The stakes are a new roommate for Annie and Abed’s intense video board game in “VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing.” While the humor here doesn’t distinguish itself from what Community‘s done all season, the fact that the episode is solid speaks to how well the show is running.
- Director: Tristram Shapeero
- Writer: Donald Diego
- Cast: Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alison Bree, Ken Jeong, Jim Rash, Jonathan Banks
Episode Title: “VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing”
When Annie assigns Jeff, Shirley, and Hickey to clean up a storage room, they find a cache of unopened chemistry books. Immediately, Jeff and Hickey are for selling the books, and once Shirley reluctantly comes around, she lays out how the deal’s going to go down. They call in Britta to help fence the books, and Chang stumbles in on them by accident. It all ends in madness, with Chang forced to confess to stealing the books as security. Jeff and Chang are tied up for wanting to back out, then Hickey and Britta are tied up for crossing Shirley. Of course, the books turn out to be worthless misprints, and everyone feels a bit silly. In a more serious storyline, Abed and Annie are finally ready to finding a new roommate to replace Troy. Annie’s handy and submissive bear of a brother Anthony is one candidate, Abed’s girlfriend Rachel the other. They decide to settle the issue by playing a ridiculously complex VCR video game from 1993. But Annie and Abed get so into it they alienate the others. Abed patches things up with Rachel via a very cute (and wet) apology in the hallway, simulating the rainy, on-your-doorstep romantic speech – except, it’s the front of Rachel’s locker and the water causes someone to slip and fall. Annie and Abed come to an understanding. After taking a moment to size up Britta, they decide to find someone on Craigslist.
- Pay Day: Easily the strongest open of the season is the Dean’s pay day rap while decked out in a peanut bar costume. Hickey makes a good point later about that being where the overdue paychecks are going. Jim Rash’s horror reaction and the thing that just surged out of him was beautiful, especially the way his arms flail about and look tiny because of the suit. If you look in the corner, you can squint and see Gillian Jacobs trying to hide her smile.
- Quick Draw: The strongest plot of the evening was Abed and Annie’s. Not just because brother Anthony stuck the perfect note of beaten-down acquiescence and had the most exhausting smile we’ve ever seen; nor because Rachel seems to be the master of chill. The zeal with which Abed and Annie fought for their respective roomie candidates had all the shock of lightning. The way they attacked Pile of Bullets’ was breathtakingly ferocious. And the oddity of the game itself was grand. The moment where the guide takes off his Stetson and puts on a train conductor cap had an unexpected poetry to it.
- Unresolved Issues: As the best absurd things on Community do, it revealed the pair’s real loneliness post-Troy. It’s not a hole that a new roommate or the old timey prospector, played by Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan, could fill. But we had a lot of fun watching them try. Abed’s rom-com trope apology was also adorable. It really brought the rest of the story into focus. Funniest line of the night: “You hired a stuntman!”
- Third Edition: If Abed and Annie’s plot was aggressively silly, the rest of the study group’s story was aggressively average. A situation turns and suddenly all is chaos and we’re watching the surrogate of a drug deal gone wrong and obviously Hickey has rope. It did give Shirley a lot to do, which is always nice. Her snap from cringing accomplice to This Is How We Run It was fabulous. But the story was the kind of exaggeration we’ve seen a lot of this season. “We learned that sometimes there is no lesson” indeed.
- Apple Stock: Vince Gilligan seemed more at ease dungeon mastering (so excited for “Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons next week) the gang’s Western trail-blazers than in the episode’s tag, working at Apple and married to Gina Gershon. Perhaps he needs an accent or a gun? In normal clothes, sitting in a kitchen, he was ill at ease to handle the wild abandon of becoming the Luke Skywalker of VHS video gaming, moving to LA and trying cocaine. His slight flusteredness distracted from the humor and made it cheaper.
Although the storylines were slightly uneven, “VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing,” got the sentiment right in the end. The episode addresses the Troy Barnes-shaped hole in Abed and Annie’s life seriously, without losing a whit of silliness. Five tornado howdy!
Community airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on NBC.
Was the episode a bullet token or a ratt’ler? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.