Community: Breaking Bad Shenanigans in “VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing”

Photo credit: Community/NBC

Photo credit: Community/NBC

It’s been a while since a member of the Study Group dated a non-member. Besides Shirley and Andre, the last significant relationships I can recall are from season 1: Britta/Vaughn, Jeff/Slater, and Annie/Vaughn. Those romantic entanglements were messy, causing friction especially between then “will they/won’t they” Jeff/Britta. They weren’t meant to be endgame.

But now, it’s Abed and Rachel’s turn to be the new One True Pairing of “Community.” It’s been a month of dating and, according to Abed, he and Rachel are 12 times stronger than most couples that it might as well be equivalent to 12 months. Needless to say, they really are the “Aww” couple.

Since Troy left Greendale, his lack of presence is briefly touch upon but it hadn’t disrupted too much of the Group’s function. However, “VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing” deals with the fact that Abed and Annie need a new roommate to afford their apartment and it’s putting them on edge. Both have a candidate—Abed wants Rachel to move in, but Annie prefers her younger brother, Anthony, who is visiting for the night.

This is the first time we meet a member of Annie’s family. In “Celebrity Pharmacology,” she tells Pierce her parents cut her off financially after her drug problem. So, when Anthony visits, she’s super excited even though he’s really dull and asks permission to poop.

In a lot of ways, Annie and Abed are incredibly similar. Remember when Annie accidentally broke the Dark Knight dvd with special audio commentary by Christian Bale? Unable to tell Abed, she stages a fake break-in and frames their landlord; Abed dresses up as Batman to solve the crime. The only person who remained sane in the situation was Troy, who sobs to Annie, “You moving in here was supposed to tone us down!!”

So, who’s the peacekeeper now? Well, no one. Annie and Abed turn their little dinner party (butter noodles, carrots, & wine??) with Rachel and Anthony into a battle by using the 1993 old west VCR game, “Pile of Bullets.” The winner gets the roommate of their choice. (Neither Rachel nor Anthony have any idea this is the prize.)

 No one gets this game. The actor in the game (guest star Vince Gilligan, creator of “Breaking Bad”) goes through the rules quickly and the quality of the video is subpar. Like Rachel, I’m sure glad it’s a dead medium, too.

But with so much at stake, Annie and Abed invest themselves into “Piles of Bullets.” They shoot at the TV, spin around like tornadoes, and are barely aware that Anthony and Rachel are not having a good time. Rachel, on her part, even asks Abed if he was having his “special time” and needed space. It’s sweet because she gets Abed’s issues with interacting with other people and she doesn’t try to “fix” him. The moment is cut short, however, when Abed reveals that this game decides if she becomes a new roommate.

That is not something you casual mention to your one-month girlfriend during an intense 1993 old West game. Angry and uncomfortable, Rachel leaves because she doesn’t like this side of Abed. The next day, Anthony packs his bags and leaves but not before Annie admits that she just wanted him to move in to get back at their mom for not supporting her during rehab.

Cue Abed 3rd act apology. He goes up to Rachel at her locker and begs for her to hear him out. Someone pours water from a garden pail over his head a la rain on his face. Abed explains that he’s not used to people sticking with him willingly and that he doesn’t always know his boundaries. Rachel forgives him, and says “Don’t manipulate me or keep secrets.”

Sometimes I forget that Abed was the one who likened the Study Group in “Pilot” as a dysfunctional family. He’s always been searching for people to belong with and belong to. When Troy left, so did a part of Abed’s security of who he is and who he can be. Rachel is still new to him and there’s a possibility, especially since this is a romantic relationship, that it might not work out. It’s understandable that Abed would want to keep her close so he won’t lose her. But it’s even better than Rachel understands his way of thinking but still stands her ground. This isn’t a fling or an experiment or physical attraction. Abed and Rachel are the realest relationship at Greendale right now.

Now for the B-plot.

Ask any college student—textbooks are ridiculously expensive. And selling them back or selling them at all is such a hassle, plus you don’t always get a full refund. Personally, I try to coast through certain classes without the textbook because, really, who’s got money to spare between tuition and meal plans?

But what if they weren’t your textbooks? What if they never were even used? Chemistry textbooks in mint condition, ready to be sold on the black market.

When Jeff and Hickey find brand new Chemistry textbooks in a Greendale storage room, it seems almost obvious to take advantage of the situation. After all, Greendale didn’t even have their paychecks ready. Plus, it’s Greendale.

Shirley, on the other hand, freaks out. If she doesn’t stick with them, she’s still an accomplice. But if she gets involved, what would the state of her soul be?

It hardly matters, because Shirley always had a dark side that is good for leading others into a dark path. Whether it’s guilting her friends in coming to her Christmas party or teaching Jeff how to play foosball, Shirley embodies calm control to make sure things go according to plan. Like an experienced drug lord, she gets her team together to formulate a scheme to get rich quick. No one stands in her way, not even a textbook junkie Britta, who has a keen sense of smell (of mint condition books & which weed scent is hers), or Ben Chang, who accidentally walked in on the operation but literally gets roped into this mess. Just a case of “wrong place, wrong time.”

The beauty of “Community” is that it always takes itself seriously. This isn’t just some parody of “Breaking Bad.” Jeff genuinely starts to realize this is all going too far, especially when Britta takes a blackmail video of Chang, who is on parole, surrounded by the textbooks. Shirley has Jeff tied up with Chang as punishment. In fact, it gets to the point where Shirley ties everyone up in fear of one of them ruining the operation and taking the money for themselves.

Shirley meets with a Chemistry professor in the dark hallways of Greendale. He offers $20 for the whole batch; there is a misprint, which is why the books were never opened in the first place. All that turning on each other and tying people up is all for nothing. Shirley returns, ashamed, to release her friends. When they all go to the study room a few hours later, they’re in the same clothes as yesterday and, you know what, sometimes there is no lesson to be learned!

My one issue with this week’s episode is that the A-plot and B-plot never came together or complimented each other. The only way they related was through Vince Gilligan’s guest appearance as the Piles of Bullet’s actor and Jonathan Banks in the “Breaking Bad”-esque storyline. This is the first time we’ve seen Rachel and Abed together as a couple, and Abed and Annie are dealing with losing Troy as the peacemaking roommate. “VCR Maintenance” didn’t suffer from having two very different stories, but the Abed/Annie plot might’ve had a more emotional punch if it had more time to develop. 

Highlights & Observations:

  • As an apology for delayed faculty paychecks, Dean Pelton performs a rap as a peanut bar and traumatizes himself. “I don’t know what that was. I don’t…I don’t know what that was.”
  • “Everybody!!”
  • So, we’re back to thinking Britta is crazy?! Come on, Annie & Abed!
  • “Is this working?” Alison Brie & Danny Pudi got to do their secret handshake again from “Pascal’s Triangle Revisited.”
  • No updates on Troy’s whereabouts. Hopefully he and LeVar Burton got released by those pirates!
Jennifer Babu

Jennifer Babu is the editor-in-chief of Videshi Magazine. She's a film & TV addict, and suffers from sleep deprivation (self-inflicted). Follow her on twitter @jenibabu.

Be first to comment