Hot on the heels of the previous Dungeons & Dragons episode (see part 10), Community has opted for what has the potential to be their most gimmicky episode yet: an animated one. Perhaps it’s merely the advertising, but the impression I got before watching this episode was strongly, “Hey, we’re doing a G.I. Joe parody! Ain’t that a hoot?” For this curmudgeon, that idea is not a hoot. Doing weird stuff like this should not be the norm, but rather only pulled when a real necessity for telling the story. Although it’s far from a favorite episode, “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”—the first to do an animation-y concept—absolutely benefited from the style. It got to the human heart of the story. So excuse my wariness of “G.I. Jeff,” but let’s hope for the best, and recap.
The episode opens in a classic G.I. Joe setup (Cobra is attacking some landmark) and we find quickly that the gang is a part of the episode, animated and all. After Jeff shoots down a parachuting villain (Destro) and kills him, to everyone’s dismay, he faces a tribunal. Jeff, Annie, Britta, and Shirley are locked up. In an adjacent cell is clearly Abed, who the gang doesn’t recognize, as a character named “Fourth Wall” (so subtle!), who thinks their lives are actually a syndicated cartoon. Fourth Wall argues that there’s a secret Cobra base named Greendale, and that name makes Jeff pass out and see a G.I. Joe toy commercial with real people in it. The audio is intercut with hospital noises, and it becomes pretty clear that Jeff is likely incapacitated in a hospital room.
Cobra gives a speech against G.I. Joe for somehow killing Destro despite the history of relative non-violence, and we learn that the group is working directly with the Dean. Cobra attacks the base, allowing Jeff and the gang (along with Fourth Wall) to escape, accidentally shooting and killing several Cobra along the way. They fly away in an attack jet, but Abed’s mention of Greendale once more knocks Jeff out.
The group breaks into the Cobra base called “Greendale,” with Jeff slowly realizing there’s something not quite right about this world. We get a scene of Dean telling Cobra Buzz and Dr. Ian Duncan that salaries are going down due to healthcare increases as a result of people being able to die. Much of what follows is a depiction of Jeff’s interpretation of Greendale, and when Jeff arrives at the table, he understands that he’s actually Jeff. Abed realizes this delusion must mean something is seriously wrong, and Jeff runs off in an attempt to find it.
To his sad discovery, Jeff realizes that he drank a lot of scotch and took some pills, because his birthday instituted a midlife crisis. When told he must return to the real world, he refuses, not wanting to continue his sad life as a community college professor. G.I. Joe is the lifestyle he wants, a fun, cartoonish series of adventures. Admittedly this is pretty heavy terrain, and it does explain the animation, I can’t help but feel that this…maybe came out of nowhere? Jeff’s suicidal now? Also, I can’t help but feel like the principle idea here was a G.I. Joe parody, and they made it work into some emotional storyline that would be so dramatic that it would feel as though it must have been justified. The emotional backstory certainly feels like it was only really confronted when the main jokes about the format were out of the way. Or maybe I just don’t care about G.I. Joe, and I’m biased. Whatever.
Jeff is captured by a now teamed-up Cobra and G.I. Joe, and Jeff convinces them to let him go (it’s pretty quick). Jeff realizes that liquor doesn’t exist in this universe, though, along with most pleasantries of the real world, so he decides to try to return to reality. After succeeding, we learn that he took really suspect anti-aging pills, which caused the downturn, and he comes to terms with having turned 40 because his friends are nice to him.
I…really can’t help but think the emotions thrown around here were genuine but not really well carried out through the episode. These theme episodes might be phenomenal if they weren’t basically every week. The fact that I have to be surprised when you can’t say, “It’s a ____ episode,” is taking away the power of themes and special styles. Why is it so terrifying to writers to think, “I’m going to write a solid episode that follows these people and explores their characters and relationships,” but so easy to go, “I’m gonna make it a sci-fi-animation-claymation-puppet thing and throw some story in there”? I enjoyed “G.I. Jeff,” but I’m getting bored with the gimmicks.