Ben: Welcome back, folks! This week we find the gang committing to some Dean-ordered puppet therapy in an effort to overcome a serially dramatic balloon ride. It’s as ridiculous as it sounds, but can easily stand with some of the shows more legendary “homage episodes”. Nathan?
Nathan: What? Did we watch the same show? I don’t think I smiled once during this episode, let alone laughed. Do I need to rewatch? Did I miss something?
The show begins with the gang experiencing an awkward silence that we’re told has been lasting for “several days.” Which, uh, sure. The group explains the whole thing is too embarrassing to talk about, so then old Dean-o brings in a bunch of hand puppets and wants the gang to act out why they’re unhappy. As he’s handing out the puppets, the Dean explains that they represent the group, Jeff is “the rugged handsome one,” Shirley is the mom, Annie is the good student, Britta is the “activist,” Pierce is the old guy, etc.
I’ve been rewatching season one these past few days (shout outs Hulu Plus, I see you) and was blown away by how pigeonholed the characters were at the beginning of this series. Part of the joy of seasons 1-3 was watching the characters grow out of those two-word descriptors. I’m afraid we’re back.
Ben: And so we have found the source of our disagreement. As the group begins their puppet flashbacks, the story begins with Abed and Troy playing a game of “Study Group Bingo”, mocking the predictability of each character. Annie asks if we all can study? Square. Britta shouts “Open your eyes, people”? Square.
Nathan: That part was funny. I’ll give you that.
Ben: It’s a riff on your exact complaint. And as the group details their desire to break out of this rut, they for some god-forsaken reason break out into song. I have precisely two complaints about this episode: the songs and it could have worked without puppets.
The songs are complete schlock, focusing on their need for adventure. I realize it’s supposed to emulate The Muppet Movie, but even when they were breaking Glee down the songs were actually enjoyable to hear (“Baby Boomer Santa” being one of this show’s greatest achievements).
That aside, the group decides on a hot air balloon trip for an “adventure”, which again is quite the ploy to match the puppeteers need to hide. After getting lost in song (“No more singing in the balloon basket” the balloon handler regrets),they crash land in the woods, are fed some hallucinogenic berries by a mountain man (and Greendale alumni) and begin some fairly serious confessions (again, in song). I know I’m sounding more annoyed by this than my opener indicates, but holy christ. Why the damn songs.
Nathan: Amen, sir. If the songs aren’t there to be funny (they weren’t) I’m guessing they were there to be, well, sweet, maybe? Cute? Yikes.
You also forgot to mention that the mountain man was played by Jason Alexander, only the actor who played the greatest sitcom character of all time, and who was given absolutely zero to do in this episode.
Ben: That was Jason Alexander?!: I thought so, but it holds a telling absence from his IMDb page which, by the way, is one of the most depressing things I’ve ever seen on the Internet.
Nathan: No comment on that. But yeah, Jason Alexander Mountain Man gives the group hallucinogenic berries, and apparently this make the group all confess something embarrassing.
Shirley is the first to recall the embarrassing thing she shared in the woods, which is the fact that she left her kids in a grocery store one time. After she recalls this, the group tells her they don’t even remember her telling them that. Classic mixup! The group has been sharing an awkward silence “for days” because they all gave dark confessions, but none of them can remember the confessions. They’re scot free!
Of course, Shirley had already shared her dark thing, and now she’s alone. Cue Jeff speech, cue the gang all sharing their dark confessions, cue Britta joke, cue Dean-o making an overt sexual statement about Jeff. There was probably a song in there at some point, but I was too busy not smiling. You really liked this one?
Ben: Absolutely. Not only did all the jokes land (aside from the aforementioned music), but it’s the first time in some time this show has actually hit an emotional note. While some of the confessions were a bit tried (Britta never voted and Pierce never slept with Eartha Kitt, Troy started a wildfire while attempting to set ants ablaze), some held some deep emotional notes. Shirley left her kids because she was chasing a couple she believed to be her husband with another woman. Jeff dated a woman with a kid, promised he’d attend one of her son’s baseball games, and then never called her again, revealing yet another sickening comparison between him and his father. Annie even let the history professor express a foot fetish on her dainties to improve her grade.
But what these confessions build upon is the caricatures the Dean sets up in the beginning of the episode. Jeff as the overconfident male, Britta as the enlightened activist, and Shirley as the good parent. They go on the balloon ride to change the rut they find themselves in, yet they really had distanced themselves from their stereotypes in awful ways. It actually reminded me of a line Jeff has in Season 2’s “Critical Film Studies” (the Pulp Fiction/My Dinner With Andre episode). “99% percent of the lies we tell are into the mirror.” And I like your point about Season 1; this episode is another great step for the characters to escape their college-pamphlet roles they have seemingly been assigned.
But the wretched, awful, corny-as-hell songs….A- from me.
Nathan: You say development away from their scripted personas, I say a rash return to those personas, and then a little “confession” to try and add false emotional depth. I just thought this whole thing seemed paint-by-numbers to me, and we didn’t even discuss the worst part of the whole episode, which was the closing 30-second “bloopers and silly moments with the puppets” montage that was basically the show creators screaming at us, “SEE WE HAVE A HEART. WE’RE ALL HAVING FUN. WE LOVE EACH OTHER.” Which would have been ironic enough if this weren’t also the first episode we saw with Pierce noticeably absent. (Chevy Chase and Community have been like oil and water, even with Harmon leaving the show.)
I give this episode a D+. I laughed at exactly one joke, I felt the emotional payoff rushed and flat, and the songs will haunt my dreams. Stick to what you’re good at, Community. One liners and Troy crying. We can all unite around that. One liners and Troy crying!!
Next week we’ll get “Intro to Knots,” which from early photos appears to be the Christmas episode. God bless NBC delays and the funny temporal ironies it creates. See you all then.