As a die-hard fan of Community fan, I thought it would be fun to write short reviews on each episode after it airs.
One thing that sets Community apart from other, more classically structured sitcoms on network television, is the way in which Community frames its stories. Harmon and Co never seem afraid to try something ridiculous and bold whether it be parodies, animated episodes, stop motion, or an array of homages to various movies, directors or pop culture references. Quite often these extremely bold episodes that set out to pay tribute to some form of pop culture are among Community fanatics favorite episodes, whether it be D&D in “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons”, a brilliant Law & Order spoof in “Basic Lupine Urology”, or everything from war movies, cowboys and Star Wars in any of the paintball episodes “Modern Warfare” and “A Fistful of Paintballs/For a Few Paintballs More.” Occasionally though, when you shoot for the stars, you only hit the moon, as was the case with this week’s slightly disappointing, “App Development and Condiments”.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
The episode is centered around a dispute between Jeff and Shirley, played out in a semi sci-fi/futuristic dystopian society thanks to the Dean and implementing school-wide Beta testing for MEOWMEOWBEENZ, a new app which allows every user to rate one another from a scale of one to five. What could go wrong right? The developers played by guest stars Brian Posehn and Steve Agee, are cute cameos if not underused, but Brian Posehn does lend himself to one of the funniest moments in the episode when after being introduced to the app Hickey states, “I fought for this country, I know you don’t get to pick and choose the parts you fight for…” only to be interrupred by Brian Posehn’s phone alerting him and reminding him he “should go #2 soon.”
In hilarious fast forward fashion, we are shown the evolution of the Beta Testing through title cards that show what day of testing Greendale is in. With time jumps we skip over days and see how quickly Greendale adopts and embraces MEOWMEOWBEENZ. A class system is established very rapidly and everyone on campus aligns with a group based on what they are rated on MEOWMEOWBEENZ. Though this is a clever way of setting up and framing Jeff and Shirley’s dispute and bringing it to a head to resolve it, the campus wide game seems a bit too soon after the floor is lava game that was played in “Geothermal Escapism”. It had a much better purpose with the floor is lava game as it was very self aware as to what it was doing and almost poking fun at itself because it was the most comfortable environment for Abed to say goodbye to his best friend. It was a necessity for the story, because it’s the only way Abed knew how to say goodbye and let go. I love the campus wide games, but an overuse of that device undermines how special those episodes are when they do show up.
Of course, everyone in the Save Greendale Committee lands where they should as Shirley is a 5, due to her over the top generosity coupled with her passive aggressive manipulation. Annie works her way up through the ranks to a 5, as Hickey is slowly rising as well and Britta is placed as a 2. Abed is perfectly happy as a 3 as he states, “MEOWMEOWBEENZ takes everything subjective and unspoken about human interaction and reduces it to explicity objective numbers…I’ve never felt more alive.” As Abed is my personal favorite character, I loved his limited use in this episode, showing up to state how happy he was be just be a 3, because he fits in and the world is contextualized in a way that Abed finally understands, only to be hilariously forced to be a 5 later on by Shirley’s manipulation to stay in power, and then once again rejoining his common people as a 2.
Once again, Jeff is the audience’s reference point to understanding the context of what’s happening as he has refused to play MEOWMEOWBEENZ at the onset of Day 1 of Beta Testing. It’s through Jeff that we learn, “The ratings system is exponentially weighted. As your rating goes up, your rating of other people becomes more important.” As Jeff notices Shirley’s manipulation of the game, he is inspired to download the app to rise to a 5 to expose how absurd and destructive the game is, but mainly to reveal Shirley’s true nature and how manipulative she can be.
As the episode develops and the Greendale plunges deeper into the establishment of classism, the lines between MEOWMEOWBEENZ 1s, 2s, 3s, 4s and 5s, are solidified. The upper classes gain more power and false popularity based on the upper classes regulating people to certain ratings via MEOWMEOWBEENZ, based of course on popularity and what they can do for other people. Each class is also represented differently in both wardrobe and environment. The 5s for example, are dressed all in white and their palace appears as a somewhat futuristic ethereal environment reminiscent of futuristic depictions from the 60s or 70s while the 3s are dressed all in grey to represent neutrality and the ones, well we don’t talk about the ones. Oh and did I mention the highlight that Starburns rented a “Zardoz” costume to fully submerge himself into the futuristic feel of Greendale? Yeah that was pretty great…
Though one of my favorite moments and observations of this week’s episode comes when Shirley plans to have a talent show in order to help flush out the ranking system and classify people as they should be and prove that “anyone can be a 5.” Jeff signs up to raise his popularity and use it as a platform to expose Shirley for what she’s doing. However, when Jeff gets on stage, he decides to perform instead. What I found most interesting about this particular part of the episode was that Jeff started to do stand-up once he got up to the mic. I found this to be incredibly interesting commentary on the use of humor as a common thread that we all share regardless of what “class” we belong to. Perhaps I’m reading too far into this, but the fact that Jeff used humor to bond the entire room and get voted as a 5, drives the message home that through laughing and a shared joy of entertainment, we can all come together regardless of our differences.
Eventually, due to over the top bickering, Jeff and Shirley are voted down to 1s by the other 5s, one of which was another great cameo this time by Mitch Hurwitz (the creator of Arrested Development) as Koogler, just a cool older guy who just was there to wear shades and have fun. Jeff and Shirley are banished to the dystopian area of Greendale inhabited by the 1s and soon after learn to come to terms with each other and reconcile. Though their reconciliation seems to just be matter of fact and doesn’t seem to land a solid heartfelt tug at the heart as it should and has in the past between any members of the Greendale Study Group.
At this point, Jeff and Shirley discover Britta has rallied the 1s and 2s and revolted against the 4s and 5s. She has now risen to power by smearing a little mustard on her lip to get people to listen and pay attention to her. As Jeff and Shirley walk in they become very self aware as to what has happened since they’ve fallen from grace. Jeff then goes on to give his classic Winger speech of the episode stating that the app is flawed because it cannot rate itself and therefore the system is skewed, oh and it sends out a bunch of spam e-mail and “[Jeff’s] penis needs no enlargement!” Britta then crumbles as she realizes she has lost the power to influence that she so desires and hilariously smears mustard all over her face in a last ditch effort to get people to take her seriously.
Let’s not forget the wonderful tag of “The Koog” starring Mitch Hurwitz as a classic 80’s college party movie!
Favorite Moments: Aside from those mentioned, my favorite moment came when Jeff was sneaking Britta into the 4’s area and a fellow 4 played Tim Heidecker (Eric Wareheim also had a brief cameo) catches them and says to Jeff, “I once loved a two…numbers change. I’ll keep your secret New Beenz.”
Hickey also wins points again (the writers are doing a wonderful job writing for his character) when he states: “Mark Zuckerberg is Fidel Castro in flip-flops.”
The idea of MEOWMEOWBEENZ plus the typical Greendale shenanigans seemed to have a lot of possibilities for “App Development and Condiments” particularly when, once again, the entire campus is consumed with this new game. However setting Jeff and Shirley up to be at odds with one another seemed like it was just revisiting a slightly different angle of the Shirley and Jeff tiff that was so masterfully handled and resolved in “Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism”. That coupled with the fact that the stylization, or something very close to it, has been done a few times before in the paintball episodes as well as most recently in “Geothermal Escapism,” shines a bit more of a light on the repetitive nature of this episode, as creative as it is. The concept is quite clever and delivers some solid laughs, nothing out of the norm though. It also touches on some great commentary about the structure of society as well as our obsession and addiction to not just social popularity but apps and technology in general. It wasn’t a bad episode by any means and I put it above Season 4 as a whole, I just couldn’t get past how regurgitated things felt and as a result the creativity and humor of this particular episode lost a little bit of it’s luster.
OVERALL GRADE: B