Community has almost always felt like its own secret club.
That might be why it keeps coming really close to getting canceled - but that's also what makes it so special. A cult network sitcom in an era where it often seems like everything subversive has fled for cable, Community feels each week like it must have been snuck on to the air, past whatever corporate overlords usually keep anything this cerebral and bizarre off of network TV.
And like any secret society worth its salt, Community Season 5 Episode 5 used one of its most beloved traditions to honor a departing member: the game episode.
Among its many other unique assets, Community is the only place on any network where one can find grown adults nearly murdering each other over children's games with alarming regularity.
Like Community Season 3 Episode 14 's battle over blanket forts, or the epic paintball trilogy of Community Season 1 Episode 23, Community Season 2 Episode 23, and Community Season 2 Episode 24, this half-hour turned the goofiest of kid's games into an homage to 80s-style action-adventure movies.
Think the name-checked Raiders of the Lost Ark or Jewel of the Nile, or, hell, even Hook, all of which hit all the pleasure centers (well, all the TV nerd-who-grew-up-in-the-80s-and-loved-Hook pleasure centers, which I think is probably all of us, right? Right? Bueller??).
But while those episodes are mostly punches of pure pleasure that glory in the power of nostalgia, this one had another flavor mixed in: the show's boldest treatise yet on why we need TV.
Community, more than anything, believes in TV, and in the healing power of fantasy and entertainment. And this episode was a valentine to the concept of TV and film and imagination itself 0 why we need it, what it does for us and why we can't always face our fears and hopes directly (the way the Brittas of the world want us to).
Through the past several years, the show has added more and more contours to Abed's eccentricities, rendering him less a standard sitcom kook and more a real (well, TV-real) person trying - and mostly succeeding - to live a fun, rewarding life in spite of some mental illnesses.
And this episode addressed that head on, in a very interesting way. It revealed that Abed literally needs his imagination to live, to navigate a world that doesn't look like everyone else's, to make sense of feelings that everyone else doesn't seem to be feeling.
Of course, the joke there is that we're all Abed; we aren't seeing actual lava on the floor (well, most days), but we need fantasy not as escapism, but to carry us through the feelings we're sure no one else is feeling; to allow us to fight our battles and experience our emotions in ways that won't get us dumped or arrested or ruin yet another Christmas.
We're Troys, who need that bit of fantasy to give us the courage to fight our fears, and live our dreams, and make casual conversation with Levar Burton. Community encourages us to embrace imagination's ability to help us survive.
More than just a love letter to departing cast mate Donald Glover's Troy, this episode celebrated the house he helped build by laying the show's mission statement completely bare. Dan Harmon himself is a renowned theorist of narrative and screenwriting, and though he didn't write this episode, I feel his thumb prints all over the epic swoops and sappy moments and awesome Community quotes.
There have been a few Community episodes that have hit my pleasure centers harder, but there has never been a Community episode that was so thoroughly...Community.
But enough about me and what Dustin Hoffman fantasy films I may or may not have watched over and over again until my VHS tape broke:
How did this measure up to other game-based Community episodes?