Community: “Laws of Robotics and Party Rights” Season 6 Episode 5 Review

Photo Credit: http://www.ew.com/sites/default/files/i/2015/04/06/community-recap.jpg

Prison robots visit Greendale, Abed ensures the party never stops, and I wonder if this show’s lengthened runtime is becoming problematic.

There are a lot of half-hour shows I watch that I could easily continue watching for several more hours. The sprawling universe of The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra could easily fill an hour time slot, and, though I’m disheartened that there won’t be a third season, I think the two-hour Looking finale special will be amazing.

Other shows, however, fit perfectly into their allotted runtime. Community has always worked well in small packages, particularly because it’s so impressive to watch how much they can effectively pack in to such a short amount of time. There are specific exceptions of course, namely the two-part paintball episode, but overall I think this series does well as a half-hour sitcom.

I use the term “half-hour sitcom” loosely because, with commercials, Community has really always been around 20-22 minutes per episode. Now that it’s on Yahoo! Screen, though, it’s been expanded. 10 extra minutes may not seem like a huge deal, but the effects are fully felt in an episode like “Laws of Robotics and Party Rights,” where there are several moments that seem to exist just to kill time.

Take, for example, the differences between the cold open and the ending tag. The former is sharp and funny, with the cast excellently riffing off each other and Elroy getting to use the excellent line “I’m nobody’s fourth Ghostbuster.” The two plots of the episode—prisoners attending Greendale via roving iPads on sticks and Britta wanting to throw a party—are efficiently set up, and then the theme song begins.

The ending, on the other hand, feels way overlong. Frankie attempts to close the prison plotline by trying to get the school to buy the leftover iPads. Then there are several jokes that happen simultaneously, including Chang taking a dump in Annie and Abed’s bathroom, Dean Pelton sitting on Jeff’s lap, Britta getting arrested, and kids throwing rocks at Elroy’s RV. Oh, and then Abed takes over everyone’s screens.

An ending such as this one made me long for the short, sweet, and simple days of Troy and Abed in the Morning. Tags are supposed to be quick wrap-ups, getting in one last joke before the credits roll. Here, it feels like the joke has outstayed its welcome.

There are other areas where the time increase can be felt as well. When Britta uses Abed’s love of film to host a rager, it naturally backfires. The most important part comes when he’s still mad by the episode’s end. Community is brilliant at creating pathos even in the most absurd of situations. Last season’s “App Development and Condiments” saw the school turn into a futuristic caste system because of a cat app, and yet the stakes felt important because it was really about the relationship between Jeff and Shirley.

Here, Britta has clearly caused a rift in her friendship with Abed. Annie hits it home when she says, “You’re going to be punished in ways you won’t understand for longer than you think is rational, or possible. But then one day, you’ll do something he likes and he’ll stop. And eventually you’ll either adapt or lose your mind.” Then the scene ends with a fake sitcom title “Female Friends” appearing over their faces. It’s a quick throwaway joke, for sure, but it ruined the moment a little. I couldn’t help but wonder what would’ve happened if those extra few second were cut for time.

Despite the lagging, there is a lot to like about “Laws of Robots and Party Rights.” For one, we finally see Jeff teaching a class—you know, that job he’s paid to do—this season. Of course, he’s teaching it Jeff-style, exploiting Greendale’s loose rules and showing Planet Earth to his students while he plays on his phone. This all changes when one of the prison inmates named Willy (Cougartown‘s Brian Van Holt) decides to call him out on his bullsh*t.

What I really liked about this plotline was the undercurrent of Jeff’s narcissism running throughout. Yes, Willy was conning everyone with his folksy charm, but Jeff’s crusade to stop him said more about his self-obsession than it did about him wanting to do the right thing. Jeff’s matured a lot over the course of 5 seasons, but he still has an egotistical streak that informs a lot of his decisions. He may not like the way Dean Pelton pines after him, but he’ll be dammed if he pines over anyone else.

What didn’t work as well was the prison fight at the end of the ceremony. This episode made full use of iPad jokes—I particularly enjoyed when Willy couldn’t do a backwards exit because his roller stand gets stuck on a crumpled piece of paper—but this one didn’t really take. Don’t get me wrong, the actual fight was pretty funny, but this scene was also doing a parody of same-sex marriages with the appointment ceremony, so it just felt like there was too much going on. Again, if this scene were shorter, perhaps it would’ve forced the writers to be more cohesive.

Any sort of creative constraint on a television show can be daunting, but it takes true genius to work inside of these constraints to make something original. Community is usually an expert at doing this, but now that it’s been given more freedom, it doesn’t exactly seem to know what to do with it. Still, its heart is in the right place, and I have faith that it will soon learn how to make the most out of more time. Grade: B

 

Some Other Notes:

– Don’t think I didn’t see the connection between Bobby from Cougartown, which is Abed’s favorite show, guest-starring on Community. Finally, this has come full circle.

– Dean Pelton to the inmates: “If I see any race gangs forming, I will have no choice but to adjust the contrast on your screens until they all look the same.”

– Also, in lessons of How To Joke About Racism Without Being Racist Yourself, please see The Dean’s hilarious interactions with Elroy in the cold open.

– Okay, I know we can’t have a great Chang episode every week, but did he really have to divert back to his old ways so quickly? It’s disappointing.

– Despite the ending tags failings, I kind of want to know what happened to Britta that got her arrested.

– Dani Pudi’s Seinfeld impression isn’t half-bad.

– Troy’s hand!

 

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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