Perhaps, as the hand-puppet versions of the Greendale Seven sang tonight, we all just need a new experience to get out of our ruts sometimes. Even TV shows.
"Intro to Felt Surrogacy" was, hands-down, the funniest episode of Community Season 4, and could easily stand by some of the best episodes of the show's entire run. And even though its songs, puppet persons, Community quotes and guest shot from Jason Alexander were all beyond excellent, its success had a lot to do with the change of scenery.
Community has been slowed down this season by a lot of questions about what past elements of the series the new showrunners would like to keep, and what elements they would like to chuck. Some long-drawn out plot arcs (like Jeff's relationship with his dad) were settled almost hastily, in a few quick episodes; some tossed-off running gags (like Dean Pelton's various get-ups) have been given far more stage time than they deserve.
It's been a sometimes-exhausting balancing act, dealing with and paring down the show's vast mythology - and sometimes, it has resulted in uneven pacing and unclear character motivations. Life on campus had begun to feel a bit claustrophobic. So it makes sense that this season's best episodes - like this one, and the trip to Inspector Spacetime convention - have involved getting the gang out of Group Study Room F and into the wide world, where they can breathe a little more freely.
Though Community has tried on few different stylistic disguises before, including 8-bit video games and 70's-style claymation, nothing has suited them quite like life as Muppets-style singing puppets. Sure, the Muppets never ate psychotropic berries out of Jason Alexander's hand and then confessed all their most horrific secrets to each other, but maybe just because they never had the chance?
An unexpected bright spot was this episode's spotlight on Shirley. Through all four seasons, the show has never quite decided what to do with her, and, alongside Pierce, she is typically one of the least-developed characters. But Shirley's secret had real pathos, and Yvette Nicole Brown played it perfectly, cramming more feeling into a single story about leaving her kids at the supermarket than she's usually allowed to express all season, changing her character in my eyes from dead weight to an unexplored asset.
It's no secret that Community Season 4 has swung me back and forth, like...um...a hand-puppet caught in a tree...in a wind storm...or something. But every time I'm ready to write the show off, something like "Intro to Felt Surrogacy" pops up to keep the faith alive. God bless you, you tiny, drug-addled puppets. You'll win my heart yet!
What did you think of the concept of a puppet episode? Did you dig the songs? Has Jason Alexander actually been living in the woods since Seinfeld? (It would explain a lot.)