Community rarely deploys animation, but it annihilates emotion and tackles dark psychological issues with extreme parody. So how does the appropriately titled “G.I. Jeff” fare? Two words Joes: Mission accomplished.
- Director: Rob Schrab
- Writer: Dino Stamatopoulos
- Cast: Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alison Bree, Ken Jeong, Jim Rash, Jonathan Banks
Episode Title: “G.I. Jeff”
The Joes are all that stand in the way of Cobra destroying the Taj Mahal, including suspiciously familiar avatars Buzzkill (Britta), Three Kids (Shirley), Tight Ship (Annie), and Wingman (Jeff). The day looks well saved, with the Cobra ships destroyed and Destro parachuting his way to safety. But when the commander points this out, Wingman blasts Destro’s chute, sending him to his death. This is way too horrifying to be a regular cartoon. In fact, everyone seems aware of it at Joe Command, where Wingman and his squad get court-martialed and thrown in the Brig. There, they meet Fourth Wall (Abed), who tells them something’s wrong with this reality because of strange things he found at a site called Greendale. Wingman freaks out, we heard voices of our regular study group urging Jeff to wake up and sounds of a hospital monitor. The acts are also interspersed with increasingly ridiculous G.I. toy commercials staring Jeff’s inner child. So, we’re sure this is going on inside his head. Cobra, incensed that the Joes have actually killed someone, launch a strike which allows our squad to escape to Greendale, currently being staked out by Cobra second-stringers who look a lot like Duncan, the Dean, Chang, and Hickey. Wingman defeats them, but comes to realize this is his delusion on account of downing sketchy Korean youth pills and a fifth of Scotch for his 40th birthday. Initially, Wingman wants to stay and play Joe forever. But when he realizes how infantilized they all are (they’ve never felt a woman’s boob), he uses his jetpack to break through to reality, waking up in the hospital surrounded by his friends.
- General Issue: As we learn from that Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode “Once More With Feeling,” a great reason to get unreal is to dig into what might be a little too real for the normal world. ”G.I. Jeff” is a worthy successor to Community‘s other foray into animation, “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.” This episode is all about Winger, and the show does a fantastic job of grounding us in his anxieties and the artificiality of the universe right from the start. Knowing the terms makes us a little wiser and allows the humor to be both sharper and more poignant. We especially liked the inclusion of Pierce’s note on Jeff’s desk in Greendale. Nothing sums up Jeff’s fears about getting older better.
- Jetpack Delivery: All that serious stuff aside, the episode was really funny. It’s probably funnier to folks who grew up on the G.I. Joe cartoons; but the humor was broad enough to include wonderful visuals like Britta’s buzz-arm, character-centric declarations specific to the show (our intro to Annie’s avatar Tight Ship, “I control everything!”) and good enough at calling out the structure of this universe to make it funny. The repetition of the gang hitting Cobras on the head with rocks was pretty fabulous. This episode will also stand tall in the six season and a movie set because of how thick and fast the bullets fly. The jokes are damned quick, and we suspect there are darker implications nested into the dialogue.
- Fourth Wall: The animation, slightly pastel and stilted, was authentic and seemingly inclusive of many original voices from the show. Or very good imitators. But the staging of the commercials really tickled us. It was also a great sandbox for jokes, the enthusiastic announcer and “Woah!” delivery of the kids made a lot of lines inherently funnier. Plus, we’re a bit impressed with how it escalated to the point that an action figure of Jeff barrels into his inner-child’s forehead.
- Three Kids: Making fun of how pigeon-holed and little utilized Shirley is does not count as giving Shirley something to do. On the other hand, the phrase “three kids,” is probably the most effective trigger for any drinking game you might make out of this episode.
- Moral Sold Separately: We’re not talking about the episode’s tag, which featured Britta at her bombastic best and Abed at his most analytic. The coda to the animation, with the gang and Jeff grateful he’s still alive, sidestepped the darker elements of the story. First, it was a little abrupt, keen to get us out on time. But also, whether the cartoon solves it or not, Jeff’s actions were destructive and disturbing. The show had a chance to be much more incisive with the disaffection that comes with adulthood. The crippling and universal fear of death behind 40 isn’t that old jokes, and what a dangerous crutch nostalgia can be. That’s the difference between a great Community episode and one that’s outstanding.
Despite its hug-out ending that sort of mellowed the episode, “G.I. Jeff” ranks high among Community’s pop parodies. The gags were inventive, the animation hit all the right marks, and the conceit was grounded in emotional stakes for a character we care about. Excellent work.
Community airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on NBC.
How badly do you want a Buzzkill action figure now? Let us know what you thought of the episode in the comments.