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Community: “Analysis of Cork-Based Networking”

"Okay, I didn’t follow most of that …”

Comedy is a real pain in the ass to write about, because it’s subjective. A joke either works or it doesn’t, a reference either catches you or it doesn’t, a gag is either perfectly timed or a split-second off. So what we talk about when we talk about Community is usually the story (furthering the myth of Dan Harmon, story guru and mad genius). Then, sometimes, there’s an episode with a story so bizarre that I’m just not sure whatto talk about.

“Analysis of Cork-Based Networking” is one of those episodes. It’s not bad—not at all—but there’s a real slap dash quality to the story mechanics that makes even the solid jokes feel wonky, and beyond that, some really inconsistent characterization. Take Britta’s story.

During the group meeting in the cold open, Abed spoils the HBO series “Bloodlines of Conquest” (an obvious Game of Thrones stand-in) for Britta, so she makes it her goal to read ahead in the books the series is based on and spoil him on how the series concludes. It’s not much of a story, but it makes for some decent gags, like Britta placing a full-length banner with a spoiler on it in Abed’s locker (why are there lockers at a community college?). The real problem comes in a parallel story thread that finds Abed, who’s taken to wearing noise-cancelling headphones to avoid Britta’s spoilers, falling for a deaf girl (the subtitles underlining Abed’s difficulty learning sign language are easily the funniest moments of the episode). At the end of the episode, just as Abed begins to feel he has a connection with the deaf girl, she spoils the end of the Bloodlines of Conquest series, accepts a wad of cash from Britta, and just walks away.

That is one of the meanest things that any character has ever done to another on this show—and that’s saying a lot by this point. It just doesn’t make sense for a character as consistently overlyconcerned about everybody’s feelings as Britta is to suddenly want to get back at Abed so much that she’ll concoct a scheme that she knows will hurt him in this way—when he’s finally showing the ability to connect with another person in a genuine way. It’s a Jeff plot maybe, but it’s certainly not a Britta story.

As Abed walks away, he runs into the adorable coat check girl from Season Four’s “Herstory of Dance”, who is referred to earlier in the episode when Britta asks Abed “are you going to have another intense burst of compatibility with a girl we never see again?” Abed takes another dig at Season Four’s inconsistencies as he apologizes to coat check girl for not calling her, saying, “That was the gas leak year, but I won’t use that as an excuse”. These lines feel lazy, and a way forCommunity to excuse away inconsistencies in Abed’s character that have nothing to do with a gas leak or the Harmonless year. Is Abed a robot, or a mental case, or can he actually break through these walls and connect with the world? The answer seems to be as fluid as the necessities of each episode’s individual plot.

But with Troy gone, it would be a natural fit for Abed to explore a relationship. Brie Larson was great in “Herstory of Dance”, and she’s great here. Her booming movie career might keep her away, but she’d be a welcome addition to the cast.

Elsewhere, this episode finally rejoins the Save Greendale Committee storyline, which was out aside for the last several weeks to make way for a David Fincher parody, and then Pierce’s death and Troy’s departure. It feels, then, like this is the first full episode to address exactly what it is that the committee is going to do all season. As it happens, there is a binder full of projects for the group to tackle, and Annie is in charge of handing out assignments.

Hickey is assigned to repair a bulletin board that has fallen down in the cafeteria—but it’s not so easy, as it turns out, as that simple request leads to a cascade of requests and under-the-table deals involving each department at Greendale. It’s a satirical take on the labyrinthine, dirty nature of politics and a reference to, though not an exact parody of, television series like The Wire that show all sides of a corrupt system, but unlike Season One’s Chicken Tenders mob parody, this never feels cohesive or important enough to justify the weight of the story. That seedy Grendale underworld also happens to be peppered with guest stars, from Jerry Minor, Eddie Peppitone, Kumail Nanjiani, Paget Brewster, Robert Patrick, and Mr. “The Hammer is My Penis” himself—Nathan Fillion. As much fun as it is to see some of these people finally in the Greendale universe (especiallyHarmontown regular and Harmon BFF Nanjiani), most of these interactions fall flat.

The storyline culminates in a meaningless montage to “More Than This”, a lovely song that conjures emotions that I’m not sure have anything to do with the events we’ve witnessed in the 25 minutes that precede it.

A nice thing about this is we get to see Annie actually doing things that don’t involve Jeff—and Hickey is a natural foil for both her naiveté and underlying ruthlessness. I hope to see those two paired up in a better story soon.

As for Jeff, he gets assigned, along with Chang, Shirley, and Duncan to decorate a school dance. All that Chang can offer as a suggestion is the enigmatic “Bear down for midterms”, the groups’s dismissal of which sends Chang into a tailspin. So the group tries to make it up to him by going along with the bear theme, which unfortunately coincides with a real-life bear attack in Wisconsisn. The group needs to change their theme to avoid seeming insensitive and land on the baffling “Fat Dog”, which Chang insists is a real saying. Anyway. There’s a Fat Dog dance and an unfortunate Fat Dog dance number, and a Garrett scream. End of episode.

So with all that jumbled bullshit of a plot happening, all that remains is for the episode to be funny. Thankfully, it is. As I’ve said, Abed and Britta’s failed attempts at ASL are consistently funny (“I detonated a mollusk”), and John Oliver continues to elevate every scene he’s in this season, especially as he insists that Bloodlines of Conquest “really gets the incest right”. Hickey’s continual confusion re: fist bumping also continues to be my favorite new running gag of the season. With more coherent stories, we could have had something special here.