TV Recap: Community: “Pillows and Blankets”

(Image © NBC Universal)

(Image © NBC Universal)

"The Rambo titles never made sense. Neither does war.” -Abed Nadir, Facebook status update.

I was a PBS nerd as a kid, and remain one to this day. I remember rushing home with my mother to watch each part of Ken Burns’s groundbreaking documentary The Civil War every night it was on, and being captivated by its delicacy and grandeur. So just by attempting a tribute to the Burns-style documentaries of the past twenty years this episode had me on its side.

But this was more than a functional tribute, it was (as the very best episodes of Community are) a use of the format it parodies to tell a story as that format best captures it. Had they merely shown the pillow/blanket war as it really was it could have felt too close to last season’s paintball finale. Using the documentary technique allows the characters to take center stage rather than the inherent goofiness of the concept, and also makes some nice observations along the way. Future historians really are going to have to comb through inane Facebook conversations and grainy cellphone footage to make sense of our time.

Last episode saw the Troy and Abed split, foreshadowed in every episode of this back half of Season Three, come at last, with Troy excitedly moving forward with his (and the Dean’s) plan to build the largest blanket fort in the world and Abed obstinately refusing to tear down his burgeoning pillow fort to allow it. At the beginning of this episode we are told, through helpful diagrams and narration, that they have split Greendale into two opposing factions: The United Forts of Pillowtown and The Legit Republic of Blanketburg. The rest of the episode is a tale of shifting allegiances and desperate strategies, which is all fine until the two former friends begin to really hurt each other’s feelings. Abed makes a strategic lists of Troy’s weaknesses, including his tendency to burst into tears.

I really don’t know what he’s talking about-

Oh. Yeah, okay.

Anyway, Troy fires back by reminding Abed that not only is Troy his best friend, he is his only friend, because no one else has the patience to deal with his robotic nature. Once it becomes clear that the two are really trying to tear each other apart Jeff must step in to save the day. He tries to smooth things over with a patented Winger speech, but it’s only by yielding to Abed and Troy’s playfulness that the conflict is resolved. The episode handles the recurring (and dully repetitive) story of Jeff’s narcissism in a subtle way, without getting sappy–a crutch the series often relies on. The final scenes of the episode, of an exhausted Abed and Troy fighting for hours because they can’t bear the thought of drifting apart, and the reveal that Jeff actually went to the Dean’s office to retrieve the invisible hats he’d given the boys earlier in the episode, were nicely underplayed and sweet.

There was a lot of complex storytelling here, but it felt effortless because the episode was so much damn fun. From Jeff and Annie’s banal texts to Britta’s consistently horrible photographs to The Changlorious Basterds (a name I literally cannot say or type without giggling like a little girl), every gag worked tonight. It was the funniest episode since “Regional Holiday Music”, and maybe even better than that one. The shaky-cam footage of Pierce’s giant pillow-man charging the Basterds may haunt my dreams tonight, but it’s also probably the single funniest image the show has ever given us.

If this episode were a Facebook status, Leonard would “like” it.

Community, Episode 3:14 “Pillows and Blankets”: A+