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‘Community’ Review: “VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing”

Community "VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing"
NBC

Sadly, this week’s ‘Community‘ doesn’t bring back ‘Arrested Development‘ showrunner Mitch Hurwitz‘s Koogler, but it does give ‘Breaking Bad‘ creator Vince Gilligan his big acting break and brings back the beloved Brie Larson, so there’s plenty to enjoy here. Read on for all you need to know about the latest ‘Community’ episode “VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing!”

The show begins with the central conflict that Abed is bringing over Rachel (Larson) while Annie is having her brother to their apartment for the evening, both hoping their guest might become their third roommate, a decision that is to be made by whoever wins an interactive 1993 VHS-based board game called “Pile of Bullets” hosted by Gilligan. During the night, Annie’s brother Anthony (Spencer Crittenden) reveals that he’s just as socially awkward as Abed, while Annie and Abed’s behavior playing the game alienates their potential roommates.

Meanwhile Jeff, Shirley and Professor Hickey (it seems strange to call him Buzz, though that is his first name, it’s likely this is because of the respect that Jonathan Banks commands) clean the storage room and in doing so find possibly stolen textbooks that Hickey and Jeff plot to sell because — as the Dean revealed — their paychecks will be coming a week late. Shirley is reticent at first but comes up with a master plan, and brings in Britta as their go-between, while Chang stumbles in because he uses the room to smoke marijuana, so they make him record a false confession. But trust falls apart the further their operation goes along.

One of the themes of ‘Community’ that’s been a consistent throughout it’s four real five seasons is that these people can be terrible, but often realize it and try to make it up to each other. This comes up again in tonight’s episode and though it was amusing, it felt a little formulaic and could be the weakest of the year. As Brie Larson is a guest star — and as her recent work makes her an in-demand performer and as she could easily have been written out of the show by the end of the episode — it was nice to see that she might show up again and that Abed redeemed himself in a way that felt earned. Geek love on the small screen is popping up so frequently that it’s almost becoming a cliche (think ‘The O.C.,’ ‘Parks and Recreation,’ ‘Grimm,’ etc.), but it still works. Honestly, I was happy they were back together because it could have just have easily ended on a hack note with Larson running off with Crittenden, and there were moments that felt like it was setting up that outcome.

Alas, I wish the drug deal gone bad/kidnapping subplot felt a little stronger. It though has some of the best elements of the night, which included Britta doing a Gary Oldman impression, and a third act Paul Williams cameo. But this season has definitely felt more down, and that’s probably because the fifth season has seen two of its main characters depart the show, with one dying off and leaving his will in a season (and series) high-point episode, and at least two episodes already that showed Greendale is easily whipped up into a frenzy that leads to insanity (the hot lava episode and last week’s MeowMeowBeanz episode). Previous seasons had darkness, but kept it in check with episodes of everyone working together. Perhaps it’s because there’s been no external threat to the group or the school this season to band everyone together. Then again, the family has been irreparably changed, and so that sense of loss is reflected in the season.

All that said, the final end credit sting was stupidly wonderful.

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