Community, “Wedding Videography” (CREDIT: Yahoo! Screen)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in May 2015.

“Homer’s Enemy,” a classic episode of “The Simpsons” featured the story of Frank Grimes, a mild-mannered new hire at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, driven insane while forced to work alongside incompetent buffoon Homer. Since that episode aired, “Frank Grimes” has become shorthand in certain TV nerd circles for a one-off guest character who is a sort of audience surrogate who demonstrates just how maddening it would be to actually live alongside crazy TV people.

“Community” first explored this trope in Season 3’s “Competitive Ecology,” with Todd, who declared that the study group love’s is weird (though Todd has since developed eccentricities of his own, now positing that anyone may be a god). This concept was explored again a little differently last season with Abed’s once (and present?) girlfriend Rachel, a sort of anti-Grimes, who recognized the group’s eccentricities, noted its risks, but decided she wanted to be a part of them anyway. Season 6 has combined these two sides of the Frank Grimes coin with Frankie Dart, who has taken a critical, problem-solving eye to Greendale, while also trying to live with these quirks enough to become a part of this family.

Frankie’s permanence on the show has prevented her from being a true Frank Grimes. As someone who the group rebels against instead of scares away, she is a bit more like another stock character: the authority figure. But she is not the only authority figure, and as this is Greendale, her authority must be some form of questionable or weird to work. But ultimately, she is mostly defined by how she is stepping in when the main gang’s rhythms have already been established. To play that role effectively, she has identified the bugaboo that has been hanging over this group: co-dependence.

The co-dependence interpretation gained significant traction during Season 3, with its notably dark stretches. By identifying that, Frankie established her audience surrogate bona fides. But this development need not be reduced to its meta purpose. Just in terms of genuine human interaction – real or fictional – a consultant or new friend can look at relationships objectively and make a helpful analysis. But while Frankie’s conclusion hits a familiar refrain, how much does it really stand up to scrutiny? This group drifted apart after their initial four years together. Furthermore, this season, they have been split up often enough to suggest that they do not need to constantly be together.

If “Wedding Videography” really wanted to demonstrate that this group has a problem with co-dependence, it would have committed to showing them as a destructive force towards others. But while their behavior at Garrett’s wedding did not start out promisingly, they quickly redeemed themselves. Jeff got to know the guests well enough to write a toast with depth, Annie pushed old ladies around the dance floor, Elroy offered words of encouragement, and Abed dutifully recorded it all. Moreover, they were embarrassing in the first place not because they were fundamentally bad people but because they tipsily lost track of time. And while the aftermath of Garrett and Stacy’s true closeness was not handled gracefully, it was a faux pas in which essentially no one was at fault.

Perhaps Frankie has already gotten too close to these people to see everything as objectively as she wants to. Or perhaps, in her aim to be perfectly objective, she has erred too hard on the side of practicality and been more subjectively negative than she means to be. Her influence was clear when everyone was commiserating after the wedding appeared to be a bust. Annie figured it would not have been so bad if she had not tried not to help; Frankie piled on by admitting that her helping Annie help others was also the issue; Britta took it even further with the reminder that the birth of Hitler affected this entire timeline. The implication was clear: the Greendale crew was saying, “We’re not a good influence on each other and those around us.”

Chang, of all people, offered an alternative: the complete opposite is true. After all the strife he has gone through with these people, he has a good relationship with them.  He likes them; he believes that he is at his best around them. His personal successes this year would attest to that. The fact that all this is true is nothing short of a miracle. Positivity and perspective can go a long way, so Chang (again, Chang, of all people) insisted with optimistic clarity that Garrett and Stacy could also have their own miracle. A union of cousins may be taboo, and understandably so, but theirs thus far has not produced any of the concrete problems typically related to too much familial closeness. “Community” has fairly consistently demonstrated that love often comes from a weird place, and is expressed in weird ways, but is still love.

Frankie may have gone a bit far with her diagnosis of co-dependence, but her focus on Jeff as the center of these problems was not misguided. Jeff has clearly demonstrated signs of alcoholism and depression throughout the year. This episode even opened with a shot of him reaching into a desk drawer full of ice for his scotch during class. The “strange face” that he made during Garrett’s proposal, the reduction of his friends and himself to some of their worst traits during the mockumentary confessionals – all of it pointed to Jeff’s fear of the future that has weirdly remained unaddressed except for subtle moments. The purpose of this lack of addressing may be to in fact keep this big issue unresolved, but that is tricky to pull off in episodic television. But it is experimental in a way that may be worth admiring. Regardless of how Jeff’s troubles conclude or do not conclude, the final shot pointed to an end for him hen ought to focus on. The group hug provided the image for this episode’s final argument: these people are in fact good influences; they and those around them have been better off for their time spent together.

Notes & Quotes:
-For the second time this season, the episode’s credited writer got his own tag, but this time, instead of Ryan Ridley playing himself, Matt Gourley played Briggs Hatton in a parody of the epilogue to A Very Special Episode. It was an amusing anti-meta moment, peeking into the “Community” writers’ room that wasn’t.
-“This is me. Garrett. I’m in your class.”
-“I remember I was sweating a lot, and breathing heavy, and my heart felt like it was going to burst in my chest. But the day I met Stacy, most of the symptoms actually declined.”
-Annie’s “missing lover footage” quite effectively took the piss out of a weird, and weirdly prevalent, action movie trope, but also reveled in it, in a spicy/sweet manner that only Alison Brie can pull off.
-“‘My accountant’ is a figure of speech.” “It’s a form of speech called ‘making things up.’”
-Elroy’s words of encouragement deftly handled racial stereotypes while also cleverly demonstrating valuable human psychology. Regardless of race, people tend to like those moments of connection, and Keith David knew how to make them thoroughly genuine.
-“Everyone stay and eat cake, or GO TO HELL!”