This week, I continue my series of recaps of Community‘s newest season, this time tackling “Cooperative Polygraphy.” The following will be riddled with spoilers by definition, but review elements will be incorporated. Please leave any thoughts on the episode (or my recap) in the comments!
The story starts in the study room, where it will almost exclusively remain, with everyone returning from Pierce’s funeral. There is potential for some bizarro reflections on the guy and his
church cult, but luckily that does not take predominance, as the joke isn’t all that exciting anymore. There’s a terrible pun on “Troy and Abed in the Morning” (take a guess) that, while pretty funny on its own, gets an added joke that Troy hasn’t realized the play on words at all. I mention this because that small layering of humor—even if it’s not terribly complex—reminds me of one thing I enjoy about the humor on this show: it has some fun, simple jokes, but the step further that lends itself to the better episodes actually makes them memorable. I’ve sorely missed that layering in recent episodes, and it was great to see it occur frequently here.
Not long after, Chang shows up, and will soon disappear, fulfilling his role as a vaguely entertaining side character. He sticks around for the tolerable limit of his screen-time, which I would say is three and a half minutes at this point in the series. As soon as Chang reminds the mourning group that they mostly hated their late “friend,” the executor of Pierce’s estate shows up, played by Walton Goggins of Justified fame. I’m not familiar with that show, but he is intimidating, effective, and hilarious here. I don’t know the actor well, but I’m impressed.
The deal is that Pierce demanded, no matter the circumstances of his death, that the group be inspected for potential murder. Accordingly, the executor and his small team hook the entire group up to a polygraph test, locking them into the study room in a way reminiscent of the fantastic season two episode, “Cooperative Calligraphy.” I will kindly ignore the fact that polygraphs are BS in favor of the fact that this is a comedy show, and sometimes these plot devices are needed. Seriously though, polygraph tests are bull. I’ve been in debates about their usage for government job screenings; they’re…no, I’ll stop myself here. Getting back on task….
Similar to the aforementioned season two episode, the circumstances of what binds the group into the study room allow for an airing of grievances and rise in tension between nearly every member in order to reveal some of their negative qualities. This setup is a bit obvious—a woman sits in the background saying, “Lie,” every time anyone utters a falsehood—but the use is effective, elevating the humor above easy. Timing is everything here, and there are so many well-timed jokes that I can hardly recite even half of them while effectively communicating the solid writing.
Pierce’s questions are expectedly terrible, asking Britta about her sexual fantasies for him, and Jeff about his seemingly non-existent homosexuality. A particularly great moment—perhaps the best in the episode—is when the executor asks Abed if he ever killed a squirrel, felt nothing, and considered doing the same to a person. The sigh of relief when he says “no,” with a confirming nod from the woman at the computer, washes over the viewer almost as much as the characters.
Meanwhile, everyone tries to remain civil with each other, but eventually the reveals escalate too much. Pierce has succeeded in sowing discord, as he is wont to do. Abed and Troy are stealing Jeff’s Netflix—which uses, in my opinion, a cheap joke about The Grey (Seriously, it’s a solid movie. Why the potshot on this and not something like Taken 2? Anyway, I digress.) Annie has been overcharging the lovebirds for rent, building a savings account for them. Everyone starts yelling at each other, and then they are alerted that it is time to begin the test.
Jeff wants out, but everyone will be given their bequeathments only if they are cleared of his murder. They all tell themselves it’s in memory of Pierce, but an excellently timed, “They’re all lying,” reminds us that the people in the group are not wholesome. Shirley’s angry quip, “We all know that you judgmental bitch!” earns a solid chuckle. More questions follow, with two major highlights: first, we learn that Jeff keeps “trophies” of his sexual conquests, including a pair of Britta’s underwear. Her response: “You told me a hawk stole them! You exploited me, and made me believe in a slightly more magical world.” Finally, we have a Britta line that doesn’t sum up to, “Look at how dumb she is!” About time. Abed, who gets fantastic lines and physical humor here—more than I can remember in most episodes—has put tracking devices on/in everyone. People forget his lack of humanity sometimes, and the humor derived from it can be too easy. This evokes the moment in “Cooperative Calligraphy” when we learn Abed has been tracking everyone’s menstrual cycle. Giggle.
Everyone points the finger at each other, and the executor reminds them that the conflicts are not even from the questions at this point—they’re causing the friction themselves. Pierce’s last round of questions follow, and bring full circle what makes—or rather made, before the descent of writing for his character that began in season two and reached its nadir sometime in seasons three and four—him a great character: he says horrible things, but both reveals everyone else’s weaknesses and in the end reminds them of their strengths.
He asks Britta about her perception of her self-worth, leaving her an iPod nano (thus comes full circle this premonition in “The Art of Discourse”) and a frozen semen sample, lest she give up the homosexuality Pierce oft misperceived. He reminds Shirley that she is a wonderful, strong human being and leaves her a summer home in Florida and…some sperm. Annie, he reminds her, was his favorite, and he leaves her a tiara and sperm. He leaves Jeff some “fine scotch, so that [he’s] even less tempted to drink this cylinder of even finer sperm.” (That was another example of stellar comedic timing.) Abed gets sperm, and then there’s the kicker. Troy and Pierce were notably close, and he reminds Troy that he could be anything. The late Pierce Hawthorne leaves his friend sperm, naturally, but also his stocks in Hawthorne wipes—amounting to millions—under the condition that he will take his boat around the world in order to become the man he should.
Most of us knew Donald Glover was leaving the show, and many wondered how it would happen. I can’t say the idea of Pierce leaving him money was unexpected in the advent of Pierce’s death in the last episode, but the execution is phenomenal. Troy realizes that he does have potential, and needs to fully discover his strengths and capabilities on his own—a clever reflection of Glover’s own reasons for leaving the show.
Community Greendale may have given Donald Troy the foundation he needed, but now it’s time for him to truly build up from it. Troy accepts this in the most Troy-like way possible: a sentimental reflection of what Pierce has given him followed immediately by an undercutting of the sentimentality—”he’s offering me something I’ve been searching for my whole life: millions of dollars, and being a man or whatever he said.”
The sadness is palpable. “Cool cool cool,” Abed says, followed by the test-reader’s, “That’s a lie.” It’s a beautiful moment, and the fact that we get one more episode with Glover will hopefully be equally satisfying. I’m glad that everyone in this situation is respectful of each other, and it shows in the writing. The end tag that follows reveals that the executor is kind of an idiot with a serious professional facade, and Goggins makes it work. I like that the show can fluctuate between serious and hilarious easily. It’s a major strength.
“Cooperative Polygraphy” is a great episode, with a simple premise that focuses on character development and interaction. When the writers lock down a setting and remember what makes their characters work—which in turn makes Community work—they soar like a beautiful hawk in a magical world. I think that the series might finally be back on its feet, which hasn’t been the case since sporadically in season three, generally in season two, and only purely in season one. I not only find the show engaging again, but also really, really funny. Fans who have stuck it out are hopefully happy to see a beloved series hit its stride once more. If you have dropped out due to season three or four’s weaknesses, then I recommend starting again with season five. You’ll find the show as it was left long ago. And some sperm.