“Digital Exploration Of Interior Design” is a relentlessly entertaining episode, and it’s the first one in a while I can think of where all three subplots really have moments that pop. Often on this show, there will be two strong plots, then a C-plot that feels like a throwaway, but that doesn’t really happen here. This episode was produced around the time of “Urban Matrimony” from a couple of weeks ago, and that suggests the show had really found a zone and started to get on a roll, with episodes that are less concept-heavy and more “hijinks at Greendale” in tone. Consider this: The blanket fort subplot from last seasons “Conspiracy Theories” is one of the big highlights of the show, like the paintball wars in “Modern Warfare.” But instead of going bigger and better in this episode (as the show did when it revisited the paintball storyline), we instead see very little of the blanket and pillow forts. The characters take precedence, and that’s a good way to revisit an old idea without it growing stale.
Somewhat remarkably, the blanket fort stuff might have been the subplot I liked the least. That’s not to say I didn’t like it—far from it. I just had slightly more fun with Jeff trying to remember this girl named Kim that apparently thought he was a dick and especially with Britta falling in love with the human embodiment of Subway (played by Travis Schuldt, the Dudemeister from Scrubs, which should make those of you debating this show’s connections to that one—beyond the obvious fact that executive producers Neil Goldman and Garrett Donovan worked there—happy). Troy and Abed’s friendship has been due for a reexamination for a while now, and this episode placed that in the context of action, rather than the dialogue that made up the rather sweet scene from last week’s episode.
I also like the way the show is using John Goodman as Laybourne. After getting over my initial disappointment that the man wasn’t in every episode (since he’s awesome), I’ve come to appreciate how the show has used him only when it needs to introduce just a hint of conflict. Laybourne knows exactly what he’s doing, as he shoves Troy and Abed slightly more in opposition to each other, but coupled with the events of the last couple of episodes, there’s a marked sense that Laybourne wouldn’t have needed to do much to begin with. The blanket-vs.-pillow fort conflict works on a meta level, in that it’s about the show’s own unease with its weirdness (and how that weirdness may be keeping it from a larger audience) this season, but it also works on the level of it being a battle between two friends who’ve needed to have this fight for a long time.
If I have a quibble here, it’s that the show didn’t do more to split up the Greendale irregulars between the two sides. Since the main characters are all off in storylines of their own—and the Dean is there to play referee—it might have been nice if more of the recurring players were on either side of the fight, but I’m sure that’s something that will come up in part two. (For what it’s worth, it looks like Leonard, Starburns, and Magnitude are on the side of Abed, while Garrett was the only person I could spot on Team Troy. But Garrett’s so busy needing to be saved that he hardly counts.) In addition, it would have been great to get a better sense of just what made Abed’s fort so awesome that he wanted to preserve it, but that might be one of those things that’s impossible to depict on screen in any really compelling fashion. We get why Troy’s so gung ho about what he’s doing—who wouldn’t want to have a beard of bees? But Abed’s insistence comes off more as petulance. That fits the character as he’s been developed this season, but it’d still be cool to see what he’s being so petulant about.
The Jeff and Annie storyline is less pressing and more of an excuse to ruminate for a while on their relationship. But I didn’t mind this rumination, because it was full of some pretty good jokes. It turns out that Jeff’s had a locker all of this time (he skipped orientation and diversity fire dance, so he didn’t know about it). In that locker, he finds a “hate letter,” addressed to him by someone named Kim, who tells him what a jerk he is. He goes looking for Kim, and even if it’s immediately obvious that the guy who tells him Kim is dead is actually Kim, there’s still some nice business in this episode that shows how Jeff, the guy who didn’t care if people liked him back when the show began (because all he cared about was if people liked him), has come around to a new way of thinking, thanks to the group: He actively wants to be a better person, now, even if he still can’t remember who Kim was. Annie using the incident to score some points about how he made out with her, then essentially forgot about her, was a good way of bringing up that particular storyline without dwelling on it, and “Put it in a letter, Jane Austen!” was a really funny line for her. (In general, it feels like Annie’s been back to her season one self in a handful of episodes this season, and I hope that trend continues.)
Finally, we come to Britta and “Subway,” who’s a guy named Rick who gave up his personhood in order to be a “corpo-humanoid,” a person who becomes the embodiment of a corporation, to represent that corporation’s interests in the public sphere. (In this case, Subway needs a student on campus to be Subway because all businesses on Greendale must be at least 51 percent owned by someone at Greendale. Also, if you read the bylaws, all students are in the Army reserves. Let’s say a prayer for peace.) The Britta and Subway storyline hit all of my favorite buttons: Britta acting ridiculous; Pierce doing weird, grossout gags; Shirley trying to keep things from getting too crazy; George Orwell parodies. I liked the way the show foregrounded that it was going to be making fun of 1984 here, so that once it started to do so, it was easier to roll with how ridiculous it all was. I also liked how this tied back into the central ideas of compromise vs. integrity. The world really is run by the unremarkable, and if you try to stick to something pure, you’re inevitably going to piss people off. Is the show tainting itself by welcoming the Subway money? I’d say no, if it can keep making Subway this funny, but, then, have you heard about the many healthy and delicious options available at your neighborhood Subway? Eat fresh!
This idea of compromise and when it’s necessary has always informed the show, but perhaps never so blatantly as it does in this episode. You can subsume your own desires and wishes for a while if you want to get along in your friendships and relationships, but eventually, you’re going to want to be the Inspector for a while, while your friend takes the backseat. Good relationships are built on people who are able to trade off those roles, finding space for each other to take the wheel for a certain period of time. It’s possible to be happy and to take the supporting role, but you have to be willing to do so in the first place. The characters on Community—and the show itself—aren’t always willing to compromise (unless their corpo-humanoid of choice has dreamy eyes), but eventually, something’s going to give. Maybe somebody you hung out with a few times freshman year hates you because you forgot all about him, or maybe your best friend wants to do something different for a while. What it all comes down to is if you can be a big enough person to step aside, or if you need to fight back against an assault on your ideas (and, by extension, yourself). And if you could mix all of that in with a healthy dose of Chevy Chase chugging ink pens, that would be great.
- Garrett is one of my favorite recurring players, so it was nice to see him get such a showcase here: “We saved him!” “Did we?”
- Then again, no matter how willing you are to compromise in the moment, some of us are just always going to be dicks, as we see when Jeff has already forgotten who Kim is by episode’s end. (Another nice touch: Jeff backing away from the pillow fight that breaks out, texting all the while.)
- I feel like the show has been utilizing the ensemble very well this season, even in the episodes that don’t quite work. Everybody’s getting some good jokes in most episodes.
- Pierce’s tools of the spy trade: “Microphones in lipstick! Lipstick in microphones!”
- Another Pierce line I liked: “Whorewomanship. I forgot it was the ‘90s.”
- I’m sort of surprised you can say “dick” on TV now. It must have happened so gradually I didn’t notice, but I remember several episodes of series even 10 years ago where the word “dick” had obviously and hastily been replaced via ADR.
- I really want Leonard’s pajamas.
- The Dean was on Google, searching for the longest lengths of things. He was probably just searching for the world’s longest sandwich.
- Laybourne—who has a beard and ponytail, because he’s going through some stuff right now—plays trumpet in a band called “Kelvin And The Zeroes.” Awesome.
- I don’t have a screener for the super-amazing part two of this episode, which I’m sure will explode all of our brains. Expect next week’s review to be late, and consider this grade provisional.