Picspam: 5.09 “VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing”

Look! It’s another meeting of the Save Greendale Committee, which is coming to a conclusion. They’re all in agreement that the urinals in the women’s rooms will be converted to planters (rude, what if women wanted to use those urinals?) and then Annie moves on to chores.

001

Annie: “We need some able bodies to clear out a space in the East Hall storage room.”
Jeff: “I’ll do it!”

(He must’ve thought she said “hot bodies.”) Britta’s surprised he’s volunteering, and Jeff says that Annie usually lists chores from easiest to hardest. Shirley realizes he’s right and volunteers as well, and Hickey follows suit. Jeff, Shirley, and Hickey all working together in a storage space: this had the makings of an epic episode. Oh well.

Annie concludes the meeting, causing Jeff to groan. “No one picks up on my patterns! What am I gonna say next? Graham cracker! You didn’t know!” That was freaking adorable.

Abed and Rachel walk in (Jeff calls them the “Aww! Couple” and the girls predictably “awww!” when they see them) and Abed shows off his anniversary gift from Rachel: a VCR game called “Pile of Bullets.” Yeah, I don’t know how it works, either.

Everyone’s all excited for them except for Hickey, who repeats, “Anniversary? I guess I should learn your name, young lady.” She introduces herself, but Hickey says, “Nice to meet you, Rachel, you can go.” And she does.

002

Jeff asks for clarification about the anniversary business, and Abed says, “Rachel and I have been dating for one of your months, but our relationship is twelve times more efficient, so it’s really been a year.” Okay, I love you, Abed, but that’s just annoying. He goes on to say, “Our sleep cycles are in synch, we can communicate with our eyebrows, and she knows my Netflix password — Jeff’s Netflix password.” Jeff says he’s going to change that, and Abed says he already changed it, and he refuses to tell Jeff what he changed it to. That’s not cute, Abed.

Abed asks Annie if Rachel can come over to play “Pile of Bullets” tonight (“I can’t afford to take her anywhere”) and Annie says that her brother is in town and she’s broke too, so she was going to make him dinner tonight —

**record scratch sound**

ANNIE HAS A BROTHER?!

Uh, yeah, you didn’t know? Totally. She only talks about him ALL THE TIME, like when she talks about being cut off by her parents, when she talks about rehab, when she talks about her high school days, I can’t believe you’re even questioning this, Annie brings up her brother, someone who grew up in the same house as her, in nearly every single episode. Have you even been paying attention?

Oh right… Annie’s never mentioned a brother.

But, hey, that’s okay, right? Annie rarely talks about her home life pre-rehab, it’s clearly something she wants to keep private (or the writers don’t want to bother broaching it) so we can suspend disbelief for 20 minutes and pretend that it makes sense that Annie has a brother.

True story: I’m the oldest of five, but my best friend of four years never met or saw one of my brothers until the weekend of my wedding. He’s only two years younger than me, we weren’t all that close at the time, he was away at college in another state, and he didn’t have Facebook. She used to call him my “pretend” brother and one of her running jokes was that he mysteriously wouldn’t be able to make it to the wedding, either. It is entirely possible that the people in your life don’t often intersect with certain people in your family, but the difference is, I talked about my brother. I talked about him quite a bit, because most of my childhood stories involved him, and no matter what kind of estrangement we were going through, he was still my little brother.

Annie has never done this, not once. When I initially got over the insult of this long-lost relative trope (I always thought Community was above that) I got excited at the possibilities. Annie’s brother was a blank slate. We didn’t know his age, his profession, his stance on Annie’s troubles with narcotics, or any small feature of his personality. This had the potential to be a lot of fun, and more importantly, it had the potential to finally revealing some key aspects of Annie’s backstory. There was no downside!

… I’m setting you up for disappointment but I just really want you to know where my head was at during the live broadcast.

Annie had been planning to make her brother salmon, and I totally sympathize with Abed here, salmon is yuck, so she flatly says, “Buttered noodles” and Abed gives his approval. I feel you, Annie.

003

The Dean comes in dressed as a Payday, which of course means payday has been postponed until next week. Instead, the Dean has a rap apology for them!

I’m not going to transcribe it here, because pictures and words don’t do it justice. Just know that it starts out kind of weak — like your average white man attempting to rap — and it ends in a glorious blaze. Please please please go watch this scene. You won’t regret it.

He runs out of the room crying that he doesn’t know what that was, and everyone in the frame looks like they’re trying really hard not to break. Bless.

004

… Oh. Okay. Well physically, this guy looks nothing like he could be Annie’s brother. But… that happens! … in… families. Right? So it’s cool. It’ll just take some getting used to. And hey, he’s clearly older than her so that might explain why she doesn’t talk about him much — maybe he was away at college when the drug stuff went down. I can get behind that, it’s still a bit too much retconning for me but hey, whatever works. He’s probably a slacker genius or something, no big deal. Okay? Okay. {Spoiler: He’s not older than her.}

Annie says it’s nice to have the Edison kids under one roof and asks if he remembers when they used to cut carrots for their mother. Her brother monotonously responds: “Yes.”

Okay. Abed needs a soda, so he and Annie lift the fridge door off and set it to the side. “Landlord’s in jail, money’s tight.” Her brother wordlessly walks over and fixes the fridge as if from magic — just the sound of a socket wrench (which he never grabbed) and voila! Fixed. Even Abed is impressed. Annie hugs him (he’s Anthony, by the way. Annie and Anthony. Her parents weren’t even trying.) and his only response is another flat, “Yeah.”

Annie wants a quick sidebar to ask how Abed feels about her brother moving in with them. Her brother interrupts with an important question: “Do I just keep cutting carrots?”

… Is your excitement fading as much as mine did?

Abed, for what it’s worth, says the most reasonable thing in this scene so far:

“You’re putting me on the spot. I guess my kneejerk concern would be that he’s a Viking and might only use our home as a temporary base before moving inland, where lumber is more plentiful.”

You’re in Colorado, Abed, you’re about as inland as it gets, but I like your metaphor nonetheless. He proposes Rachel as a potential roommate, and Annie scoffs at the very notion.

And then Anthony asks, yet again in a monotone, “Is it cool if I poop?” and yeah, officially, I’m not happy with this Annie-has-a-brother storyline. And let’s be honest, it’s not like she’s ever going to talk about him again, so just like we’re pretending Season 4 didn’t really happen, we’re going to pretend Anthony didn’t happen. What makes this worse is that at this moment, the problem was only with the writing. I’m sorry — asking to poop? I don’t buy Annie having a brother that is this weird. It’s too weird even for Greendale — it’s too weird even for Abed, for Pete’s sake!

005

Because even Abed’s out of his element here. Annie tells Gas Leak Brother he absolutely cannot poop, he must continue chopping carrots, and when Abed is the voice of reason in the apartment, that’s how you know something’s off-balance. “I don’t think you heard his question. The answer is yes!” Gas Leak Brother slouches off to the bathroom as Abed tells Annie that he and Rachel have been dating for the equivalent of a year.

Annie: “Oh really? Because I feel like I’ve been hearing about that for two years. You can’t just microwave a relationship like a bean burrito!”

Says the girl trying to microwave her relationship with her “brother.” I’m wondering if she got hit on the head really hard and hallucinated that she had a brother, and this guy is just some vagrant that always hung out around Dildopolis so Annie got used to seeing him and thought he was her brother. I bet he’s just a friend of Spaghetti’s.

Annie: “I ain’t living with your month-long girlfriend, brah.”
Abed: “Well I ain’t living with your whack-ass, don’t know whether to keep cutting carrots or ask if he can take a poop brother.”

He asks if they can discuss this later, because he needs to practice his smile for Rachel. Gas Leak Brother comes out like two seconds after going into the bathroom and announces that it was “just air,” again in the monotone, basically whenever you see a Gas Leak Brother line, just assume it was without inflection or personality… but not in a charming Danny Pudi-as-Abed way. More like in a guy-who-has-never-acted-before way.

Abed flashes a terrifying smile… which Gas Leak Brother returns.

006

Jeff’s complaining about doing stuff and Hickey says, “Can I ask you something: Why the hell do you have all of those muscles if you’re going to bitch about moving boxes?”

… That’s a really good point, sir. Shirley asks if the air is on, “I’m sweating like a Catholic on Judgement Day! Just a little Protestant humor, I’ve got more!” Hahaha Shirley, and my dad’s got a ton of Catholic jokes about Protestants, I can’t wait to share them all with you. Jeff can’t wait, either.

He realizes something is inside the duct, blocking the vent. Shirley incredulously asks if he’s going to open it: “You do realize nothing good has ever been found in a vent, right? It’s a vent.” But it’s not so bad, it’s just a bunch of unopened text books. Intro to Chemistry, third edition. “Mint. $200 retail, $160 on the street.”

Shirley: “Why are there books in an air duct?”
Jeff: “Why is there hot sauce in the bathroom? It’s Greendale.”

Hickey says they’re probably stolen, and that’s when Shirley starts fretting and saying they should tell the Dean.

007

Jeff starts Winger Speech-ing about kale and stuff and Shirley interrupts and reiterates that these books are stolen.

Jeff: “From who? By who? How long ago?”
Hickey: “It’s ‘From whom? By whom?’ But he nailed the third question.”

See? He’s a teacher at his core, he can’t turn it off, so why does teaching make him so unhappy? Anyway, Hickey reasons that it’s their job to fix these problems. “Did you see anything on our list about a pile of missing books that are worth more than the school they’re hidden in?”

Jeff says that if they hand the books over, they’ll really go missing, and Hickey says that the money won’t go to cutting the teachers their paychecks, it’ll go toward making another “rapping peanut costume.” Shirley can’t believe this, so Jeff tells her to walk away, but she’s an accomplice now.

Hickey: “What about your restaurant? What about your kids? Miss Bennett, when God talks to you, what language does he use? Because in my experience, when he thinks you deserve something, he drops it on you like a ton of bricks.”

He tosses the book to Shirley, and it lands in her hands like a brick.

Shirley: “Okay. All right. But if we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do this clean and safe. We’re gonna move these to my restaurant in bread carts, and we’re gonna sit on them until we know they’re cold. Then we’re gonna price them through a third party, and we’re gonna unload them in a single score. None of that nickel-and-dime crap. I don’t want to leave a trail.”

She watches a lot of crime procedurals, so of course she’d know exactly what to do. Jeff and Hickey are shocked and pleased, and both immediately agree.

008

Annie tells a really boring story from hers and Gas Leak Brother’s childhood about a game they called Time Machine… they’d yell that they were in a certain time period and then run back to the time machine. She tries to make the comparison that Abed and Gas Leak Brother are very similar, but Abed says he can’t say that for certain based on one time machine story. The one good thing to come out of this whole storyline is the great glimpses we get of Annie at her most dangerous. Some of her glares are downright scary.

Abed asks Rachel to tell everyone about her water pick, a thing that she has, which Annie also has, so… similarities! Annie says Gas Leak Brother can fix anything, Abed says Rachel’s good at mopping, the possibilities are endless!

Rachel: “Is this a real conversation, or are we being bugged by the Feds?”

I assume Agent Volhers is listening to this conversation, so, yeah, bugged by the Feds. But hey. I’m starting to like you, Rachel. Annie asks Abed for another sidebar, and I think it’s cruel of Abed to abandon his ladylove with Gas Leak Brother, who asks Rachel what she thinks happens after we die. Rachel’s game for discussion, saying she’s not sure, but Gas Leak Brother simply says, “You’re lucky.”

RUN, RACHEL. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, RUN!

009

Annie and Abed argue about their roommate situation (Abed: “You’re like ice cream cake out there: overkill” which just tells me that Abed hates nice things) and Abed refuses to flip a coin because they create parallel timelines, and rock-paper-scissors is just a nine-sided coin. Oh Abed. They decide on “Pile of Bullets,” because obviously. They do their own cute handshake (which was apparently created during shooting) and then announce the game to their unsuspecting guests-slash-potential roommates.

Remember that neither of them have asked their respective candidates if they want to move in.

Neither Rachel nor Gas Leak Brother want to play “Pile of Bullets” and 90% of it is probably because of Abed and Annie’s terrifying intensity in these scenes. They’re forced into the TV-viewing area nonetheless.

BRITTA IS THEIR HOOKUP. At this point, this storyline still had all the makings of being amazing, because BRITTA IS THEIR HOOKUP. As Jeff winds her blindfold around his hands, she sniffs the books and confirms that she knows someone who can sell them, but she demands half of the profits.

Shirley says half is unfair (it is — how did it take them so long to just decide to split it evenly?) and Britta says good luck, “I know we’re in E9 in the East Wing, I know that because it smells like weed, not my weed.” She’s so great here.

010

And then Jeff, for whatever reason (he really does love her? he’s going soft?) says that he’s fine with giving Britta half.

Shirley: “You hear that, Britta? You can have half of Jeff’s share.”

One of the many reasons Shirley is my absolute favorite. Jeff’s fully on the gravy train to insanity, insisting that’s not what he meant, and Shirley tells him that either way, he’s going to end up with 16% of the profits. Jeff and his muscles are very offended by this. Shirley levels with them: 25%, take it or leave it.

Britta doesn’t have a chance to respond, because Chang comes in, high and holding a bong as he sings about legalizing something. It’s a mystery. We’ll never know what he wants to legalize, you guys. So sad. Bear down for legalization.

This is when Shirley goes Dark Phoenix on everyone’s ass and starts dominating. “He can’t leave.” Jeff chases him and hauls him back in (it made me laugh and laugh and I still don’t know why it looks so funny to me) as Chang yells that he didn’t see anything.

Shirley: “Britta, get some rope.”
Hickey: “I’ve got rope.”

Of course you do. You keep handcuffs in your desk drawer.

011

I’ll be honest with you guys: This scene is not conducive to picspamming. It needs to be watched. I say this so rarely, and yet I’ve said it twice so far in this picspam: Go watch this scene.

Vince Gilligan (of Breaking Bad-creating fame) is the narrator, and basically, the game is insane. It goes badly the first time, and Abed decides they have to rewind and start over. Rachel tries to put a stop to this, saying they gave it a good try, but Annie gets super rude to her:

Annie: “I’m sorry, Rachel, is this your home?”
Rachel: “Oh God, no, I’m sorry!”
Annie: “Well this is what we’re playing.”

Abed tries to pep talk Rachel while Annie awkwardly pats her Gas Leak Brother and yeah, clearly they’re super-close siblings who have a lot in common and should totally move in.

012

Things are even crazier over in the East Wing. Chang is forced to film a ransom video in order to keep him from spilling the beans, and he’s sorta phoning it in.

Hickey: “You gotta make it sound believable, or you’re not getting out of here!”

That’s when Chang turns on the old crazy we saw in Season 1 — the facade of being a completely sane person who happens to love textbooks. After filming is done, Chang starts sobbing about being on parole, and Britta threatens him once more not to tell anyone what’s happening here or she’ll send the file to everybody.

Chang: “What do you mean, ‘everybody?’”
Britta: “Everrrrryyyyyybodyyyyyy!”

But this is where the storyline turns, and the writing begins to fall apart. The Chang thing was enough of a tangent — did they have to have Ken Jeong in this episode, and had to work in this clumsy way to include him? — but now, Jeff goes soft once more and proclaims this whole thing “too evil.” When did Jeff become the weak link? And more important, when did Jeff become the weak link on moral grounds? Maybe if he started worrying about his job, I’d be able to buy it, but like this doesn’t even feel like character growth — it just feels like it’s out of nowhere.

And then he makes the mistake of thinking he could leave quietly, which I also don’t buy. Jeff’s too savvy for that. Shirley quirks her head to the side, and Britta and Hickey take action.

013

Jeff snarls and growls that God wouldn’t want her to be doing this, and Shirley says they already covered that at the beginning with the ton-of-bricks speech. Right, Hickey?

Hickey: “Oh, yeah, definitely. Not to say that this isn’t getting insane.”

You have the power to stop this, dude.

Gas Leak Brother and Rachel have pretty much stopped playing the game now. It’s just between Abed and Annie, who are treating their guests terribly at this point. They lose the game, but they insist on playing again, and that’s when Rachel finally puts her foot down.

Rachel: “Abed, I think you’re having one of your special times, okay? So I’m gonna give you some space.”

Okay. She won me over. Abed doesn’t want space, though, and finally tells her that this is all about choosing a new roommate.

Rachel: “That is not an explanation that should make anybody want to live here!”

She stands up and tells Abed that she doesn’t like this side to him, and that she really doesn’t like this side to VCR technology. She leaves, and Gas Leak Brother tells Abed that even though he’s not super informed on having girlfriends, he think Abed probably doesn’t have one anymore. Thanks for your contribution, figment of our imaginations that we’ll never see or refer to again after this episode!

(Incidentally, that’s also where the acting aspect of this character started to crack. The monotone might’ve been marginally passable before now, but with that line, it needed something more.)

014

It’s the next morning. These are actually very pretty shots, even if the story goes to hell in a handbasket. Jeff successfully turns the remaining three against each other (Chang is remarkably quick on the uptake, assisting Jeff in goading them) and they start slinging insults at each other. (Shirley to Hickey: “Why do you have so much access to rope?”) Britta tells everyone to calm down, everyone just needs to stay cool and they’ll figure this out.

Cut to four of them tied up. Don’t know how, don’t know why, don’t know what got them there. The visual was supposed to be the punchline, but this story feels listless. Shirley insists that they did this to her, but eh. I keep trying to think of ways that this story could’ve been improved, and really, I think it’s because I expected some black market capers in this episode. After all, “Contemporary American Poultry” was very well executed.

015

Gas Leak Brother is packing to leave, because of unresolved issues. Annie proceeds to info dump all the things we thought would be revealed along the way.

Annie: “I’m still really hurt by Mom turning her back on me when I went to rehab. And I guess part of me was mad at you for siding with her, so I thought you moving in here was some kind of moral victory…”

Does Annie know what a moral victory is? I think it’d just be a plain victory-victory. At least this sort of explains Annie’s tunnel vision when it came to getting Gas Leak Brother to move in, but still, I think that’s a storyline that needed to be grounded by someone other than Abed, who was on his own insane trajectory this week.

But Gas Leak Brother didn’t mean family issues, dummy, how dare you think this is about family or sibling relationships or unresolved issues about rehab and your parents failing to be parents?! No, clearly this is all about the “black guy in all these photographs.” He says Troy obviously left a vacuum, and once again, this scene makes it painfully obvious that this guy is not an actor.

Gas Leak Brother: “And screw you! What did I have to do with Mom? I was thirteen!”

THIRTEEN. HE WAS THIRTEEN AT THE TIME ANNIE WENT TO REHAB AT EIGHTEEN. That makes him eighteen, maybe nineteen, RIGHT NOW.

… Are we supposed to be laughing at this? Because this guy is easily older than Annie by at least a couple of years! There goes the comforting theory that he was away at college for all of Annie’s troubles! And not only was he there for it, but he refuses to acknowledge any role in the way her life has panned out. Yeah, he was thirteen, but why did it take him until eighteen to actually acknowledge Annie’s existence? If he had good reason for keeping his distance, isn’t this something that should’ve been covered?

He leaves, never to be seen or heard from again, like a true Gas Leak Brother. We’ll refer to him vaguely, make meta remarks about it, and pretend it never happened. This episode failed us. It failed on the writing, the structure, and the characterizations.

It turns out that the guy who played Gas Leak Brother is a good friend of Dan Harmon’s, and that’s why he was on the show. I had no knowledge of this, I found out after the episode was over, and the more I thought about it, the more upset I got.

While it’s nice that this show works hard to put in their Easter eggs and bring in close friends, there’s a certain point where that shouldn’t happen. Anthony is that point. If this actor had come in as Britta’s distant cousin three times removed, or Jeff’s weird landlord, or Chang’s parole officer, this stunt casting wouldn’t have fazed anyone. But Annie’s immediate family matters, to the fans and to the storytelling. They’ve been kept under a cloak of mystery for five seasons, and it seemed like that was on purpose, to add to her mystique or to build up the intrigue. Never mind that we always assumed she was an only child — that’s what we get for assuming — but a brother only five years her junior, who comes in to the show after five seasons of radio silence, should’ve revealed something about Annie.

Yet all we found out about Annie was:
– She has a brother
– He’s five years younger than her
– She assumes he took their parents side when she went to rehab
– She misses Troy

There was a lot of bellyaching on Twitter from self-proclaimed “Harmonites” insisting that there should be more overlap between worshipping Dan Harmon and worshipping Community. I don’t buy into that, because those things should be kept separate. That’s where this went wrong: Just because this guy is his friend, his protegee, or his associate, that doesn’t mean he belongs on this TV show. That’s like saying “I love my best friend, I like to hang out with her all the time, she’s a great person, I should take her to this really important meeting with my boss today!” And that’s what bothers me — this was never a storyline- or character-based decision, this was always just about getting this guy on the show and insisting that he is the punchline. When we didn’t laugh, we were somehow the jerks.

We were dealt a huge blow with this episode. We had a chance to learn a lot about Annie, to explore a key aspect of her past, to meet someone who was there when all of her intense backstory happened. Instead, we got a big brick wall of a character, as immovable and expressionless as ever, and we have to keep going on telling ourselves that we’ll learn more about Annie somehow, someday. (The same goes for Britta, too, but at least Britta wasn’t hampered, character-wise, by this dead-weight storyline.)

016

PAVEL! I guess he’s back because Troy’s gone, maybe he can be their new roommate? Anyway, Abed’s here to “do my third act apology,” and Pavel starts pouring water over his head as Abed mimicks showing up at Rachel’s front door.

Abed: “I’ve been accelerating our relationship because I’ve been worried I wouldn’t pass a lot of the tests. I wanted you to move in because I thought if Annie was around, I’d have less chance of screwing things up.”

Awww, that’s really sweet, actually! Rachel says he’s not screwing up, but he insists that he tends to alienate people and he’s scared of doing that with her. “Well don’t manipulate me and don’t keep secrets from me, and I think we’ll be okay.” And he looks SO HAPPY, it almost makes up for this trainwreck of an episode… almost.

Pavel puts up a rainbow just as a passerby just eats it on the wet floor. It’s really funny.

017

Shirley meets up with Britta’s connection (singer-songwriter Paul Williams) who points out that there are no page numbers anywhere in Shirley’s books… they’re misprints. Shirley is crestfallen and goes to untie her friends. (That’s another scene that would’ve been great to see: the idle chitchat and/or bickering amongst the hostages.)

Abed walks in to the meeting and reiterates the point that absolutely no one needed reiterated: Troy was essential. The fans know this. We feel it keenly with each passing episode, that he’s missing, that he should be there, that he would’ve loved that VCR game and probably would’ve been a 5 on MeowMeowBeenz and that he should’ve been at the Kickpuncher Reboot premiere alongside Abed. Mentioning Troy is really nice, a good nod to a great character and a fan favorite, but shaping an entire storyline, one that masqueraded itself as an Annie storyline, around them missing Troy just seems like lazy writing.

They say they should live with someone who is at least crazier than them, and then Britta comes stomping in, and they decide Craigslist is their best bet. (I want Britta to move in, though!)

018

The others trudge in and Annie notices they’re all wearing the clothes they wore yesterday. Hickey says they went through some stuff, and Shirley says, “We learned that sometimes, there’s no lesson.” THAT’S THE EPISODE, YOU GUYS. It was an entire episode of every character being the worst versions of themselves (save Rachel and possibly Britta) and then the conclusion being that they’re all the worst and that’s all. Jeff snaps, “How is that learning?!” and I feel you, bro.

Abed says they played “Pile of Bullets” and he learned to smile as Shirley snaps that she wants this meeting over with. We pan over to the Dean, who is desperately trying to write out his adlibbed rap from yesterday, to no avail.

019

Gina Gershon plays Vince Gilligan’s wife back in the 90’s when he got the offer for “Pile of Bullets.” She insists that it’s the right career move for him, “You call Apple Computers ‘work’? What kind of company offers stock options as a Christmas bonus? That ship is sinking.” She insists they have to move to Los Angeles and maybe try some cocaine, since they’ll be able to afford it now. Poor Vince Gilligan. At least he’ll be able to channel some of that into Breaking Bad.

Here’s hoping Dungeons and Dragons 2: The ReDungeoning is as good as it’s hyped to be!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s