Review: 'Community' - 'Pillows and Blankets': Civil war stories
A Ken Burns parody turns into a poignant Troy and Abed friendship story
A review of tonight's "Community" coming up just as soon as I buy a thumb icon at the app store...
The best "Community" parody episodes tend to remember that they're an episode of "Community" first and a parody of something second. One of the reasons the space bus episode last season didn't quite click is that there ultimately wasn't a strong character story for anyone amid all the references to "Apollo 13," Colonel Sanders, etc.
"Pillows and Blankets" is a note-perfect spoof of Ken Burns' documentary style in general, and his "Civil War" in particular, as it applies his lyrical approach to the incredibly mundane, silly story of Blanketsburg feuding with Pillowtown. It gets the look and sound and editing style exactly right, and even where it deviates — like the use of the regular cast's voices for the narration(*), when Burns would've hired celebrities — it acknowledges that it's happening, and why. The animated maps, the reliance on older voices (including Leonard and the very Buck O'Neil-esque Harry Jefferson) to explain what it was like, the reading of texts and Facebook status updates (where Burns relied on old-fashioned letters), etc., were all spot-on. And they were mixed in with enough non-parody jokes — Troy thinking that "ultimatum" is "all tomato" ("you give me the whole tomato or else"), Pierce claiming to suffer erectile dysfunction after an early battle, Abed complaining about the titling of the John Rambo movies — to hopefully carry things for viewers who didn't know who Burns was and/or had never seen one of his documentaries.
And yet I started to get tired of the whole gimmick about halfway through — which is conveniently when the focus of the episode shifted away from paying homage to both the Civil War and "Civil War" and got back to the reason behind this whole mess and the crumbling state of Troy and Abed's friendship.
Because what "Community" can do that I always find so remarkable is take an incredibly self-conscious bit of pop culture goofiness like a Ken Burns' parody or a "My Dinner with Andre" homage involving "Cougar Town" and invest it with real emotional stakes for the characters we've come to care about. Everything about this episode is ridiculous, and then all of a sudden Troy and Abed are using their knowledge of each other to be as specifically cruel as they can possibly be. The show doesn't play their argument off as a joke(**); they cut each other very deeply, seem to pass the point of no return and are only saved because Jeff has one of his occasional bouts of pure altruism and makes them admit they still care about each other, even after all that's been said and done. Some very good writing and acting in those final scenes that found a way to get at some emotion even while Troy and Abed were dressed that way.
(**) Though it does keep inserting jokes even amidst the pathos, like Troy crying as Keith David tells us, "Unfortunately, the only photographer there to capture the scene is Britta Perry."
And going the other way, Jeff's heroic moment was a great example of using the gimmick to make sure things didn't get too sappy. Jeff admits that he walked all the way to the Dean's office, spent time looking for the invisible friendship hats, etc., but the very fact that he's sharing this diary entry with the documentary crew shows you that he's only absorbed so much of Annie's lecture. He helps out Troy and Abed because he does care for them, but he's never going to be able to get go of his need to impress other people. He's better; he's not perfect.
What did everybody else think?
News From Our Partners
- FTW vs. WTF: The TV Week in Review (May 19) Doctor Who "The Name of the Doctor" Review: The Impossible Girl Made Possible What to Watch This Weekend: The Season Finales of Nikita, Doctor Who, The Simpsons, and Family Guy
- Box Office: 'Star Trek Into Darkness' Misses $100M Domestic Mark on Opening Weekend Beyonce Pregnant Again? Sources Confirm 'Epic' Star Is Carrying Baby No. 2 'Hangover 3' Red Band Trailer: Take a Walk Down a NSFW Memory Lane (VIDEO)
- Cannes Film Festival: Cannes 2013, Day Four: The Coen brothers return to the festival with a folk-rock flashback Cannes Film Festival: Cannes 2013, Day Three: Cheers for the young stars of The Selfish Giant, jeers for the new films by Hirokazu Kore-eda and Arnaud Desplechin Watch This: With Beavis And Butt-head Do America, Mike Judge skewered the idiocy of cinematic adventures
- Box Office Guru Wrapup: Star Trek Softer Than Expected at #1 Weekly Ketchup: Will Smith to Star in Wild Bunch Remake? Critics Consensus: Star Trek Into Darkness is Certified Fresh
- 'Doctor Who' Season 8 Confirmed, Steven Moffat to Return The Wrap Up: Behind-the-Scenes Image from 'Godzilla' Shows a Train in Peril Batman: Arkham Origins Will See the Return of Kevin Conroy
- Carly Rae Jepsen's 'Call Me Maybe' Captures Top Digital Song Honor at 2013 Billboard Music Awards Macklemore + Ryan Lewis Win Best Rap Song for 'Thrift Shop' at 2013 Billboard Music Awards 2013 Billboard Music Awards Gets a Tour From Taylor Swift's '22′ Performance [Video]
- 'Anchorman 2' Trailer Had Us At 'Hello': Watch Now! Fiery 'Star Trek Into Darkness' Scene Hurt The Most: Ouch! How Far Will 'Star Trek Into Darkness' Boldly Go At Box Office?
- The Telefile - The Most Heinous Person on Reality TV This Week The Telefile - Modern Family: The Best Lines of the Night The Telefile - Fall TV 2013: What's On When
The Lannisters throw a wedding, Daenerys faces a new army, and Stannis meets GendrySunday, May 19, 2013
Promising pilots, puzzling scheduling moves and moreSunday, May 19, 2013
The Doctor uncovers Clara's secret and comes face-to-face with a surprising figureSaturday, May 18, 2013
Dan and Alan also discuss the recent finales of 'Survivor' and 'The Amazing Race'Friday, May 17, 2013