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Friday, October 28, 2011

Community: "Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps"

Even though they weren’t supposed to air consecutively, “Random Chaos Theory” and last night’s episode of Community complement each other in interesting ways. Whereas the divergent timelines of the former were structured as a glimpse at the way the members function within the group, “Horror Fiction” looked at how they perceived themselves. Unfortunately the episode is going to be unfairly judged in two contexts, as it was neither as innovative as “Random Chaos Theory” nor was it as memorable as either of the two previous Halloween episodes. (I actually might like it better than the zombified “Epidemiology” but I recognize that as a minority opinion.)

The framework is elegant in its simplicity. Freshly-minted psych major Britta discovers that one of the anonymous personality tests she administered to the group shows strong signs of a personality disorder and homicidal tendencies, so she tries to tell a scary story to gauge the group’s reactions. But she Brittas it pretty badly, so the rest of the group, not suspecting her true motive, tries to show her how to tell a real scary story.

The writers did an excellent job of filtering each scary story through the perspective of the character telling it, and it was amusing how they translated that effect onto the screen. Britta’s story suffers from her half-hearted and distracted effort, to the point that the radio announcer warns of an escaped inmate with “a hook-hand thingy, you know what I mean.” Abed deconstructs the whole genre in his story, correcting every logical misstep but neglecting to make his story scary. Annie unwittingly provides a look at the desires and feelings she usually takes care to keep bottled up. Annie’s story, with Jeff as a conflicted vampire who wants to learn how to read, was the most humorous of the stories, with its combination of young-adult vampire lit and terrifyingly visceral carnage.

The other stories were more of a mixed bag. Troy’s was silly fun but nothing special, Pierce’s was clueless and out of touch, and Shirley’s was a version of the rapture where she is the only one ascending into heaven. As for Jeff, his story revealed little except that he has an ability to convince the group to move past things through speech-making.

The episode ends with the group realizing that Britta had Britta’d the test results by putting the scantron through in reverse. Gillian Jacobs is doing exceptional work this season, managing to engender the audience’s sympathy while also making the group’s incessant ribbing of her entirely understandable. Her crestfallen face both makes me laugh and say, “Aww.”

I laughed at the revelation that Abed is in fact the only one of the group to score as sane, but it makes more sense that it might seem. Doesn’t he seem like the kind of guy who’d be perfectly able to analyze the questions to pick the response that seemed most sane?

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