Community: “G.I. Jeff” Season 5, Episode 11 Review

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The gang gets animated in this whipsmart and charming sendup of G.I. Joe.

If you were worried you had switched to the wrong channel at the beginning of this week’s Community, no one would blame you. The episode opens with a sequence that actually looks like something straight out of the world of G.I. Joe. No, not those two Channing Tatum movies. The original G.I. Joe Saturday morning cartoon from the 80s. Complete with vintage 2D animation, the gang tries to stop Cobra soldiers from infiltrating the Taj Mahal.

There’s Jeff as the aggressive Wingman, Annie as the buxom Tightship, Britta as the strangely outfitted Buzzkill, and Shirley as the always-concerned Three Kids. The stage seems set for a Gus Van Sant-esque shot-for-shot remake of an old G.I. Joe episode, when something strange happens. Jeff actually kills a Cobra agent.

It might seem strange to think about in today’s hyperviolent TV landscape, but did you ever notice how the heroes of children’s cartoons continually let the villains escape, even when they have an easy target? When Jeff, er, Wingman shoots down the enemy’s parachute, he’s not doing the good he thinks he is. He’s actually breaking the fabric of this innocent reality.

Much of the episode takes aim at the sometimes ridiculous and repetitive nature of Saturday morning cartoons. There’s bad lip dubs when the sound recording falls out of sync with the animation, references to homogenous fighting tactics used in every episode–the running gag of the rock over the head had me in stitches–and priceless lines like “we’ve been shooting and missing at each other for 20 years!” All of this hilariously parodies the idiosyncratic nature of G.I. Joe, but does so in a loving way. You can tell this is something the writers watched when they were young.

Of course, this being Community, the homage is way more than just an homage. After the gang is thrown in jail for their crimes of indecency, they meet Abed’s Fourth Wall. He claims to be able to see into other realities, and informs them that everything around them is just a cartoon. It turns out, Jeff is struggling to deal with aging, and has fallen into a scotch and pill-induced hallucination. Much like season 2’s “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” the gang must work through the fantasy to help Jeff work through his issues.

Unlike the aforementioned Christmas episode, Jeff realizes early on that he’s living in a fake world. He decides to revert deeper into his childhood so as to hide from the pain of getting older. It’s a great character moment for him, and something we really haven’t examined before. Pierce has always been the one of the group to deal with problems due to his age, but now that he’s gone it seems he’s passed the torch onto Jeff. I’m glad there’s other layers to Jeff besides his abandonment issues, and I think this was a perfectly Community way to explore them.

Overall, this was a highly entertaining episode with a heartwarming payoff. As usual, the small details made for some of the best humor. The fact that Chang’s character was called Overkill, the kids’ toy commercials that interrupted the action, and the brief “you people” joke that Shirley and Abed shared were all moments of brilliance. Community doesn’t always pull of their meta-concept episodes well, but when they do it’s pretty magical. Grade: A


By Mike Papirmeister

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