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'Community' Recap: Intro To Felt Surrogacy

Jeremy Fuster |
April 12, 2013 | 1:40 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

The Greendale Muppets have arrived (NBC)
The Greendale Muppets have arrived (NBC)
Over the past couple of weeks, NBC has put a particularly surprising amount of effort into trying to recover the flagging ratings of "Community." This week's episode "Intro to Felt Surrogacy" was particularly pushed online, with NBC even holding a contest on Tumblr for the best GIF from this episode.  Of course, one has to wonder if 'Community' would be in such a bind ratings-wise if the network had put as much effort into its advertising in past seasons as they are doing now.

Nonetheless, this week marked a big moment for "Community," as it is the first concept episode of this season. This episode would continue the tradition of episodes centered around paintball, stop-motion animation and 8-bit video games. Fortunately, "Intro To Felt Surrogacy" lives up to all the hype, making it easily the best episode of this season. Not only does it provide emotional moments, but it also brings the big laughs and clever references to the genre it is paying tribute to.

The episode begins with a fantastic opening bumper: the study group sitting at the table in awkward, uneasy silence. After the opening credits, the Dean strolls in and decides to help the group get over whatever strange event has led to this rift in their friendship. He does this by giving each of them a lookalike hand puppet to help them convey their feelings, with a little bit of body hair conspicuously sticking out of Jeff's.  What follows is a story involving hot-air balloons, psychotropic berries, Jason Alexander, some great songs and the Greendale Seven in the form of Muppets.

More than any episode in recent weeks, this one kept hitting the right notes in the joke department. From the Dean's comments about the group's story, to the wonderful cameos by Jason Alexander and Sara Bareilles, to the classic style of sneak-attack jokes that makes "Community" so great ("We're in international airspace. We are literally above the law! Jeff can marry any man he wants!"). It feels so good to be constantly laughing at an episode of "Community" instead of reaching and listening for something, ANYTHING, that sounds slightly clever.

The story itself fails to reach the emotional depths of previous conceptual ventures like "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas," but it sets up and executes perfectly. The silent opening sequence provides intrigue that is satisfied when we discover that the group revealed their darkest secrets while in a drug-induced haze and now have lost the ability to communicate with each other. The secrets themselves are funny but not really surprising. Britta for example, confesses that despite her activism, the only thing she has ever voted for was 'The Voice.' Shirley is the lone exception to this rule, as she reveals the time she once abandoned her kids at a store while going after someone she thought was her then-ex-husband, Andre. It's a pretty dark moment in an otherwise lighthearted episode, especially considering how Shirley considers her status as a mother as one of the most important things in her life.

Deannochio. (NBC)
Deannochio. (NBC)
The path to this revelation is paved by fun songs in the same vein as the Muppets. The cast has done songs several times before, but it's never been as entertaining as the songs in this episode. Yvette Nicole Brown in particular has a great voice and hits her notes every time. The shining apex of these songs comes when a song about a happy life in the forest free from the pressures of society turns into a chaotic drug trip once the group knocks down some berries.

But there is one glaring problem with this episode, and though it was one out of their control, it can't be ignored: Pierce isn't in the study room doing puppet therapy. This episode was the last on the shooting schedule for this season, and it was filmed after Chevy Chase announced his departure from "Community." Part of the terms of his exit was that he record all his lines for the Muppet scenes, but in the study room, his absence is hand-waved with the excuse that he is still lost in the forest and never came out. It is a tough situation for the show to deal with, but to see the group just get up and go after the puppet therapy with no one even suggesting that they look for Pierce was rather off-putting. It makes me worry that the writers will completely avoid the issue when it comes time to write Pierce out completely.

But despite the elephant in the room, "Intro To Felt Surrogacy" is a winner.  It proves that "Community" can still maintain the basic spirit of the show without Dan Harmon, even if it can't fully replicate it. It may be too late for the show to get enough viewers to survive for another season, but faithful fans should now be reassured of the show's quality regardless of its future.


Reach Jeremy here or follow him on Twitter.



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