Sure, it doesn’t look great: A week after upsetting dozens of Community fans by daring to be ambivalent about the zombie episode, thus triggering a comment-board hailstorm of recriminations and ad hoc deconstructive comic theory, the show’s usual recapper is absent this evening, possibly disappeared by a horde of starburns-wearing marauders. But probably not. We should all concede that comedy is highly subjective and that even the most mischievous network sitcoms don’t necessarily lend themselves to instant armchair analysis — how would, say, Night Court have fared? With that, let’s analyze this episode of Community, instantly, from our armchairs.
It was funny! You may not spend the rest of the week ruminating over the the hidden layers, but for the better part of a half an hour, jokes were set up, then paid off, more or less within the bounds of the characters’ realities. That’s good, right? Abed did a bunch of stuff that referenced a popular movie, Troy was an agreeably goofy manchild, Chang said “Snap!” a lot and snarfed out a noseful of milk, and Jeff wore a tank top. And Hilary Duff played a shallow, terrible person.
While Troy, Jeff, and Abed play basketball and Pierce fiddles with a spycam-equipped remote-control helicopter, Shirley, Britta, and Annie look forward to their upcoming women’s studies class as a chance to de-dudify themselves for a bit. Only Abed wants to tag along. This turns out to be useful once it becomes clear that his Aspergian talent for cold, emotionless repartee is the perfect weapon against the troika of mean girls led by Duff’s Megan (“Why name your daughter Megan?” Shirley asks. “Are you stocking up for a bitch shortage?”) Abed’s insult-targeting system is modeled after the Terminator’s, natch, and he is no less precise or efficient with his character-assassin skills.
Meanwhile, Jeff and Troy inadvertently discover a serene topiary garden maintained by the sagelike Joshua, played by the ever-awesome Matt Walsh. The centerpiece of this secret magical place “free from darkness” is a giant trampoline — to bounce upon it is to experience Zen and inner peace in ways no other piece of sporting-goods equipment can provide, but NO DOUBLE-BOUNCIES. (Yes, The Simpsons did a classic trampoline-oriented episode, but that was far less concerned with spiritual balance.) Jeff and Troy are sufficiently blissed out, ignoring Abed’s taunts and Pierce’s agitation. (“Tell me how to get this laid back or I’ll kill your families!”) Jeff even wears snuggly Ugg-like fleece boots (“It’s like walking on two dreams”). Pierce sends his helicopter after Troy and Jeff and discovers the trampoline, threatening to expose the garden unless Troy double-bounces with him. Troy tearfully abides, with predictably tragic results: Pierce is vaulted into a dumpster and breaks both legs and the jig is up. Joshua is fired and the trampoline is dismantled with blowtorches and power saws. But that’s okay, because it turns out Joshua was a white supremacist anyway, which explains his paradise “free from darkness” and that tattoo on his chest wasn’t just the beginning of a maze design, but an actual swastika.
Abed realizes that he’s gone mad with insult-power, alienating not just Shirley, Britta, and Annie, but the entire student body. He gives Megan index cards containing destruct codes so she can corner him in the cafeteria and very publicly eviscerate him for his insecurity and his inability to feel. The natural social balance has been restored. Pierce is on meds, and Andy Dick, the little man flying the mini-helicopter, assures him it’s okay to exceed the recommended dosage. Jeff puts his finger to his nose last, so he’s in charge of making sure Pierce doesn’t OD.
Community seems to polarize when it goes for its stand-alone high-concept episodes and leaves its grounding premise and setting behind; relatively speaking, this wasn’t one of those. Moments of cartoonish absurdity, sure, but no flat-out alternate realities or genre-spoofs. And we learn that Starburns’s name is Alex. Win-win.