"This was a study group?"
However you feel about this new season of Community (if you're even watching it; I feel I don't see as much fanfare on Twitter and the like as I used to, though I guess the midnight PST debuts mean viewings are heavily time-shifted), I think we can all agree that Keith David is the MVP. While I still think his joining the group seemed sudden, as if there was an episode missing in between 6.02 (his debut) and 6.03 (the one where they had to find out if a dog graduated from Greendale), he's become an invaluable asset, both as the "new guy" that can deliver slightly meta jokes about the show's change of direction (see the above quote), and a fine replacement for Pierce and Hickey, i.e. the group's "old guy" that can be ridiculed for his out of touch ways but also offer life wisdom to his younger friends.
In fact, his last line of "Basic Email Security" seems like it was left over from a Pierce subplot that never made it. I still miss Pierce, who gets a rare post-death shoutout in this one (well, it's actually about his death, but I'll take what I can get), but I also miss Hickey, and held out hope that he'd return for a later episode this season, since they seemed to be long done with Better Call Saul's shooting before Community was. Alas, I doubt that'll happen - if you pause on the lunch lady's email screen in the opening scene, you'll see one titled "Buzz Hickey Memorial," so I guess that's that. I was hoping they'd just say he retired (or maybe, somehow, sold his duck cartoon and is doing that instead), but for whatever reason they opted to not only kill him off, but do so in a very unceremonious manner. I remember one of the writers alluding to Jonathan Banks being as big of a pain as Chevy at times, so maybe they figured as someone who was never actually part of the main cast (like Keith David, he was listed as a guest star) wasn't worth sending off in a big way or (in reality) worth the cost/scheduling of getting a temperamental actor back, but killing him seems a bit harsh.
Wait, why are we looking at the lunch lady's emails anyway? The episode is a takeoff on (Community producer) Sony's recent problems, where hacked emails became the stuff of news and gossip - a hacker has targeted Greendale, using the lunch lady's (surprisingly juicy) emails as a warning. If they don't cancel the planned appearance of racist comedian Gupta Gupty Gupta (played by Jay Chandrasekhar, who also directed this episode), they will leak the emails of the "activities group," which is, of course, our heroes. Seeing it as a violation of the freedom of speech, Britta stands up to the hackers, saying "go ahead and leak me," with the others standing behind her for a variety of reasons (Jeff because he's learned opposing them is never a good idea, Chang agrees because he thought they were standing up to go see The Avengers, etc), with the agreement that they won't read each others' emails if the hackers follow through on their threat.
Of course, almost none of them remain true to their word, and the next morning they're all angry at each other. This results in yet another episode devoted to the group revealing ugly secrets about one another, which Abed helpfully points out makes it the third in a trilogy* that began in the "golden era" when Annie lost a pen, and continued last year when, as Frankie puts it, "a friend mysteriously vanished after another friend masturbated to death." The key difference is that the big scene where they all fight over what they've learned in each others' emails is the only major one in the episode that DOESN'T take place in the study room. No, this isn't a "bottle episode" like those classics, though it IS a solid entry to this season and ranks as my second favorite so far, behind last week's big upswing. I know some fans hate when the group is at each others' throats for the majority of an episode, but I always love them - not sure what it says about me.
By now they know each other pretty well, so there isn't all that much to learn between members of the "OG" group (Annie, Britta, Jeff, and Abed), and thus the episode gives us a good opportunity to dig a little deeper into Elroy and Frankie (Chang, always at arm's length, is only revealed to have trouble deciding if Britta or Annie is the hottest one, though he does get in a great meta line about how he hasn't been utilized well since the year he was their teacher). Frankie's sexual preference has elevated from a sidebar between Jeff and the Dean into a full blown betting pool among the group, with the winner getting 300 bucks (we don't know who has bet what; Annie's pick is rather vulgar but the specifics are left to our imagination), and when Chang mocks her for writing to a sister that never replies, Frankie reveals that the sibling is in fact dead and she uses the email as a journal device. So that's a bummer, but she's got her own things to answer for - Jeff learns that she has told his employers that he is a "functional alcoholic", which seems to be the thing that is pissing him off the most.
As for Elroy, he is angry that the group mocks his outdated attire, which is why he enters the scene wearing a "2015" shirt. But his secrets are far more interesting - not only has he used photos of the group's women to make busty 3D models for a video game about time travelin' ladies, but he also keeps correspondence with a family who believes him to be their cousin (he realized their mistake but, being lonely, didn't bother to correct them). Both reveals perhaps deserved an episode that centered on these characters instead of an ensemble one where the other secrets are played for laughs (Jeff writes to astronauts, Britta's "life coach" is just some weird Italian she met at a dispensary, etc), allowing the characters to actually dwell a bit on these rather depressing insights into their lives, but it beats having them stand around playing catch-up due to their unfamiliarity with the others. Even though it's dark, it's the best showcase yet for these two characters (Elroy more than Frankie) as part of the group instead of mere guest stars.
After David, the MVP here is Danny Pudi, who gets in a few great laughs ("Let her finish!"), but Abed is also the one who sees through all their bullshit and gets right to the point of it. He looked at the lunch lady's emails (and gets in a nice shot at the pirates who are downloading Community to avoid the ads), but has so far not bothered to read his friends' - until they keep arguing about what they read. At this point he casually loads them up for the first time and comments on Jeff paying his auto insurance and Annie having a book club meeting, before asking where the juicy ones are. It's underplayed, but therein was the point of not only the pettiness of their actions, but also the Sony hackers - folks had to really, REALLY dig through a lot of crap to find anything "interesting", and they're all dicks for doing that.
That, plus Gupty Gupta's long-awaited appearance, is what gets them to stop bickering. Chandrasekhar is introduced as a sort of tragic character, thanking them for being the only venue that hasn't canceled his appearance in six months, and so they realize that even though it might have hurt some feelings, they were still doing the right thing and helping this poor guy out. That is, until he actually starts his act, which is filled with horrible stereotypical racism ("It's hard for a black guy to be fat, because in a black community they will steal all of the food!"), and worse, has only attracted one person anyway - Neil (Charley Koontz, taking a well-timed break from CSI: Cyber to come back to Greendale in an episode about cyber crimes), who is the target of Gupty's black and Jewish themed jokes even though he is neither. Another welcome re-appearance is Craig Cackowski as Officer Cackowski, who informs them about the hacker's demands and, despite the fact that none of them remember him, asks the group about their excitement level for the new Avengers ("I hear Marvel really penned Joss Whedon in"). I don't think he's been on the show since the end of the third season, so it was great to see him again. Leonard and Garrett also show up, making this the season's highlight with regards to using a good chunk of its Springfieldian supporting roster.
Oh and it ends on a True Detective parody between Cackowski in the Woody Harrelson role and a little kid subbing for McConaughey. It's not particularly funny from line to line, but it's so wonderfully odd I am comfortable with adding it to this season's impressive lineup of random pre-credit tags, which like Season 5 (after Donald Glover left) tend to be bizarre and used to flesh out supporting characters. I assume these get cut from the syndicated versions (like last week's, this one runs 28 minutes, though I think it'll be easier to trim as it's got a lot of Harmon-ian tangents, like Cackowski's Avengers stuff), but they are a treasure that should guarantee a DVD purchase from those folks who are only (legally) able to see the trimmed ones.
By keeping it out of true "bottle episode" territory (though the episode essentially has three long scenes with brief establishing material before them), it's easier to not think about the other parts of this "trilogy", which includes what I consider the show's all time best episode (the stolen pen one) and the undisputed best entry from the uneven fifth season (Pierce's will reading). If they were confined to the study room the whole time, it might be harder to judge on its own, with the shadow of two classics (and three different people in previously occupied chairs) hanging over it, and its blemishes might be more noticeable. But even after Abed brings them up, it's easy to just enjoy this one on its own, and relish in the fact that Keith David is now part of the study group. At no point did I wonder why Elroy was there for something, as he never felt shoehorned in or anything, nor were the writers stretching the plot to include him. As for Paget Brewster, I love the actress and the character is a good idea, but they still haven't quite been as successful at integrating her with the others as they've been with Elroy, and she doesn't get many great funny lines from week to week either (her funniest moment remains in the premiere, when she busted up the speakeasy with four cops and a carrot). David feels like he's been there forever already, and hopefully it won't be long until they can do the same for Brewster.
P.S. I don't know how Roku and the like handle it, but on the Yahoo Screen website (where I watched this one), they don't make it easy to find the preview for the next episode, so if you're missing those please poke around and check them out for a little taste of what's to come. Next week: Billy Zane!
*I don't know if this is a pointed slam at the fourth season's secret-revealing puppet episode, omitting it to be petty, or just the writing staff forgetting. I don't think any writer from S4 is still on the show?
"This was a study group?"