TV Review: COMMUNITY 6.03 “Basic Classroom Decorum”

Brian likes but does not love this week's return to bottle episode-ing.

A dog is commonly known as a fluffy companion animal, but it also refers to (per Webster's) "an undesirable piece of merchandise". So it's fitting that Community - a show that was canceled, only to be brought back by someone who DID see its value - would celebrate its 100th episode* with a tale about an actual dog. Had the show been the ratings hit it deserved to be, it would a. probably have hit this milestone during the 5th season instead of the 6th, and b. probably would still be on NBC instead of an online service that can't manage to get its act together when it comes to its player (I had better luck this week, personally, but have seen numerous tweets about all kinds of glitches, including the wrong episode playing when the show came back from a commercial break). But no, this "dog" has hit that all important 100 episode mark, something relatively few shows manage anymore - in fact, had this season aired on NBC, it would currently be their longest running scripted show after SVU.

The plot of "Basic Crisis Room Decorum" is simple enough: Annie is tipped off that City College is going to run an attack ad against Greendale, one that focuses on the fact that a dog has enrolled in and apparently earned a degree under Dean Pelton's watch. Panicking, she calls for an emergency meeting (at 3 am) and they brainstorm ideas of what to do about it. Make an ad of their own? Look for a reason to get the ad pulled? Make a porno on City College grounds to embarrass them? That last one is Chang's idea, so obviously no one takes it seriously or even listens to his pitch, so the episode mostly concerns Jeff and Abed's attempts to make an ad in four hours while Annie and Frankie look for the dog's transcript in order to find out if she ever earned her degree. Britta and Elroy supply coffee.

The episode is a peculiar one; it follows the time honored tradition of classics like "Cooperative Calligraphy" and of course "Dungeons & Dragons" by keeping (most of) our heroes confined to the study room for the majority of its run time, but also never actually has them all sitting around the table at once (some of them never actually take their usual seat at all). Weirder still, the diversions provide the best laughs - Britta joins Elroy (Keith David's character, now part of the group without question - see the asterisk note!) in his trailer and ends up performing another musical number on par with her awful "Me so Christmas" scene from S3, which is the episode's highlight. And the Dean spends most of the episode texting Jeff, or so he thinks - it turns out Jeff gave him a fake number, one that belongs to a teenaged boy in Japan, but the Dean is too dim to consider the possibility that he's texting anyone other than his beloved Jeffrey. The tag (continuing the segment's bizarre streak that began when Troy left) shows the boy's father yelling at him for the data charges, the kid becoming depressed, trying to convince the Dean that he's not Jeff after all (the Dean doesn't believe him), and finally a voice-over tells us that he later became head of the Yakuza. It's a uniquely weirdo scene, and the fact that it's one of the most memorable parts of this "bottle" episode is even weirder - why are the best parts happening outside of the study room?

I mean, it's got some good laughs (Elroy's expression when Frankie tells him she doesn't own a TV is priceless, as is Abed's attempt at explaining how an attack ad works), but the key to these episodes is having everyone bounce off each other, and the script has them all pairing off. Britta keeps getting told to leave (eventually she just sleeps through the proceedings), and Abed spends most of it silently hunched over his laptop. This seems like it could have been a great way to establish Frankie and Elroy as new group members, by putting them around the table and having them join in the usual rapid fire, putdown laden conversation, but instead Elroy just stays on the sidelines (though his newcomer status gets used for a great joke at Britta's expense when he mistakes her for someone named Brenda), and Frankie only really converses with Annie. Having everyone come to the study room at all seemed a bit forced, but I'll let that slide for the sight gag of Abed having it set up like a situation room, complete with clocks showing different times and a map with a dinosaur on it.

In fact, the main reason the episode is a worthy addition (I know I seem down on it; I DID enjoy it - it's just more of a "I know they can do better" thing) is the number of background and freeze-frame gags (the latter easier said than done with Yahoo's clunky players). I don't know how much of that is Bobcat Goldthwait's doing (yes, he directed this one, which is an awesome "get" for the show), but it's something the show doesn't do all that often so I have to assume he was at least partly responsible for it. However it is you're watching the show, I assure you it's worth pausing on the various cellphone contact screens that appear (especially Dean's - I love that he keeps Pierce's number and just notes that he's dead), and there's a subtle genius in the fact that even the dog took 6-7 years to earn her 4 year degree (well, if she ever pays her library fees that is). Keep an eye out for Frankie's bedside reading material, too.

(As for Annie's other to-do lists besides the one she was working on, I couldn't make them out on my Xbox or the site - anyone have luck?)

All in all, it's not a classic episode of the series, but it's got enough of the good stuff to get it a "pass" on the pass/fail system, though I assume (hope?) it'll ultimately rank low on the season as a whole (its most memorable aspect may be the Yahoo description, which is hilariously blunt about its less than exciting plot points). But even if it was a total wash, there's a silver lining: the editing is much improved here over the two from last week. At around 25 minutes instead of 27:30, the pacing is more on target, and stuff gets to breathe without feeling bloated. They also indulge in mild profanity (saying "Jesus" - twice! - as an expletive instead of "Jesus wept"), which adds to the feeling that they're getting more comfortable in their new home with their new rules. Here's hoping next week's just has a little more spark to go along with it.

*I don't think this was meant to be the show's 100th episode, since the production code is 605 and there are some character actions that suggest at least one episode occurred in between last week's "Lawnmower Maintenance" and this one. For example, why are Annie and Frankie suddenly so close?