Community Recap: The Changlourious Basterds

Photo: Tyler Golden/NBC

Greendale is a place not unlike the Dreamatorium, where folks unable to cope with adulthood revert to the way they were as scared children, diving into the safety of their imaginations. Suddenly even the most inconsequential things seem super important.

And thankfully they do. If nobody cared about winning a silly little paintball tournament, there’d be no “Modern Warfare,” no “A Fist Full of Paintballs,” no surprise appearances by Josh Holloway to remind us that Lost was a really good show during seasons one and two (and parts of four). Community’s characters can never redo childhood, but they can enjoy its comforts as long as possible. And there’s perhaps nothing more soothing to a kid than taking ownership of something, anything — like the the sturdy-yet-cozy confines of a blanket or pillow fort, for example. It’s like a BabyBjörn of tightness for 10-year-olds.

No judgment, though, regarding last night’s episode, which glorified the epic struggle between Troy’s blanket fort and Abed’s pillow-y one. It might have seemed like a petty thing to fight about, but Community never judges its characters for their whims and desires. And it allowed the show to employ a Morgan Freeman–esque narrator (they got the guy from The Cape!) to turn the battle into a documentary worthy of being screened in social studies classes across the country by hung-over teachers.

“Pillows and Blankets” was a heavily stylized parody of Ken Burns’s Civil War and other such PBS documentaries. It recounted the events that led to last week’s Troy and Abed faceoff with pan-and-zoom simplicity. Abed and Troy were once united, building a pillow fort to kill time while their apartment was being worked on. The Dean received word that the Guinness Book of World Records guys were going to come and measure the fort, and Troy realized a mere pillow-based structure could never win. He suggested that maybe they employ a few blankets to make the thing longer, but Abed, obsessed with avoiding repetition, dismissed Troy and dismissed the notion that he should be working toward a record. The pillow fort, he claimed, should speak for itself. Troy splintered off and started a blanket fort with his own group of rebels, and the two came to a head in the study room, unable to build anymore without destroying the other. Last week, that moment was presented as any other in the show. This time we saw things from multiple angles/camera phones — the “found footage” of the war.

The Ken Burns aesthetic kept up throughout the episode. A friendly graphic noted how Pierce was the first to jump on Troy’s bandwagon, only to jump ship and bring his idea for a master weapon over to Abed. Diagrams demonstrated battle lines and troop movements. Annie and Jeff exchanged text messages like displaced lovers corresponding from different sides of the front line — the two reading their missives in dour voice-over.

Meanwhile, Britta grabbed her camera in an attempt to capture the horrors of this war, but was such a crummy photographer that her work was mercilessly mocked by the narrator for being poorly framed, out of focus, and pretentious. “Just because it’s in black and white doesn’t mean it’s good,” he intones. Occasionally, people like Leonard were interviewed for their take on the war, and Chang received his own little subplot about the forming of his gang of rebels, dubbed the Changlourious Basterds — like the Inglourious Basterds, but with “Chang” in there. You see? The narrator didn’t really get it either.

The jokes flew fast in “Pillows and Blankets,” much quicker than in most regular episodes, but the underlying thrust was Troy and Abed’s friendship and its faux dissolution. At one point, “Daybreak” played over the radio, reminding the pair of the time they graced the cover of Friends Weekly, a magazine they made up. A ceasefire was called, for example, so the two sides could watch Ski Shoot Sing (a TV reality show that is half biathlon, half American Idol), and Abed took that time to e-mail everyone on his side a list of Troy’s deepest insecurities. Troy intercepted the e-mail, fueling the battle that eventually spilled into the cafeteria under the warming glow of the SUBWAY EAT FRESH sign.

A lot happened in those two epic minutes. Pierce wandered in as his pillow man and decimated a huge group of blanket students. Chang pretended to be dead just long enough so he could get back up and hit someone, then pretend to be dead again. Jeff checked his phone. Finally, the Dean burst in to inform everyone that the people from Guinness weren’t showing up, and everyone left except for Troy and Abed — so committed to battle that they continued to beat on one another.

Jeff couldn’t stand it anymore. These guys were friends! And even though Jeff’s probably the most guarded about his inability to grow up himself, he’s also the most willing to surprise everyone with his empathy. So he jumped in and demanded the two work out their differences. He even played along with the imaginary game he’d created before: giving Troy and Abed “magic friendship hats” to aid the reconciliation. The pair, unable to totally give up the charade, asked that Jeff go get the hats from the Dean’s office where they were last seen. Jeff exited, and according to Annie, waited long enough so everyone thought he really followed directions before returning — she thought it was a nice touch.

It turned out that Jeff really did go all the way to the office. He even dusted off the “hats” to make them presentable again, which he wrote about in his new journal — oh yeah, he decided to listen to Annie and begin keeping a journal. (Possibly just to show that he is deep enough to keep a journal.) This marked one of the many times this season that Annie had a hold on Jeff. Maybe he needed the wise words of a child (at least in Jeff’s eyes) to remind him it was time to grow up. Now that’s enter-Chang-ment!

This is the show’s third documentary-style episode, after “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking” and the awesome “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux.” And while it might seem an overused trope, there is clearly enough variety in the documentary form (mockumentary, making of, Burnsian solemnity) to justify another episode. Of course, Dan Harmon and his writers and even the show’s characters (at one point, Jeff points out that whenever there’s a camera around to film stuff, bad things happen) are very aware of the repetition. But each iteration has deepened the characters in some way, though the ultrameta episodes can indicate a lack of trust in viewers as they tell us how we’re supposed to feel about each person. It can be a tricky balance. Because even though Britta comes off as a fool here, maybe I think her photography has potential. So sue me.

Community Recap: The Changlourious Basterds