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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Abed Resorts to "Escapism" in COMMUNITY

Article first published as Abed Resorts to "Escapism" in COMMUNITY on TheTVKing.

The most recent installment of NBC's Community, "Geothermal Escapism," follows in the proud tradition of episodes such as the paintball wars and the pillow fort, turning the community college into a battleground where a hyper reality can play out. It brings some new, creative adaptations to sets, specific terminology to the situation, and some dramatic moments as friends and colleagues die in the lava that everyone pretends the floors of Greendale have morphed into. It's nothing short of fantastic.

The costumes, too, match this futuristic, post-apocalyptic landscape. From Britta's (Gillian Jacobs) black leather and frizzy hair to Shirley's (Yvette Nicole Brown) religious leader robes to Buzz Hickey's (Jonathan Banks) machine that seems to be a part of himself, the references are clear and the tone is firmly set. Chang (Ken Jeong) and his "locker boy" followers are entertaining, and most of the recurring players show up for at least one fun line. It's a total immersion in this new world.

My only real complaint is that the Dean (Jim Rash) disappears early in the episode, and we never seen him participating in the game. One must assume that there is a deleted scene somewhere, and with all of the things that must be served in the half hour, especially the Troy / Abed / Britta plot, there just wasn't room for him. Too bad. He's a character who consistently delivers, and rarely gets too heavily involved in these weird excursions.

"Geothermal Escapism" does make room to show Jeff (Joel McHale) and Annie (Alison Brie) teaming up once more. Is this a sign that they may be sleeping together again? Or forming a real relationship? Or do they just enjoy their games, and haven't been able to make a real commitment to one another yet?

Most importantly, "Geothermal Escapism," is the last one for the character of Troy (Donald Glover). A member of the study group from the beginning, Troy sets sail around the world to fulfill the terms of the inheritance bequeathed to him by Pierce. But before he can depart, his best friend, Abed (Danny Pudi), must let go, something easier said than done

Abed and Troy's friendship has been such an essential part of Community that it's hard to imagine what the show will be like without it. Will someone else replace Troy as Abed's bestie, or will Abed now be alone, as no one else understands him? Will it feel like an essential element of the series is missing, or will this finally give Abed the room he needs to grow and develop?

Abed is an emotionally stunted individual, and so dealing with the strong feelings of grief he has over losing Troy are not something he is equipped to do. As so often has been the case, Abed chooses to ignore reality, putting himself in a fantasy world, hoping that will give him the context he needs to process his sorrow. And, as has happened before, Abed drags the whole school down the rabbit hole with him.

With Abed broken again, the only person who can help him is Britta. Community fans and characters alike frequently make fun of Britta for her ineptitude; her name is even used as a verb meaning "to screw things up." Yet, in the past couple of years, we've seen her mature as a mental health professional. She may not understand how to diagnose and treat Abed, but she is the one that finds a loophole in his created realm that can be used to help him move forward, even if it's not a professional method. She saves the day.

After the action-packed installment of Lava World is mostly played out, Community does leave a few minutes for some very heartfelt goodbyes. Troy gets a moment with each of the study group in turn, and I can't think of a thing I'd change about the words they exchanged. Each player reveals something about themselves and offers at least a glimpse of the depth of their affection. It's a tear-inducing scene, played perfectly by all involved.

And then, icing on the cake, we learn that Troy is setting sail with his hero, LeVar Burton (himself). It's a call back to an earlier story, and one that gives us a hint that Troy won't be miserable and alone on his journey. It provides hope for a fun future for him, even as he leaves Greendale and his friends behind.

"Geothermal Escapism" is a near-perfect episode, serving Troy, Britta, and Abed, especially, but also squeezing in enough little bits and one-liners, such as Britta and Jeff's knock-knock argument, to make it feel authentically Community, avoiding being too narrowly focused. Let's hope if anyone else leaves, they get at least half the send-off Troy does. Better yet, let's hope Troy completes his voyage and comes back for a (not-yet-ordered) sixth season.

Community airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

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