"Do people GO to classes?!?!"
A "Part 2" episode of Community might very well be the least casual viewer-friendly half hours you can hope to find on television in any given season, but the payoff is nearly perfect. "Pillows And Blankets" is a hilarious tale that offers up one of those "stunt" episodes that some fans seem to think is all the show should ever do, capped off with two wonderful emotional punchlines that once again can remind pretty much any viewer with a brain why this is one of the best shows NBC will ever air in our lifetimes.
The theme is, of all things, Ken Burns' Civil War, as a somber narrator (Keith David!) tells the tale of this "bloody" battle primarily through photos and interviews, complete with dramatic score and chapter headings. Of course, the actual Civil War didn't have cell phone footage and Guinness World Record camera crews to aid them in reconstructing the tale, so you get a bit of "Found Footage" in the mix as well. One scene seems to be directly mocking the overuse of the camera in movies like Cloverfield (the characters are filming a game of "Go Fish"), but for the most part they stick to Burns' style. That said, kudos to Andy Bobrow and the writers for nailing the style without making it impenetrable to someone who has never tuned into PBS.
The "war", of course, is over the competing forts that were created last week and caused a rift between Abed (pillow fort) and Troy (blanket fort). A map of Greendale (the first we've ever seen, I think?) shows the territories and strategic battle locations, and every few minutes we're treated to another brief scene of grown men and women hitting each other with pillows, or of Annie tending to the "wounded" (running a lint roller over their feather covered clothes). As for the others, Pierce, Shirley and Chang take active roles in the battle while Britta becomes a war photographer, and Gillian Jacobs graciously allows herself to go through the whole episode without really getting any laughs (or even discernible lines) herself. Instead, Keith David just endlessly mocks her (terrible) photography skills, providing some of the biggest laughs in the episode. In fact I was at first disappointed that he never refers to her as "the worst," but then I realized fans of the character AND of David would probably have a heart attack upon hearing it.
Jeff, of course, uses the opportunity to avoid doing any work (referred to as a "FerrisBuellerian" plan by David) and thus doesn't choose a side - as far as he's concerned this thing should play out forever. Interestingly, the episode also continues the Jeff and Annie storyline from last week, as she continues to try to get through to him as he tackles another flaw in his character (that is, not caring that Troy and Abed are fighting because it helps him). I won't spoil it, but there's a moment at the end of the episode that is possibly the most heroic and awesome thing the character has ever done (don't worry, it's also funny and ridiculous), and if it doesn't tug at your heartstrings a bit, you're just a soulless monster like Pillowman.
Ah yes, Pillowman. If I had one complaint about this episode (other than that the first act is a bit light on laughs; the second and third make up for it and then some) is that we don't see enough Pillowman, who is a secret weapon for the Pillow side. Not only is the nature of his identity funny, but the sheer sight of this thing lumbering around and throwing soft cuddly punches at students is pure gold. But we don't see him much, and I pity the poor actor (most certainly NOT the regular cast member we're told is under there) who probably spent more time just getting one piece of the costume on than he appears on-screen. It also helps balance the rather upsetting turns that the fight between Abed and Troy takes, especially Troy's response to Abed telling his "soldiers" some of his friend's weaknesses. I honestly can't recall the last time I was so upset about a rift between fictional people (but I might have been still in college, and someone named Pacey may have been involved).
I have to mention the incredible episode Leonard had tonight. For whatever reason, he probably gets the biggest laugh of the episode with a single line of no real use, but I love the reveals about his role in the Korean War, and they get some fun use out of "Real Neil" as the Greendale radio DJ (who plays "Daybreak", aka "That song everyone keeps whistling"*). There are also a few good meta jokes about things like time-shifted viewing, and one can't possibly help but take a new meaning from Jeff saying "Some conflicts are so pointless they have to play themselves out," given the inane news about the show over the past few days (go look it up; Badass has better things to do than report on such nonsense). Speaking of which, SOMEONE on the writing (or prop) staff must have a fondness for Chevy - take a close look at the medical report of Pierce's injuries and you'll notice his doctor has a familiar name.
All in all, a terrific episode that delivers on all fronts. Maybe not the most accessible episode of the season (I'd even say Jeff's scene at the end only REALLY works** if you know his usual attitude quite well), but one that we fans can look forward to counting among our favorites of the season, potentially the entire run. I haven't quite understood the comments I've seen about the previous few episodes ("Worst ever!" and the like), but if you were disappointed tonight you better do a fine job of explaining yourself in the comments - this is the sort of episode that elevates the show over its competitors.
*aka "Pussy Fever" for Harmontown regulars!
**by "really works" I mean get a bit misty-eyed. Like I did.