Community‘s “Advanced Safety Features” began with the gang in their usual spot, trying to put the final touches on their plans for a Greendale Alumni dinner. Frankie once again takes on the role of the “straight man” here, though to somewhat humorous effect. Jeff eventually tells her that to help ease the gang’s pain in the loss of Donald Glover’s Troy, she should learn to play steeldrums, “just like Troy once did.” Troy of course never played steeldrums but it’s a nice exchange that, for better or worse, preoccupies Frankie for nearly the majority of the episode and comes with a nice payoff. Also at the table, Chang was apparently tasked with learning PowerPoint, which he displays via a ludicrous presentation that involves him smashing numerous eggs and showing off his rudimentary skills with the program. It’s typical Chang fare, though it’s not up to his usual hilarious and cringeworthy outbursts. Community can really excel when it comes to some of its characters, but when finding a balance and giving everyone something to do, sometimes the show has trouble.
While Frankie continues to be relegated to the background, Elroy continues to shine. It’s almost funny in that you think the two have an almost symbiotic relationship: the funnier Elroy comes across, the worse Frankie gets. To be fair, if every episode can deliver the laughs that they give to Elroy, it would almost be worth it. The gang tries to connect further with Elroy by unearthing a ridiculous board game called, “The Ears Have It.” It’s sort of like that old board game “Guess Who,” only with each participant wearing a set of ears that they have to guess the origin of. Everyone has a wonderful time, aside from Jeff, whose ego is unsurprisingly bruised by this endeavor as he states from the outset that he doesn’t care to win Elroy’s friendship, but of course does. Jeff attempts to win Elroy’s favor by bringing Elroy’s favorite band, “Natalie is Freezing” to the alumni dinner, only to have it blow up in his face.
The crux of the episode though is the return of Britta’s old boyfriend, “Subway,” a.k.a. Rick. This plot also helped propel this episode to the most meta of its offerings this season so far. Much like the infamous “Subway” episode of the last season, Community takes an opportunity to show off some product placement in the form of Honda. While certainly clever in attempting to disguise the advertising in plain sight, after a while, it becomes tiresome, the jokes fall flat, and you begin to realize that, “Wow, they are really trying to sell me on Honda here.” Much like the point I made earlier about the need to balance characters, there needed to be a finer balance between the product placement and the jokes themselves. Because the writers were walking such a tightrope here, slipping up means it could all come crashing down. And it kinda did. It’s a shame, because you can see what they are going for with the Dean being revealed to be a “Level 7 Susceptible” and his eventual downfall, as well as Britta and Rick’s relationship needing to be mired in Honda products and a love of the movie Avatar, but it needed to be much stronger to really sell it.
The high point of the episode was the fantastic surprise in bringing on Billy Zane as Rick’s mysterious boss, sporting a magnificent beard and an air of mystery. While doling out sage advice, Zane tries to make his escape in the middle of conversations by ducking out of sight. He fails spectacularly as Britta is able to point him out each time, once hiding ineffectively behind a bar table, and the other time next to a wall as Britta unconvincingly plays along. He certainly could have used some more screen time, but I won’t knock what we got of him here.
The episode culminates in the alumni dinner taking place, with Elroy having frank discussions with Jeff, Britta, and eventually, Julie, the lead singer of “Natalie is Freezing”. Elroy revealing that he once dated the head of the band to Britta really shines a light on the relationship between the two of them. Earlier in the season, the two bonded over the band so it’s nice to see a call back to that, especially to such humorous effects as the two trying to determine what exactly a drawbridge is called in a sloppy metaphor. Britta and Elroy help to fill the void of Troy and Britta’s past relationship, and while not romantic, the two work well off one another. In perhaps one of the funniest scenes of the night, Elroy remembers the proper name for a drawbridge too late, yells it into the ether, only to discover that he was being watched by a nervous bar employee who awkwardly leaves the scene. A gut-busting scene to be sure. Elroy’s eventual reveal that he was “destroyed” by Julie dumping him decades ago was a nice cap.
Ultimately, I think that Community tried to reach lofty goals here with the Honda placement, but stumbled in doing so. Still, a worthwhile episode and solid addition to a strong season.
Episode Rating: ★★★ Good
– The final scene with Britta and her parents playing “The Ears Have It” was great in showing just how terrible Britta is in comparison to her almost saint-like folks. Not exactly on the level of “Knee High Mischief,” but it still went a nice route of showing us more of the odd family’s interactions, especially with the final line of Britta’s dad implying that they screwed up raising Britta in general.
– What to do about Frankie? I just don’t see how her role can be promoted to a higher level within the group. She needs to be able to deliver some hilarity moving forward if she’s really going to gel with the rest of the gang.
– Man, was this episode meta. While the Honda nods alone are nothing to sneeze at, Abed essentially laying out how his character is being received this season by the audience was another nice tip of the hat.
– Britta: “You go to jail if a cop doesn’t like you.”
– Annie: “Sounds like brain windexing.”
– Dean: “The windows are fogged, are you napping comfortably?”
– Britta: “Wait, where’d he go?”
Rick: “That’s not for us to understand.”
– Elroy: “I think this song is about me … or heroin.”