This season has, quite plainly, been hit or miss—the misses definitely surpassing most of last season, but still wavering from numerous top-quality ones, including last week’s. This week, the writers avoid another theme episode, but include some great cameos and the return of a character I’ve been wanting to see more of since her first appearance last season and brief resurgence this season. Does it pan out? Well, let’s find out….
The Save Greendale Committee discusses fix-ups that need doing around campus (seriously, what a great plot device for setting up fun situations and tons of different character pairings), and Jeff volunteers for the first one mentioned, clearing out a storage room, as he claims Annie lists off chores from easiest to hardest. Shirley and Buzz jump on the bus, but Annie concludes the session, reminding the group that she is (in Annie World) unpredictable.
And then, the return of Rachel (Brie Larson)! As I’ve mentioned previously, I think this character is interesting and provides great potential for Abed development. The two reveal that they are celebrating their “anniversary;” they’ve been dating for a month, but work twelve times more efficiently than most relationships. Rachel’s gift to Abed is a VCR game, which they hope to enjoy later that night, but Annie is having her (previously unmentioned) brother over as well, so Abed suggests a pseudo-double date. Academy-award winning screenwriter Jim Rash, as some bit character called the Dean, provides an aggressive freestyle to cap off the scene.
At the apartment, Annie’s brother proves to be quiet, a bit dull, but handy; Annie recommends having him move in to help cover the rent now that Troy *sniffle* is gone. Abed suggests Rachel, but Annie stands adamant that a month of dating is insufficient for a move-in’s credentials. The two try to sell their candidates over dinner, but decide on a game of “Pile of Bullets,” the VCR game; if Abed or Rachel win, she moves in, but if Annie or her brother Anthony win, then he does. This is pretty reminiscent of a normal sit-com plot, which is a surprisingly standard move for the show, although the emotional context justifies its use.
The game turns out to be incredibly complicated, and the video host turns out to be…Vince Gilligan (of Breaking Bad showrunning fame). The guests become frustrated, then bored, especially since Abed and Annie are ruthless in demanding the continuation of the game. When they reveal that the game is a ploy to choose a new roommate, Rachel tells Abed that his inability to inform her and over-the-top behavior is inappropriate, especially for a relationship. The following morning, Anthony reveals the schism in Annie and Abed’s lives: the absence of Troy.
Abed has another realization, which he reveals to Rachel through the third-act-apology style of romantic comedies: as a friend pours water over his head to simulate rain, he reveals his anxieties about screwing up and trying to mask that. Rachel’s simple but poignant remark that he simply needs not to manipulate or keep secrets from her registers, and the two overcome their first major “fight.” Abed and Annie decide to search Craigslist for a roommate.
In the storage room, Buzz, Jeff, and Shirley move stuff around to Jeff’s chagrin. In his boredom, Jeff finds a stack of new textbooks, which Buzz properly sums up as worth a ton of money (anyone who has had to buy textbooks for a course will be able to sympathize). The basic found-treasure-dilemma follows, and the three agree to sell the books for some stellar profit, with Britta as the middle-woman. During the deal, though, Chang appears, and so they tie him up. In case it’s not clear, the treasure is meant to act the same way as drugs.
The group forces Chang to admit on video that he stole the books, which causes Jeff no small discomfort; Buzz ties him up when he tries to leave, and Shirley reveals her stone-cold badass side. As the distrust increases, Shirley ties everyone up. When she goes to meet the dealer, he informs her that they’re misprints, which makes them valueless. They all make amends.
The stinger is quite a delight, as was much of the humor in this episode; the VCR host (again, Vince Gilligan!) is revealed to have been an Apple employee before the company hit big, but left because his wife told him that VCR games are the future. Whoops. Gilligan, like Hurwitz, has some great acting chops, even if we only see them in miniature here.
Anyways, this episode reveals the utility of the Save Greendale plot device and how, Troy or no Troy, character development can hold a valuable place in Community. I really, really hope that they go for another character-driven episode next week, as the only way to iron out some of the writing kinks that show up infrequently is practice. Theme episodes breed some haphazard writing when the show returns to normalcy, and I’d like to see more episodes like this with just a little extra nuance in the script. Still, overall, this episode is pretty good, and maybe that weak start after the mid-season break doesn’t spell problems for the future.