Saturday, April 18, 2015

COMMUNITY Expands Beyond the "Basic" Sitcom

Article originally published as TV Review: 'Community' - 'Basic Email Security' on Blogcritics.

urlThis week’s episode of Community on Yahoo! Screen finds a hacker hijacking all email accessed on Greendale’s computers. In “Basic Email Security,” the criminal demands the school cancel an offensive comedy show, or see the communications leaked to the world. A sampling of the lunch lady’s missives convinces the Save Greendale Committee that the threat is real and embarrassment is guaranteed, but should they kowtow to terrorism?

It’s rare that Community features stories ripped from the headlines, but the plot of “Basic Email Security” highlights a genuine issue, illustrated by the last year’s Sony hacks, which torpedoed the theatrical release of The Interview. CBS’s The Good Wife, which often does integrate current events into the drama, did a similar story over the past few weeks. So it’s a strange topic for a zany sitcom to tackle.

Community attempts to milk the humor of the situation. Once our main crew’s emails are leaked, many details are dropped about what they’ve written. Funnily enough, as we only ever see them text, not email, there’s a lot of dirt and insults against their friends available. Most of these are presented in a comedic fashion, with the slights being things that would make good zingers in other episodes. Abed (Danny Pudi) is appropriately obtuse about the situation. Office Cackowski (Craig Cackowski) having to bring in a child (Quinn Friedman, Up All Night) to catch the juvenile delinquent (Julian Feder) is an amusing commentary on cyber trends. The speech Britta (Gillian Jacobs) gives to guilt them all into supporting the comedy show (which she had planned on protesting) is also quite silly, playing on the familiar foibles of her character, as well as her meager understanding of rights and laws.

There are some very interesting elements incorporated into the episode as well. Frankie’s (Paget Brewster) sexuality is brought up again, a recurring theme this year that Community is in no hurry to answer. Chang (Ken Jeong) rightly complains he hasn’t had anything substantive to do since serving as a teacher, and the newer members of the group react appropriately to learning the deranged man ever held a position as an educator. The comedian, Gupta Gupti Gupta (Jay Chandrasekhar, Super Troopers), is lame and not at all worth their efforts, rubbing salt in the wound.

Yet, “Basic Email Security” is also upsetting. As in other recent Community episodes, the story goes dark. The players in this tale are complex and fleshed out enough that there are no surprises in the conflict between them, or in the idea that they’d trade jabs behind each other’s backs, or that they’d even peek at the leaked emails after agreeing not to. But that doesn’t make it easier to watch the anger and pain almost all of them feel after everything goes down. Their strength is in being a group, and the events of this installment tear them apart, undermining what most of them have spent years building.

The Dean (Jim Rash) is becoming more slimy each passing week. He is OK with the others being ruined, but does not hesitate to distance himself from the fiasco, sparing himself the consequences. He wants to be a part of the group, but he has no spine, and while that isn’t new information, he seems to sink to new depths in this episode.

I won’t say “Basic Email Security” is poor television; it’s not. But neither is it very funny, on the whole. But the episode explores some new ground for Community, and takes the show further away from its early structure. Should the show continue down this path for many more years, it is likely to break the hearts of many a loyal fan, and become extremely hard to watch. Building towards what will likely be a movie finale (to complete the #SixSeasonsAndAMovie prophecy), it’s really good material pushing towards an ending. It’s also really cool that Dan Harmon would take his creations and change them this much on a show that is, primarily, a comedy.

Yahoo! Screen posts new episodes of Community every Tuesday.

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