Community Ep. 5.06 “Analysis of Cork-Based Networking” is an amusing little head-scratcher

Community promo image S05E06

Community promo image S05E06

Community Season 5, Episode 6 “Analysis of Cork-Based Networking”
Written by Monica Padrick
Directed by Tristram Shapeero
Airs Thursday nights at 8pm ET on NBC

With the dust finally settling from the whirlwind of change Community’s been through the last few weeks, “Analysis of Cork-Based Networking” is our first real look at the “new” Greendale – and despite a flurry of guest stars, it feels much like it did in its early days, before “Contemporary American Poultry” and “Modern Warfare”. Despite the cast changes, gas-leak infected season, and creative turnover the show’s experienced in the last few months, “Corked-Based Networking” shows there’s still plenty of gas in the comedic tank – and with a few new elements thrown into the mix, new characters and directions to explore.

The most interesting new wrinkle to the Community formula is Buzz Hickey, whose character unexpectedly becomes the focus of episode in its climatic moment. Like everyone else at Greendale, Hickey’s got a past full of regrets: by the looks of his bulletin board, he got obsessed over a serial killer case while he was a cop. It’s not something the episode ever explicitly discusses, but that camera pan lends perspective to his comments to Annie throughout the episode. Hickey’s doubts in the system were more than legitimate dislike for official “red tape” and a reluctance to the many political promises Annie made to get the job done (because Annie Edison doesn’t get nothing done, damnit!): Hickey doesn’t have faith in himself to get the job done. The news headlines suggest he never caught his killer: and when faced with another chance to chase the rabbit, he shies away in frustration, disappointed that he can’t stop his young disciple from making the same mistakes as him.

But unlike the very real, damaging ‘red tape’ of his cop career, things are different at Greendale, and he takes matter into his own hands, ripping the old newspaper clippings off his personal bulletin board, and drilling it up on the cafeteria wall (during the Fat Dog for Mid-Term dance). It’s the episode’s finest (and quietest) moment, a symbolic gesture of Hickey finally forgiving himself and moving on with his life, ensuring that Annie won’t become the same angry, frustrated old person he failed. It’s not only a reconciliation of his friendship with Annie: it’s him reconciling with himself, proving that he’s more than Annie’s pointed criticism described him as.

It’s a bit of an odd resolution to a story that initially appears to be about Annie and her Type-A qualities: for most of the episode, Hickey simply plays the straight man to an endlessly entertaining Wacky Annie (“EVERYTHIIIIIIIING!!!!”)… and then she’s just kind of dropped, smiling at Hickey after he nails up the board before walking away. I suppose there’s something to be said about Annie’s ability to inspire others – but that can also be attributed to Greendale, the odd little purgatory where damaged people can work through their issues. With such a shift in perspective and so many guest stars to cycle through (including criminally-underused Robert Patrick and Nathan Fillion as head of parking and janitorial services, respectively), those final moments don’t quite have the emotional punch the script is striving for – but it shows that there’s plenty of new, rewarding ground to tread with both new and old characters in the back half of season five.

The rest of the episode is similarly a mixed bag: I enjoyed the resolution of both the Fat Dog and Abed plots, but what precedes it all – despite it all being hilarious – feels too isolated to really connect. The Fat Dog at Mid-Terms brings another fun Community catchphrase to the show’s expansive lexicon, but what narrative purpose does it really serve? Getting a few scenes of a somewhat toned-down (and slightly depressed, like early season two) Chang is a good time, but there isn’t really much purpose to anything, a bit of throwaway, low-stakes story that hearkens back to the days of “The Politics of Human Sexuality” or “Beginner Pottery”, before expectations were forever raised.

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the two background stories of “Cork-Based Networking” – every show’s allowed a chance to breathe, and this episode feels like exactly that, a bit of a narrative exhale after the demanding natures of the season’s first five episodes. There’s just not a lot of room for things to develop: the Game of Thrones jokes in Abed and Britta’s Game of Spoilers weren’t all that inspired, and Britta’s misguided attempts to help Abed take an unnecessarily cruel turn when she pays the deaf girl (Katie LeClerc!) to ruin the story for Abed. In fact, that final bit seems to exist only to bring back Brie Larson, the coat-check girl Abed’s completely ignored for a year (but it was Gas Leak Year, so all is forgiven) – and not only does it not resolve the sudden friction between Abed and Britta (which exists from the opening scene), but also ignores Abed’s sudden rejection of another girl for something trivial.

Simply put, “Cork-Based Networking” does a fine job establishing what Greendale and Community looks and sounds like in its new incarnation, proving it doesn’t need to be high-concept to be enjoyable – but it doesn’t slow down enough to give any perspective on its characters, except when it makes the connection between Hickey and the rest of the Save Greendale group. I suppose this is placing lofty expectations on a show in its fifth season – but the opening episodes of the season proved there’s still plenty of energy and passion for exploring these characters on a deeper level. Even great comedies are allowed to be simply good sometimes, though, and that’s exactly what “Networking” is: funny and pleasantly weird, but lacking the lasting impact of the show’s more focused, reflective entries.

 

Other thoughts/observations:

– what in the hell was that closing tag?

– Duncan loves Bloodlines of Conquest: “They really get the incest right.”

– love the Labyrinth jokes, especially the contrasting views of Hickey and Pelton on David Bowie.

– “You might want to start talking turkey, Waldrin, because the Macy’s Day parade is ending and Grandma’s getting drunk.”

– “IT’S A BEAR DANCE!!!” Garrett screaming bloody murder will ALWAYS be funny, I don’t care how many episodes in a row it happens. It’s like Andy Dick falling in the cold opens of NewsRadio – they’re perfection.

– favorite gag of the night: Jerry slow-eating a carrot. I have no idea why, but I laughed my ass off at that.

– “Come back… let’s be fat dogs about this!”

– Community‘s on break for the Olympics: it’ll be back February 27th, faster than you can say “Easy, peezy, lemon-squeezy.”

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