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Wednesday, 26 of February of 2020

Community – “Digital Exploration of Interior Design” & “Pillows and Blankets”

“I was going to invest in IBM in 1952, but life is full of disappointments.”

Community Title CardThis two-parter was a messy, not great thing.

Unsurprisingly at this point, I found “Digital Exploration of Interior Design” to be the stronger of the two episodes, and even that wasn’t a particularly strong episode of the series. “Pillows and Blankets” suffers from its homage to Ken Burns documentaries, not that it is poorly executed (it isn’t), but that it distances the audiences from what should be a very important episode in the story of Troy and Abed. Instead, it’s just a high-concept episode that undercuts the emotional impact of two people who are maturing and growing up and how this affects their relationship.

This season of Community has very much been about the group reflecting on what it means to be a group, to be friends. And I’ve generally enjoyed this avenue of discussion as it’s a ripe one for sitcoms to think about. So while the first half of the season was concerned with the group as a whole, this second half is shaping up to be concerned, at least for the time being, with what it means for Troy and Abed to be friends.

We’ve seen bits of that strain peeking through with “Contemporary Impressionists” (thanks to Nick for filling in for me!), and with this two-parter, Troy’s desire to move forward with his life, even in small ways, is put front and center. It’s an interesting question to deal with because people do drift apart, interests may change, personalities may develop, and so on. And that Community is willing to tackle that question by looking at arguably its defining friendship on the show is a gutsy one.

But everything is a little tone-deaf. Laybourne’s function as a wedge driving apart Troy and Abed feels just a smidged forced (though I will never pass up an opportunity to see John Goodman with a goatee, long hair, and wearing red long johns) as a character moment, but does help move this narrative along. So while Abed’s decision to go play in the Dreamatorium by himself at the end of “Contemporary Impressionsts” is sad, the end of “Digital Exploration of Interior Design” feels a little higher stakes as a result. It’s not so much sad as it is potentially threatening to their friendship.

“Pillows and Blankets” unroots those stakes and quickly tosses them aside. The historical documentary format creates a distance from the emotional heft of the episode, leaving it annoyingly hollow. Troy and Abed’s reconciliation at the end hardly feels earned as a result, and had me wondering why the show had bothered to set up the conflict at all. Their trademark handshake just feels route, like nothing was learned or sacrificed. It’s a lazy follow-through on a central conflict of the season so far.

This isn’t to say that there wasn’t good across both episodes, but (again unsurprisingly) they’re centered around Britta. I was both surprised and pleased that Community, of all things, decides to tackle the Citizens United case and Mitt Romney’s “Corporations are people, my friend” line by having a person become a corporation. Britta, like Troy and Abed, is facing questions about herself and what her values are and how those are being challenged, and I generally feel like the show is doing a better job of at least forcing her to face those questions.

Whether it be through realizing she’s good at societally-attributed female things (wedding planning, floral arrangements) or faced with falling in love with a corporate stooge (of sorts) or even her bizarre protesting at the beginning of the season, Britta is having to make choices about who she is, just like Troy is. And maybe it’s just the nature of the character, but the questions feel a little more serious.

The little jabs at Britta’s photography in “Pillows and Blankets” were likewise a high point for me. Wanting to document, no doubt as realistically as possible, the conflict but still be distant from it, feels so Britta, and is in keeping with her desire to be seen as cultured (“Just because something is in black and white doesn’t mean it’s good.”). I dug it.

And “Pillows and Blankets” is, as a whole, a well-executed parody of the Ken Burns-esque documentary, complete with quotes lifted from documents that are meant to sound profound but are really just tripe of the moment and, for the episode tag, a PBS-like pledge drive segment. All of the more…mechanical stuff of the episode worked and chugged along nicely. It just didn’t mean much at the end of the episodes.

FINAL THOUGHTS

  • “Did you know that Greendale students are technically in the Army Reserves? …Let’s say a little prayer for peace.”
  • “There’s a rally for Garrett.” “But we saved him.” “Did we?”
  • “I am not a whore, and not that I’ve done the math, but if I were, I’d be the super classy kind that gets flown to Dubai to stay in an underwater hotel.”
  • “Put it in a letter, Jane Austen.”
  • “The bread is stale.”
  • I kind of really loved Chang’s pre-teen interns making necklaces out of mattress tags along with Annie using a lent roller to gather feathers off “the wounded.”
  • Keith David’s narration of “Pillows and Blankets” was likewise a small joy of mine, which became a much larger joy when Jeff interrupted the recording to ask if David was on The Cape.

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