"Why would gorillas need marketing? They're amazing."
Dan Harmon can't do things the easy/normal way, so when Subway became a sponsor for a couple of episodes in Community's third season, the group didn't just have their study session over a few 5 dollar footlongs and let that be that - Harmon had to work Subway into the plot of an episode. This plot introduced Rick, a guy who legally had his name changed to "Subway" in order for the sandwich giant to open a location in Greendale's food court. Britta fell hard for him and he eventually lost his job due to their actions, and he hasn't been seen since (though Subway itself has popped up once or twice). But few characters on Community only make the one appearance, and so three years later here we are with "Advanced Safety Features," in which Rick makes his grand return with his new job - guerrilla marketing for Honda.
For those of you who are watching Community without any ads, this might be a bit of a weird plot point, so let me explain: when we watch with ads, we are forced to endure the same two Honda ads three or four times during an episode, as they are apparently the main sponsor for the show (or Yahoo Screen in general; I haven't bothered watching anything else they have). It's easily the worst part of watching the show with ads enabled; I know the ads help and they are thankfully short breaks compared to Hulu, but Honda's ads are just plain awful. Once was more than enough for the current ones in rotation, and yet I've seen the fucking "I have many great memories of my Honda" kid no less than six times just TODAY.
Well, their ads must suck in the world of Community too, as they've recruited Rick to covertly market their CRV and other products to Greendale students and faculty on a one on one level. Rick quickly learns the Dean is what they call "Level 7 susceptible," after the latter buys two Hondas (and a lawnmower) on the simplest suggestion from Honda's undercover agent (his activities are illegal; the Dean just thinks he's being helpful when suggesting that he buy one), but it doesn't take long for him and Britta to rekindle their romance, which once again threatens his employment. Britta wants a real relationship, someone she can go to brunch with, but for Rick, Honda marketing is a full time job. His boss (Billy Zane, quite hilarious) presents them with a solution - Britta can work for them too and they can be a marketing couple, free to have a "normal" relationship and use that affection to help sell more Hondas. Their first (only) mark is Todd, who is so enraptured by their tales of having room for their antiquing purchases in their wonderful CRV that he wanders away mid-conversation to buy one for himself.
In the context of the previous, Subway-driven episode, it's a pretty good followup. Travis Schuldt has great timing and, more importantly, terrific chemistry with Gillian Jacobs, who more or less owns the episode. She has her moments in just about every episode, of course, but it seems like it's been far too long since they've basically given her the lead role in an episode's A-story, while chiming in with her two cents in the B-plot as well. Even the one with her parents (who show up again here) treated her scenes as the backup, the B-story, with most of it given over to the virtual reality stuff. This week's secondary plot is kind of weightless, in fact - the group thinks Elroy doesn't really like them much, but it turns out he just doesn't like Jeff. WHY this is the case isn't satisfactorily explained; he throws in a comment about his hair gel and later admits that he has trouble caring about anyone, but the latter doesn't explain why he'd be in a good mood with Annie, Abed, and Chang and then want to leave as soon as Jeff joined them. Since Jeff was the one who brought him into the fold, it seems like a peculiar, underdeveloped storyline, not to mention one with zero previous buildup - he jumped to help Jeff with the Dean in the robot episode, so what's his problem now?
And his big reveal, that he used to date the (much younger) singer from Natalie is Freezing (the band he and Britta bonded over in the dog episode), doesn't quite land either. Even if you ignore the age difference (the singer - who is NOT named Natalie - is played by Lisa Loeb, who is actually only twelve years younger but since they've seemingly aged Keith David up it feels like a wider gap), it seems a bit coincidental that Jeff would inadvertently hire his ex (and that they'd be in town) during an attempt to bond with him - the odds seem a bit insane. As a result of this more serious storyline, David doesn't get as many funny moments here as he has in the past five episodes. He's got a great one during the climactic concert ("She wrote this about me. Or heroine."), but he loses MVP status for the first time since his introduction. Plus, big reveals for new characters don't really play that strongly; it's great to have this extra bit of info on Elroy, but how will it matter now, halfway through what will likely be his only season on the show? Unless Lisa Loeb is also joining the cast, I can't really get too concerned that he used to date her and that's why he's standoffish, especially when his demeanor is a. new to this episode and b. directed at one person.
But the focus on Britta more than makes up for it, and once again they're finally putting Chang to good use. His opening PowerPoint presentation is the episode's comedic highlight by far, and he also gets in a pretty great bit of background business ("Anyone need anything reached?"). Frankie also has an AMAZING scene with the Dean where she tries to ask him if he's an idiot without actually asking that (and, of course, ends up hurting his feelings far more than simply asking that would have). It's a far better use for her than her other main bit in the episode, where she asks why Troy was so special ("Did he own a rainbow?") and is informed by Jeff that he was really good at steel drums, a lie that he promises the others will pay off. And it does (she drums with Natalie), but I really wish the punchline was saved for another episode entirely.
So it's decent. The Honda stuff is clever (if a bit of a retread), there are enough laughs to make it worth your time (Abed's intolerance of DJs particularly tickled me), and Gillian Jacobs is on fire throughout. And no episode with Todd can be considered anything less than valuable. On the other hand, it's not particularly important; few Community episodes feel like they're liable to be forgotten about in terms of character growth, but this is definitely one - I sincerely doubt the Dean's office full of Honda products or Frankie's newly found steel drum skills will be seen next week. We'll see.
*I'll accept Honda but if an upcoming episode has anything to do with Yahoo's awful looking (and overly loud) Sin City Saints show, I'll quit Community for good.
"Why would gorillas need marketing? They're amazing."