Memory is a funny thing sometimes. In some cases, it can conflate how you remember a certain moment – or, in this case, an episode of television – and sometimes, you can still pinpoint an emotion and flash back to how you reacted to something 12 years ago. Both come into play with how I remembered this week’s installments. In the former, we have Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design, and in the latter, Mixology Certification. Both are excellent episodes of Community, and both stand in the upper echelon of the show at large, for vastly different reasons.
Conspiracy Theories is a perfect distillation of a few episodes that the show has already done this season, taking and borrowing comedic beats and plot structures that were already done so well, and episode writer Chris McKenna puts his own bizarre spin on it. McKenna wrote the season premiere, and it’s probably no coincidence that this episode contains one of the few callbacks to earlier plot developments – Annie being in love with Jeff – in the season so far.
Before pressing play this time around, I had barely remembered Conspiracy Theories, and it turned out to be the perfect way to experience the episode, with each crazy twist that the third act takes. Of course, the show had spoofed the conspiracy thriller just a week earlier, while also paying homage to the bottle episode, but this week’s installment has a completely different vibe. Virtually every shot feels like it’s been taken from an endless study of films like Mission: Impossible or Enemy of the State or The Manchurian Candidate.
I had remembered that there was an episode of Community where Troy and Abed create a blanket fort that spans a large portion of Greendale, but in my mind, I had made it out to be a bigger deal than it is here. Turns out I had mixed it up with Troy/Donald Glover’s farewell episode in season five, Geothermal Escapism. In a perfect world, the blanket fort would serve its own purpose, but it comes into play perfectly in the show’s riff on the street chase that’s ever-present in the above-mentioned films. Sure, any show could theoretically throw in a subplot about a comedically expanded blanket fort, but only Community would display the attention to detail that’s on display here, like the weird sex room that Britta’s found in, or the convenient parade that separates the heroes from the villain.
If there’s any commonality to be seen between Conspiracy Theories and Mixology Certification, it’s in Alison Brie’s committed performances. Not to diminish the careers of Community‘s primary cast, but it’s no wonder that Brie and Donald Glover have had the greater body of work after the show ended. The show always provided a tricky request for its actors, asking them to be different versions of the same person from week to week. First, Annie is a willing but skeptical partner, going along with Jeff to get to the heart of Professor Professorson. For Conspiracy Theories to really work, you have to believe every increasingly bonkers plot twist, and Brie sells each one with aplomb.
And then she gets to have a blast in Mixology Certification, playing into the sadder side of Annie, which we’ve rarely gotten to see since the beginning of the show. Though the same could be said of virtually everyone in the episode, despite it still being reliably hilarious. I can still remember the episode’s emotional high point from when I first viewed it in the autumn of 2010, when Troy looks around the bar and sees all of his friends essentially at rock bottom.
Community always had a tinge of darkness to it – it really wouldn’t be a Dan Harmon project without it – and the episode’s second half contains the perfect mix of sweet and melancholy. The show’s thesis statement from the beginning was about how a group of weirdos found commonality in a terrible place, how Greendale would be a place where they were forced to reconcile with their past and become something different. Shirley is running from her past, and if I had to nitpick, it would be that the episode doesn’t spend enough time digging what led to her alcoholic years. Though it’s a nice moment that the group sees past her failings and values her for who she is now.
For Annie, the night is all about seeing herself through another person’s eyes, and wondering if her ideal life plan, which she had plotted out for so long, is really ideal after all. It could be easy to say that Jeff and Britta don’t have much of an arc here, but they essentially function for Troy to see a glimpse of his potential future. Jeff is who he’s looked up to since the beginning of the show, and you can already see the seeds being planted for his crush on Britta, so for them to devolve into horny drunkards is more about Troy’s perception of them than anything else. But if there’s any great tragedy to Mixology Certification, it’s that the show couldn’t find another way to bring back Paul F. Tompkins’ gay nerd in future episodes.
I know for a fact that Community would continue to do more movie parody episodes (one is coming next week!) throughout its run. I’m certain that Conspiracy Theories likely won’t be most fans’ first choice when picking the best of that subset of episodes, though I’d be happy to stick up for it after this viewing. However, I don’t know how many episodes the show would do that would strike such a melancholy tone in the way that Mixology does, especially after Harmon left. Even though it won’t go down as the funniest of the season, for my money, I think it’s one of the best episodes the show has ever done.
Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design Grade: A
Mixology Certification Grade: A