Community: Muppets Take Greendale
Thanks, Pete, for covering last week while I got that Ted Nugent song out of my head.
Sometimes there are concepts so brilliant they are destined to fail. In a way, you have to give the idea-makers credit for even trying, but then you sort of wish they hadn't because it places emphasis on the fact that they didn't get it right.
"Brilliant concept" is how I would describe last night's episode of Community; poor execution would be another way, however. If I had been sitting in the idea meeting for this episode, I am sure that I too would have been like, "Yeah, totally! Let's turn the study group into puppets!" and then we would have all high-fived and drunk Sunny D. Turning the group into puppets is a gimmick, but that's just fine. Community does gimmicks all the time; the group turned into a Nintendo game and it was amazing. The difference between that episode and this was that the big picture of the show was not altered, and that is not what happened in last night's puppet mess.
The study group is not on speaking terms. Something big happened but no one wants to talk about it. And so, the ever persistent Dean brings them handmade puppets to try and use puppet therapy to get out what's eating them. Despite their initial hesitation, they slowly embrace the puppets to retell the story of their group's demise.
I should mention that the Dean has taken off his regular clothing in exchange for a Pinocchio costume complete with long rubber nose just because he's the Dean.
One day while studying (which they haven't done in a long time), they decide that they are in a rut and need to do something new. "Something new" has already started to occur as the group has been morphed into puppet versions of themselves and not the hand puppets that the Dean has sewn for them. They are actual rod puppets and pretty close to their likenesses, I should add.
The puppet group heads off on an adventure complete with a Muppet-style song about going off on an adventure. My initial reaction was confusion; I wasn't sure whether this was genius or stupid. I'll get to that later.
The puppets stumble upon a hot air balloon because that's what happens when you are a puppet who wants to go on an adventure (I am not being facetious here; this is what would happen in a Muppet movie). But the hot air balloon takes off on its own with the help of Pierce, leaving the puppets' human hot air balloon guide on the ground as they fly away. All of this happens during a musical interlude.
Now this was the moment when I said to myself, "Huh."
Members of the study group find themselves in a forest where who of all people should be there singing about being an ex-Greendale student who ran away to a forest but Jason Alexander with shaggy, long hair. I haven't seen Jason Alexander in a while and at first I was excited for his cameo, but it was just plain odd and not all that funny. And this is the moment when I realized this was a good episode gone bad. When Jason Alexander pops out of nowhere with long hair singing, everything should be all right in the world. There is so much potential for hilarity, but it all fell flat. The songs were more or less songs with a sprinkling of jokes; they should have been jokes in musical form.
Troy and his puppet self
Jason Alexander, for some reason, gives the puppets psychedelic berries that make them trip out. Brita keeps rubbing Annie, saying how soft her skin feels, "like felt," and Shirley calls them devil berries. So the study group wants to get out of their comfort zone, they become puppets and take LSD-berries. This should have been so absurdly comical.
And now to get to the plot of this episode: Each of the study members thinks that in their drug-induced state, they told each other their worst secret. And that's why they are feeling awkward and need to communicate via puppet therapy. Convoluted? Yes. Being somewhat formulaic in an attempt to tie in how the characters are hiding from themselves metaphorically and physically, i.e., they are puppets. Sure. Successful? No.
In real life, sitting in Greendale as humans, Shirley recalls telling her most shameful story of when she left her kids in the supermarket overnight only to realize that no member of the study group heard her tell it the first time. They all told each other secrets, but none of them paid attention. The drugs made them real chatty "but not real listen-y," says Troy. Hoorah! All of their problems are solved and their secrets are safe, well, except Shirley's, who now feels like a moron.
So what to do? Naturally, the study group must share their secrets, as puppets, to save their friendship as humans. Ta-da! Their secrets aren't even that bad. They are quite in line with their personalities and their innate fears about themselves, which we are already well aware of. We have learned nothing new about our Greendale friends except that Abed has no deep secrets.
And when I thought this episode could get no worse, the after credit roll, which should have been an amazing puppet-style "Troy and Abed in the morning," is a blooper reel. A literal Community blooper reel. There is nothing more I hate in this world than seeing blooper reels of people who have fun at their jobs while making millions of dollars. Go fuck yourselves.
I had very high hopes for this episode. It should have been off-the-wall hilarious and, again, I give them credit for trying as I can't imagine any other sitcom on network television having the balls to give this concept a shot (except Angel); this is something only Community could do. They just didn't pull it off. It really just wasn't funny enough and there was so much room for laughs; they were freakin' puppets. Like all Community episodes, it was so well structured. I am always in awe at how well thought out this show is in terms of the thread that ties the plot and the big picture together, but as nice and all that is, I want some laughs.
Troy and Abed have devised a bingo-type game of the study group and whenever one of the members says something typical, they get a point. It comes up a few times throughout the episode like when Pierce says, "I'm alive" and they yell out "Point!"
Chang has a puppet that screams to the group, "I'm not what I seem!" (We all know it!)
Pierce's puppet admits that he never slept with Eartha Kitt, they just "dry-humped."