COMMUNITY 5.09 ‘VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing’
Episode: “VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing”
Writer: Donald Diego
Director: Tristram Shapeero
Previously on “Community”:
It was probably inevitable that “Community” would get around to VCR video games, a strange relic of the ‘90s that never really caught on. Though you can catch a few VCR video games on Youtube, including at least one or two of the “Star Trek” games.
When it was announced that “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan was guest starring this season on “Community,” I’m sure that no one could have imagined him as the host of a VCR game called “Pile of Bullets.” But it’s a memorably hilarious turn even though Gilligan never gets to share the stage with any of the regular cast members. Instead, Gilligan’s character (Devon) barely explains the game’s bizarre rules with an over-the-top enthusiasm that just made it even funnier.
But the comedy gold in the episode came from the way that Abed (Danny Pudi) and Annie (Alison Brie) became fully immersed in “Pile of Bullets” to determine who would be their new roommate: Abed’s girlfriend, Rachel (Brie Larson) or Anthony (Spencer Crittenden); Annie’s lumbering brother.
Rachel and Anthony quickly proved to be terrific additions to the “Community” cast of characters. Crittenden’s Anthony was socially awkward in his own way and I died laughing when his practice smile even managed to creep out Abed. Some of the weirded out looks between Anthony and Rachel helped remind the audience that not everyone dives into the insanity of the Save Greendale committee. Anthony was also quite astute about the void left by Troy and the inability of Abed and Annie to adjust to Troy’s absence.
Yet Rachel is the real find here, and she is easily the best thing to come out of the gas leak year. She’s like a slightly more well adjusted version of Abed who can actually function in a social situation. Rachel is suitably freaked out by Abed and Annie’s descent into “Pile of Bullets” madness. But instead of writing off Abed, she accepts his charmingly insane “third act apology.” If “Community” comes back for another season, Larson should definitely be signed as a regular (if possible). No one can replace Donald Glover. But watching Abed and Rachel in a relationship has fantastic comedy potential, as demonstrated in this episode.
I wasn’t quite as enamored with the other storyline in this episode, as Jeff (Joel McHale), Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) and Buzz (Jonathan Banks) discovered a hidden cache of Greendale textbooks that was potentially worth a lot of money. Eventually, Britta (Gillian Jacobs) and Chang (Ken Jeong) were pulled into their treacherous web as well.
It’s not as if Jeff and Buzz didn’t have a good motivation for potentially ripping off Greendale. The Dean (Jim Rash) informed them that Greendale would once again be late paying their salary while dressed as a Payday bar as he laid down a freestyle rap. That bit was an instant classic, especially when the Dean dropped the mic and he suddenly seemed to realize just how crazy it was.
Strangely enough, this was yet another dark turn for Shirley, who doesn’t need much convincing that the books were practically a gift from God before betraying and binding her friends with Buzz’s endless supply of rope. It was amusing to see that Chang has really changed, as he refused to take part in anything illegal. However, the ol’ Chang crazy was still in effect when he professed his love for kissing the books while being blackmailed by the group.
Even Jeff had a moral crisis before the rest of his friends. Naturally, everyone turned on everyone else until Shirley was the only one left. To top it off, the books turn out to be worthless and it was all for nothing.
I didn’t find the conclusion of that plotline to be very funny and it lacked any sort of emotional punch. I know that “Community” is a comedy and that plotlines rarely linger from week to week. But that betrayal felt like something that could have ruined the group’s friendship, yet it’s only dealt with as an awkward moment the next day.
Fortunately, the tag of the episode brilliantly revisited Devon and his wife (played by Gina Gershon) in 1993 as she convinced him to give up his job at Apple because he was destined to be the “Luke Skywalker” of VCR video games. That was a great closing note for the episode.
On the whole, “VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing” was pretty solid. But I am hoping that both Rachel and Anthony come back for future appearances. They’re not as crazy as the original study group, but they’re fun to have around.