Let’s get this out of the way first – Human Centipede reference on primetime network TV, for the win. It almost redeemed an episode that I felt was incredibly misguided – and not hilariously so. I haven’t quite been able to articulate what it was I felt was off about this episode, but it has to do with the mix of reality and fantasy. I can’t think of an episode of Community that has gone so far “out there” in terms of plausible plot devices as this episode, and I’m hoping they never venture out that far again.
At the core of my criticism, I found this episode gross and a little scary. Like any comedy, everything goes back to normal in the end, as it should, and supposedly no one remembers how they got the HUGE HUMAN-SIZED BITES on their bodies, which I guess makes it so that these characters don’t have to deal with the psychological ramifications of turning borderline-cannibal for six hours. Maybe I have a weird aversion to biting the way one of this site’s other reviews has a strong aversion to neck-snapping. Just watching it made my skin crawl, and that’s not the reaction I’m looking for from my favorite network comedy’s Halloween special.
I wish they could’ve chosen some other main plot thread, because I thought that the ancillary humor was pretty strong. Digs at Shatner are always great, and I laughed at Troy’s interpretation of “sexy Dracula,” which included a toilet seat cover and toilet-paper rolls. Actually, I guess what kept this episode from being really beyond hope for me was having Donald Glover as the lead. He is increasingly emerging as the best source of subtle, smart humor on this show, and I’ll admit – his pick up line “You’re safe for now, but if that thing comes back, I’m going to need one – or both – of your phone numbers” would’ve worked on me.
Other Troy highlights included is reference to the freaky basement cat “Is somebody throwing it?” and when he decides to embrace this episodes Very Important Lesson about embracing nerdy friendship or something like that, and he faces the “zombies” as Ripley, only to realize that, while noble, it wasn’t the most practical decision. “I don’t know why I thought this would work.” And finally, his frustrated declaration to the zombies “okay, okay, I’ve been bit, y’all.” It made me think of elementary school dodge ball games, when a kid is walking off the court after being hit but keeps getting pelted.
Other highlights included Jeff’s obsession with his suit, even in the face of imminent danger and zombie Jeff still being cool, playing on his PDA in the corner. But even those two moments help illustrate my point – the episode didn’t know what it wanted to be – a comedic parody of a zombie movie or a dark comedic interpretation of a zombie movie. If Jeff was seriously afraid for his life, even he wouldn’t have bothered with the suit. It would’ve been more realistic for him to strip down to his underwear and crawl through the window to safety, and for the sake of artistic integrity, I would’ve supported that decision. But if we are just “playing” at a zombie apocalypse, then he would’ve been more insistent about taking his suit jacket with him to the basement. Or he would’ve freaked out when he got to the basement and realized he’d left it behind.
I’m not expressing myself very well, but basically, I just felt like the plot device gave the episode an ambiguous direction – it was too scary and gross to be funny and too lighthearted and silly to be scary. It was fun to see Troy be the first black man to make it to the end though… even just for a little while.