S2E20: Community was especially hilarious this week. And when you’re starting from a consistent base of almost guaranteed hilariousness each episode, a statement like that means a lot. We find Dan Harmon and company tearing down another sitcom staple, this time it’s the infamous clip show. One of those “we were too lazy to write a story, so here’s a flimsy plot constructed specifically to let us show a bunch of old footage” type of episodes, except that as we’ve come to expect of Community, this was no average clip show. The clips were all brand new – all 72 of them – and what’s even better is that they accomplished the goal of many a recycled sitcom clip show way more effectively.
Clip shows are just tolerable enough because they‘re like looking at old pictures; they remind us of the characters’ quirky, hilarious characteristics and put the trajectory of the show’s season on display. But while none of these clips were actually memories for the audience, they did exactly that. We remember that, holy shit, Jeff does give a lot of speeches and Abed really does unconditionally love even the crappiest of television, but not because we saw some rehashed footage. Nope. It’s because the writers found new and creative ways to let us laugh about what we already know. It’s almost annoying how good they are at tearing down these typical sitcom techniques, but the hilarity renders us helpless with all the giggling and belly laughs. Well, damnit.
“It’s like a reverse cow birth.” –Troy
First up, we get the flimsy premise to allow for all these clips: they’re doing their 20th and final diorama of themselves making their final diorama. Yep, that’s a dig at their own meta tendencies. (It’s also the 20th episode of the show, so that just brings it all home.) Annie’s Boobs is back, but once again he runs into the vent to take a paint brush back to his little lair. Of course Chang gets naked and greased up to chase after the monkey in the vent – which was by all counts amazing and one of many reasons we love Ken Jeong so much – and brings back the monkey’s whole stash. Lost trinkets are found, and boom, cue the memories.
“The reason we had to fill in for the glee club is because they…died. Their bus crashed.” –Annie
“Yeah, well we were remembering around that.” –Jeff
And blammo. Take that clip shows. As Troy and Annie point out, this season has actually been pretty dark and remembering the fun times in between those dark bits seems a little off. They revisit a few past episodes, taking us back to “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” where we all fell in love with Abed’s vivid imagination. But, nope. Here’s the brick wall of a realization: that was a mental breakdown, not a magical adventure.
Ahem, so many other sitcoms, did you guys hear that? You know how you guys all show clips out of context and make us feel warm and fuzzy inside? WELL IT’S A LIE. Well, most of the time…probably.
“Didn’t we decide at the beginning of the year that for the good of the group we wouldn’t allow any intimacy between each other or ourselves?” –Troy
“Troy, we never said ourselves.” – Jeff
“Okay, now I’m really mad.” –Troy
Then comes the part where the clips create conflict: Abed remembers a few clips that prove Jeff and Britta have been having secret sex and suddenly everyone’s fighting. The really great part about this bit is that it causes Annie to get jealous and remember a montage of meaningless glances from Jeff that makes it seem to her (and probably a few viewers) that they have some sort of “general atmosphere of would they/might they.” It’s sort of similar to the concept 30 Rock poked fun at a few weeks ago when they set Liz and Jack’s scene to sappy music and it became meaningful and romantic. The only thing that makes this one better is that they prove it’s all just slow motion and music by doing the same thing with Abed and Pierce.
The clips continue and we see Jeff and Britta being douchebags and the rest of the group “just being cute.” This is part of why this episode is so hilarious; the clip format simply allows for a more rapid succession of gags and thus we get more giggles. Every clip was great, but you’ve got to love the devotion to the digs at The Cape. (And thanks to its cancellation, the clip format allows them to give the references the semblance of timeliness.)
Of course, a fake clips show wouldn’t be complete without an unnecessary interruption from the dean in a crazy costume, followed by a montage of all the outfits we’ve missed while the Greendale antics apparently continued outside of the show itself. This was brief, but just as creepy and great as we’d expect it to be.
“Abed, stop being meta. Stop trying to take what we’re doing and shove it up its own ass.” –Jeff
But then it got better: the memory of a fight within the memory of a fight within the memory of a fight with Troy’s mind-shattering cry cycling through all of them until his nose starts to bleed. The show’s too meta for its own good, but the writers know that and instead of scaling back they’re just going off the deep end with it and the result is hilarious. This all leads us to the stereotypical dramatic conclusion, only it doesn’t actually happen because they acknowledge how expected it is, which is also pretty great.
Instead Jeff gives another speech made up of a speech montage and everyone hugs and makes up. They’re all okay with Jeff and Britta hooking up which of course means it’s no longer appealing to either of them. The Jeff montage is hilarious and all, but we get the payoff of all this clip-mania when Chang finds himself in the study room with Annie’s Boobs and they remember all of their adventures this year: Chang naked in an air vent while the monkey beats the shit out of him. That’s what’s great about Chang; his character is really very simple, but it’s that simple absurdity that makes him so endlessly entertaining.
The tag left us with that strange and almost sadly awesome desperate high school kid cartoon from the Dean, but really, it’s only appropriate. How can you end a clip show with just another clip? That would be way too typical, duh.
Like I mentioned once, the clip show format allowed for more rapid succession of jokes and that’s likely why this episode was exponentially more hilarious than so many others, but does that really matter? It was smart, it was pointed, it was well-written, and you know what? It was damn funny and that’s really all you can ask for from a comedy.