Community has to settle into a rhythm again. Pierce is laid to rest, and Troy is off to sea. Following two great episodes, “Analysis of Cork-Based Networking” was under a lot of pressure. Unfortunately, even with a hefty list of guest stars, it felt dull. Let’s hope this isn’t how the rest of the season will be. The show can still work without Pierce and Troy, but it’s not off to a good start with this one.
“Analysis of Cork-Based Networking” is about a bulletin board, a school dance and spoilers. In the A story, Annie and Hickey team up in order to win cafeteria bulletin board privileges. It’s harder to do than they thought it would be, and Annie turns to the dark side to get her way. She trades bribes and porn with janitors, IT tech guys and parking lot managers. Our B story sees Jeff, Shirley, Duncan and Chang struggling to come up with a theme for the midterm dance. Riffing off the phrase, “Bear Down for Midterms,” Chang insists on a bear theme. But once it’s learned that a bear’s attacked and mauled a children’s birthday party in Wisconsin just that morning, the idea becomes a problem. And finally, Britta and Abed battle over spoilers. After Abed accidentally drops a spoiler for the show, Bloodlines of Conquest – why hello, Game of Thrones spoof – Britta vows to read the rest of the book series so she can spoil something for Abed in return. Abed also runs into an old flame.
This week was our first case of Troy-withdrawal, which probably explains the abundance of guest stars the episode contained. We’ve got Nathan Fillion, Paget Brewster, Kumail Nanjiani, Brie Larson, Robert Patrick and Katie LeClerc. This ends up weakening the episode actually, which I’ll get to, but seeing their faces was a delight nonetheless. I was also quite pleasantly impressed with the dynamic between Annie and Hickey. The two make sense together. Annie has always been the bubbly optimist, naive about the world and people. Hickey, the former police officer, has seen enough of the world to believe that all of it is crap. The two characters play well because of that contrast, and I sincerely hope we see an Annie-Hickey trend in the future.
“Networking” got my hopes up even more than that though, and I’ll tell you why: Brie Larson returned as Rachel. We’ve only met Rachel once before, in season four’s “Herstory of Dance,” and she was quickly established as a potential love interest for Abed. With Troy gone, Abed now has an open position for “closest friend,” and I personally want to see Rachel fill the spot. Now is a sensitive time for Abed, and I mean that in terms of his place in the show. What are they going to do with him now? He has a lot of room to grow and a lot of reasons to change. A love plot would deepen Abed’s character and show us a different side of him. Or maybe I’m just hoping.
Despite the good though, the episode amounted to little more than a dud. Lackluster. Unimpressive. That great list of guest stars we were talking about? There were too many of them, and not one had a chance to shine. Sure, they each got good laughs in, but not as much as they could have if they’d been in more than one scene only. It was wasted potential, a real lost opportunity, to see those actors underutilized. It kind of felt like a tease, a watered-down version of some greater episode.
But oh well. I can’t be too harsh. We have to cut “Networking” some slack. It followed two incredibly standout episodes and was the first to suffer the absence of two main characters. Season 5 started strong – stronger than I thought it would – but not every episode can keep up top-notch momentum, especially after such setbacks. “Networking” was good for laughs (“IT’S A BEAR DANCE!”), but it’s evident here that the writers are still looking for a new working groove.
I have no doubt they’ll find it.
[Photo via Justin Lubin/ NBC]