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Community Ep. 5.09 “VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing” skims the surface

Community Ep. 5.09 “VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing” skims the surface


Community Season 5, Episode 9 “VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing”
Written by Donald Diego
Directed by Tristram Shapeero
Airs Thursday nights at 8pm ET on NBC


Although Community‘s largely been a lighter show in tone the last few weeks, the darkness of the show’s recent departures have lingered in the background – particularly with Abed, whose friendship with Troy was the show’s emotional center. It takes a little while to get there (thanks to the distracting, mostly pointless Shirley plot), but “VCR Maintenance” uses a little bit of stunt casting to its advantage, accelerating the friction between Abed and Annie first seen in “Virtual Systems Analysis” (hence the nod to that episode in the image seen above), ultimately circling back to Abed and his ever-present fear of being left alone (as he says, sometimes it happens and he doesn’t even know why).

There’s no doubting “VCR Maintenance” is one of the funniest episodes of the season; anchored by Jim Rash’s fucking brilliant freestyle rap, “VCR” immediately embraces the inner darkness Harmon often works his best magic with (or in some cases, some of his most difficult-to-swallow narratives), adding a certain sharpness to dialogues between characters. Annie and Abed’s search for a roommate quickly spirals into something ugly, forcing the two of them to deal with a number of distinct truths. Abed’s is an obvious one; we could all predict his relationship with Rachel would bring out his social quirks.What is interesting is the curveball it throws with Annie; turns out she’s been holding a bit of a grudge against her brother (who is hilarious, by the way: “It was just air”) and family, who turned their back on her when she went into rehab.

In a way, Annie’s afraid to be alone, too – and given how her and Abed’s personalities clash (Annie’s willing to cede to Abed’s personality when it comes to buttered noodles, but she also challenges him to live in reality more than any other character), it reveals that there is still a deep connection in their friendship that keeps them living together, despite their Vince Gilligan-enhanced displays of aggression (by the way; their intensity during the game is hilarious. I grew up around those ‘games’ in the 1990s, and they’re all fucking ridiculous, and awesomely random and nonsensical).

The rest of “VCR Maintenance”? Beyond a simplistic portrayal of a crime syndicate collapsing on itself, there isn’t a whole lot to see with Shirley’s attempt to sell textbooks. It seems to exist only to fill time and poke at the show’s easiest target: Shirley’s religion-enhanced, hypocritical view of herself is the “broad side of a barn” equivalent of stories for Community to tell. Sure, the ‘wink, wink’ references of Community‘s signature parodies exist – but they’re all in service of something that feels inconsequential: a story concocted to laugh at Shirley and the goofy goons she straps to a chair (and no, the whole “sometimes there isn’t a lesson to be learned” bit doesn’t quite work, it feels like a tossed-in excuse to justify its presence). I can do without all that, especially while there’s so much interesting material to mine out of Annie’s relationship with her brother, and Abed learning how to trust someone besides Troy (like Pavel, who returns after a long-long, post-cabbage nap to help out an old friend).


— Randy




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