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Community Recap: App-Caste System

COMMUNITY -- "App Development and Condiments" Episode 508 -- Pictured: Jonathan Banks as Hickey -- (Photo by: Colleen Hayes/NBC)

It’s kind of hard for me to decide how I feel about episodes like “App Development and Condiments.” There were some genuinely funny gags throughout, but there were times I felt like the episode didn’t know what it wanted to be.

This season has been pretty thick, not just in terms of finding ways to have Community’s central characters evolve and progress — which it has done quite adeptly, especially given the … unpleasantness that proceeded it — but in terms of the show’s relationship to itself. Precedents were set early on with themed episodes that departed from the show’s more standard format, and in the early days, even harsher critics of the show found it at least innovative in that respect. But now Community is about to wrap up its fifth season, making it kind of long in the tooth, and it’s easy to take in themed episodes without the same excitement, because they can come across as too much fan service, or as trying too hard. That’s not to say I feel that way about this episode (although I did in the case of the Butt-crack Bandit), but I do think that the episode’s conceit, containing yet another campus-wide game of sorts, did muddy whatever point Harmon and the writers felt they needed to make about Jeff and Shirley’s friendship. By the time Jeff and Shirley got kicked out of the 5’s safe haven and both realized that they’re both control freaks (or whatever), I cared far more about what was going on with mustard-faced Britta inside. And that doesn’t mean I don’t care at all about the Jeff/Shirley story line — in fact, Jeff had a great line during their conversation outside: “It’s easy to pretend you don’t [love control] when you’ve got it” — but I just felt like there was so much else going on in the episode that the story line got lost in the shuffle.

There were a bunch of guests this week: Brian Posehn and Steve Agee (a.k.a. Outside Dave from New Girl) as the geeky app developers (I actually snorted when Posehn’s phone reminded him he “should go #2 soon,” especially in the context of Hickey’s speech about how you can’t “pick and choose the parts you fight for”), and Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, my distaste for whom I will set aside because this isn’t about them. I will say, however, that Posehn and Agee were cast thoughtfully, whereas Tim and Eric’s roles could have been played by anyone else to equal or greater effect, which made their casting seem — to me, at least — overly calculated.

All in all, “App Development” felt like a missed opportunity. When we first meet the developers (from a company called jammyPOW, obviously), I thought for sure we were about to be taken on a ride where suddenly the entire Greendale campus is as self-aware and self-analytical as our main group tends to be, and I was disappointed with what we got instead.

There were some things to like about the episode, like how people start playing up traits that get them MeowMeowBeenz, but I couldn’t help but wonder how many times Harmon & Co. are going to revisit the dystopian alternate universe idea. Sure, they got there a different way this time, I suppose, but it’s still essentially a campus-wide game that takes up a whole episode and seems to exist in its own space and time. We just had that with Troy’s departure episode and the hot lava game, and I’m really hoping that if there is a paintball episode this season, it’s shot like a noir film, because enough already with the dystopias.

There was a lot of randomness seemingly for randomness’ sake, which as a rule I don’t mind, but only if it’s in service of something bigger, which neither Jeff’s insane stand-up routine nor the stupid future dance seemed to be. Also, I love Mitch Hurwitz and all (Arrested Development was amazing, he’s a TV legend, practically a god, yes, I know), but the Koogler bit just wasn’t connecting for me, and the fact that they wasted an entire tag on the character really made me cringe. The guy had more screen time than Hickey, and that’s unacceptable.

I did like some bits, though. I thought the mustard thing with Britta was funny at first, then overstayed its welcome, then it got me again when she started spreading it all over her face trying to get people to take her seriously again. Starburns’ Zardoz outfit was hilarious (I’ve never seen it, so I don’t know if it’s relevant to the plot of the episode; I’m assuming the outfit was a pretty blatant nod, as were the 4’s outfits earlier on to Logan’s Run).

The thing is, the idea behind the episode isn’t bad. It’s basically an imagining of what it would look like if Reddit upvotes or Facebook likes (and their negative counterparts; if only the “dislike” button existed) manifested themselves in our actual waking lives, which is at once an intriguing and terrifying concept. Unfortunately, I just didn’t think “App Development” really sold it, which is a shame, because I don’t like being disappointed by one of my favorite shows, but I’m not gonna make like Shirley and pretend everything’s awesome when it’s clearly not.

 Some things I did like:

  • “Haul it, ball it, never call it. Girls are objects.”
  • “Small talk. I make small talk now.”
  • “Say ‘Hitler’ one more time, and I’m giving you a 2.” Actually, pretty much everything in the cafeteria was pretty great. Britta: “You’re punishing me for being alive!” Leonard: “That’s the general idea, baby!”
  • A bunch of other ascendency-of-the-common man/middle class stuff that I typically dig in general.
Photo: NBC