Community, “Basic RV Repair and Palmistry” (CREDIT: Yahoo! Screen)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in May 2015.

It is quite the challenge to make a good sitcom episode based around boredom. But that was what Abed – and by extension, “Community” – was attempting to create for this road trip gone awry. He knows the difference between real life and TV, and when he has blended the two, he has done so in a way that felt natural, that is, as natural for someone as odd as him. But imposing explanatory flashbacks onto his actual reality is in physically impossible territory.

Abed did not come across as regressing or having a psychotic break, because the inherent boredom of a long road trip can lead people to act a little excessively weird. Basically, one’s habits are exacerbated because there is no relief through which to filter them through. There is plenty to analyze in this sort of situation, but it makes for tricky television. To get as close as possible to Abed’s storytelling efforts, “Basic RV Repair” got right into his head, making for a confusing, near-blank slate of an episode. Like last season’s “Basic Story,” this was about the nature of storytelling and what it is like to live through situations in which there are no stories to be told. As such, it was challenging and difficult to connect with, by design.

Time travel is hard enough in fiction, so it is unsurprising that it should be even more unworkable to go back in time in one’s own life, even just mentally. Abed was not trying to re-do past, he just wanted revisit what had already happened. The problem was, the past was not playing along with the way he wanted it to be in the present. The flashbacks, such as they were, seemed to suggest that Abed had anticipated the need to return to the moments that he returned to as they were originally happening. But each meeting adjournment scene changed in ways that indicated he could not remember exactly how it happened. His facial contortions conveyed all the mental gears that were turning that were not enough to accomplish what he was trying to do.

“Basic RV Repair” could be condemned as emblematic of the problems of “Community” being too meta with its storytelling, or it could be interpreted as an examination of the limits therein. Abed has usually been meta in such ways that have made his friends happy because they offered relief from the insanity of Greendale. But since he did not fully know what he was doing this time, he ended up being annoying and only adding to an already frustrating situation.

This led to some snippy interactions and lessons re-learned. It was alarming to see Jeff so fed up with Abed, especially considering that just two episodes ago they were the crucial aid for getting each other through personal crises. Granted, the threat of freezing to death and just not wanting to be on this trip in the first place did not place anyone in a good mood. There also appeared to be significant frustration, on Jeff’s part especially, over the lack of pleasantness itself. Pre-Greendale Jeff was not used to having a group of close, caring friends, and anything that threatens that closeness tends to set him off into an unpredictable tailspin. Learning the same morals over and over cannot be too fun either. Abed admitting that he has said he knows the difference between real life and TV only to suggest that he might be able to turn that off for no other reason than, what, shits and giggles? Not exactly his most endearing quality.

Frankie’s ingenious solution of getting Abed to recalibrate his flashback probably had him thinking, “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?” The future allows for variability, so he was able to let his Thirty Galactic Time Units Later-self tell his present self whatever he needed to hear at that moment. Abed has gleaned wisdom from the potential future before, and indeed, it is not dissimilar to the lessons that Annie, Britta, and Jeff have previously taught him. They did not proffer those lessons this time, perhaps because when you have known your friends for a while, you can take it for granted that they know what they need to know in the moment.

Abed’s attempt to divine a metaphorical lesson from the giant hand proved surprisingly effective. He talked about the need to “increase our power to hold on and let go,” two ostensibly opposite, but actually complementary, purposes. Life is a constant assessment of what lessons need to be applied at any given moment. The shot selection focused on the reactions of Annie and Jeff, two characters who have often struggled with how to hold onto or let go of their ambitions and emotions. On a macro level, the giant hand on the RV heading down the highway is like “Community” in its sixth season: moving ever forward in search of new stories, alternately burdened and emboldened by the ones it has already told.

Besides Abed, Jeff, and Frankie, everyone else demonstrated the weirdness of familiarity manifesting itself in unusual circumstances. Elroy’s idiosyncrasies were further revealed, as the inexplicable energy requirements of his RV came to light. Annie’s penchant for concern made her worried that everyone would eat her first should it come to that. Britta talked with a blanket over her head, and she played a Space Elder who was profoundly out of place. And the Dean actually attempted to defend one of his eccentric expenditures. With everyone trying to be the same while outside of their comfort zones, this was a weird one.

Notes & Quotes:
-In a season of ambitious tags, this might have been the craziest one yet, with Matt Besser as the potential buyer of the giant hand. His attempts to find his son who disappeared after flying a giant kite added a whole new dimension to the missing child genre.
-“Is there any way I could talk to you privately?” “I’m pretty sure the answer is no.”
-Was CD-ROM porn ever really a thing? Rule 34, I guess.
-“Stop yelling!” “Stop being out of gas!”
-Armed Forces Day is just hanging around Memorial Day like Military Hanukkah.
-The Annie-Frankie lovefest continued, with the latter agreeing that the former has been “nailing” this trip.
-“No offense, Abed.” “None possible.”