as Buzzkill to Shirley as Three Kids, who always — always — has to mention that she has three kids. Chang is dubbed Overkill, which couldn’t be better, and Dean Pelton gets to play assistant to Cobra Commander, which is about as delightful as you might expect. But the real pleasant surprise comes from hearing Bill Ratner, who voiced Flint in the original cartoon, reprising his voice role for tonight’s episode — I guess it’s not all that surprising, since this is ‘Community’ after all, and when it comes to nerd cred, these guys don’t play around. I just wish we’d gotten more with the ‘Joe’ outcasts, like Shark Arms and the chef guy who used a spoon to dig a hole behind the Smash Mouth poster after having to pretend to like the band for years while wasting away in ‘Joe’ jail.

All in all, tonight’s ‘G.I. Joe’ episode definitely doesn’t disappoint one bit. For a moment I wondered how anyone who isn’t familiar with the cartoon series might take the episode, but with this target demo? Not possible.

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