TV Review: COMMUNITY 5.06 “Analysis of Cork-Based Networking”

A solid ensemble episode proves COMMUNITY can survive without Troy.

"Are you going to have another intense burst of compatibility with a girl we never see again?"

My only real issue with this season of Community so far has been the limited use of Britta/Gillian Jacobs; for the most part her entire role had consisted of making the occasional comment or merely being present when everyone had to be accounted for. That changed last week, which finally gave her something to do (plus a few great lines), to the extent that it almost felt like her episode when it was theoretically supposed to be Troy's (or Abed's, at least). But in this week's "Analysis Of Cork Based Networking", she has her own B-story (with Abed) that actually has more character driven material than the "A" plot, which mostly serves to remind us that a) Greendale is a very strange place and b) the show's producers seemingly have no trouble lining up guest stars any more (they were famously turned down by Jason Biggs in Season 3 - now they have Nathan Fillion and a few other "gets" in a single episode).

Some folks have complained about the surplus of guest stars this season, but it definitely works for this particular story, which starts off with Annie assigning Hickey a seemingly simple task: hanging the bulletin board that fell down in "Introduction to Teaching". But to do that he needs a work order from the custodial department (which isn't the same as the janitorial department), represented by Fillion and Kumail Nanjiani. They have a huge back log of tasks (apparently the bulletin board is under "Lower the flag for Reagan's death" in their to-do list), but they'll gladly help bump it up in the queue in exchange for the IT department removing the website blocker that keeps them from looking at porn. However, the lady in the IT department (Paget Brewster) wants a better parking space before she'll help them, which sends them to the parking office, led by Robert Patrick. And wouldn't you know it, he has an ulterior motive as well! It's goofy, but fits into the long running tradition that Greendale has a very strange way of being run (lest we forget, all students are technically signed up for the Army Reserves), and allows the show's writers to cram a huge, spiraling chain of events into 10 minutes of screentime (which includes Jerry Minor's janitor character, who has been around since S1 and is always a delight). By casting big names, we immediately get a sense of their "power", such as it is, so they're free to skip over much characterization. You don't need to know much to know that Robert Patrick (a severely under-utilized character actor with sharp comic timing) is a guy who can get things done for the right price, so they can just move on to the important stuff.

And by important stuff I mean "spend more time with Abed and Britta", who are engaged in a minor war over spoilers in "Bloodlines Of Conquest", an HBO show which is clearly modeled on Game of Thrones much like "Inspector Spacetime" subbed in for Doctor Who*. After a brief explanation of the show ("They really get the incest right," Duncan offers), Abed inadvertently spoils one of the show's upcoming surprises for Britta, who is still on season 1. To retaliate, she reads all of the books in the series (much like Game of Thrones, it's apparently a show built on surprises anyone can find out by simply READING) and tries to spoil something for Abed in turn. It's her first non "therapy" angle she's had all season, and while it's rather mean-spirited in nature (even Abed recognizes it as the behavior of a crazy person), it works - Britta's commitment to following through on something no matter how misguided is a trope they've gone to time and time again; hell, the best episode in Season 4 was the one where she tried to have her "Sophie B Hawkins" dance.

That episode clearly left an impression on Dan Harmon, since it's the only one that's been directly mentioned all season (and likely will remain so), as Brie Larson's Rachel also makes an appearance in this casting-budget-breaking half hour. Her re-introduction is a bit awkward (if you haven't seen her previous episode you'll have no idea what the hell is going on), but it's such a relief to see her again, as that quote at the top isn't just funny, but also works as a meta-joke about Abed's frequent "soul mate" potentials who are never seen again due to casting snafus or whatever. The inspiration for the line is actually Carol, a lovely girl who is hearing impaired and thus catches Abed's eye, since he has taken to wearing noise-cancelling headphones to prevent Britta from spoiling anything for him. I doubt we will see her again, but her presence serves as a fine way to bring Larson back into the fold, and they'll hopefully be able to secure her incredibly charming presence for season 6 (she only appears in one more episode this season, sadly).

Larson's reappearance (which comes with definitive proof that season 4 was indeed the "gas leak year" - I've read a couple of tweets from fans suggesting that there was actually another year in between S4 and 5 that we never saw) is perfect timing for Abed, who recently lost his best friend to the promise of money. No one mentions Troy tonight, which is a bit odd, but after two sad episodes in a row, it's nice to have a rather uplifting (and consistently funny) one to lighten the mood. I haven't even mentioned the "C" story, which finds Jeff, Shirley, Duncan, and Chang trying to design the theme for one of the school's umpteen dances after original designer Annie leaves to take care of the bulletin board thing. This is just a throwaway storyline that gives the rest of the cast something to do and pepper in a few more jokes (Chang has a bizarre "Bear down for midterms" idea that they go along with even though it makes no sense), but it's part of an episode that serves to remind us that even though we're now missing two of our Greendale Seven, there are enough supporting characters to fill the void. Also, it lets the writers have fun with some unusual pairings - when's the last time Chang got a dedicated storyline with just 2-3 other characters instead of being the guy that wanders into a scene, says something crazy, and leaves? We also get a lot of time with Hickey, teamed up with Annie as they make their way through the "Sorkin-y" underbelly of Greendale politics.

In short, you couldn't ask for a better episode to followup Glover's departure. When Chevy left, it was a blow, but there was a sense of "Well they usually did their best to write him out of an episode anyway", so it was hard to really gauge how much of an impact it would have. Glover, on the other hand, has been one of the show's most popular characters - the one you see on what little merchandise NBC has made for the show and often the focus of clips that get circulated out of context (i.e. his Christmas rap from S3). So the show's writers did the best possible thing for the first one without him - they ignored him entirely and spent 22 minutes reminding us that this show's ensemble is one of the best ever assembled for a modern sitcom, one that can probably survive the loss of any one character/actor.

*Best thing about this season? The complete absence of "Doctor Spacetime". Apart from the poster in Abed's apartment it hasn't been mentioned once, and I truly hope it stays that way.