Dan Harmon’s return to Community has been a fairly mixed bag. Some episodes, usually the ones that go completely insane like last week’s “App Development and Condiments”, have been great. While most of the more typical sitcom fare has been hit or miss in both laughs and relationship development. “VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing” is an example of the latter, as the episode had some potential hilarity but they didn’t pan out. Although the opening with Dean Pelton dressed as a Payday candy bar losing himself as he freestyle raps was one of the more hilarious moments of the show – not to mention a fairly obvious and ridiculous way to get some product placement.
This week’s episode was yet another chance for Hickey to be paired with various members of the original study group. Jeff, Hickey, and Shirley all volunteer to clean out a random storage room. They stumble upon some hidden and unopened science textbooks and just like that their plot turns into a “drug score” plot where they decide to sell these mint textbooks to some shady dealer to reap the benefits.
There’s nothing wrong with the concept, in fact Community usually becomes fairly meta when they do clichéd plots like this and end up finding some hilarity from it. Disappointingly the show played this plot fairly straight, despite the clear wink of Jeff and Chang getting Hickey, Britta, and Shirley to turn on each other, which didn’t really work. Shirley becoming the ring leader and tying everyone up, including Britta who was going to be the middle man that put them in touch with the buyer, was about as funny as this plot got. They didn’t want to go over the top with this plot, which was a wise choice, but the usual Community commentary was absent.
In the other main plot Annie and Abed are looking for a roommate to replace Troy. Abed wants his girlfriend Rachel, who is so in tune with Abed that he feels as though they have reached a one year status despite only dating one month. Annie wants her brother Anthony to move in, who certainly has some Abed tendencies while also being rather odd. At first Annie and Abed try to sell the other on their choice for roommate but this soon devolves into the two deciding that whoever wins the VCR board game “Pile of Bullets”, which Rachel got Abed for their anniversary, will be the one who gets their choice as the next roommate.
Again this plot didn’t quite hit. While there were some funny parts with Annie and Abed’s “handshake in progress” and the very confusing rules of the game as they first started playing, nothing really stood out. By the end of this competition both Rachel and Anthony are told what is going on while they all play the game and both are offended and refuse the offer. Abed, in what was typical Community fashion, apologized to Rachel with a classic romantic comedy trope as water is poured onto his head to make it seem like he’s standing in the rain. By the end of the episode Annie and Abed realize how their dynamic has changed without Troy and everything feels the same.