Episode 314: Pillows and Blankets

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SG Standard
 

314: PILLOWS AND BLANKETS

THE EPISODE

/Keith David Voiceover

On April 5th, 2012, an episode of television aired that, by all logic, should have never seen the light of day. It was too weird, too unusual, too esoteric, even for the most esoteric show on
television. “Pillows and Blankets” was all of these things, yet there was one thing…

/Keith David Voiceover

Ok, enough of that. There was no way I’d be able to keep the voiceover gimmick up for an entire essay. I’m not nearly that creative, and I probably butchered the Ken Burns style intro enough in only three and a half sentences. Besides, what the cast and crew of Community did in this episode was so impressive, for me to even attempt to emulate it would do a disservice to the episode. While I can’t do anything like that, what I can do is talk about why “Pillows and Blankets” works as an episode, as well as how it works as an example of how some of season 3’s experiments in serialization were successful.

The first, most notable thing about the episode is the particular kind of documentary format in which it is presented. “Pillows and Blankets” isn’t a documentary so it can easily tell a complex story by cutting to people explaining things to the camera; it is a documentary with a purpose. Community had already shown a true mastery of the mockumentary form on two occasions, but this one was stylistically different for a reason. “Pillows and Blankets” acts as a fully produced documentary that exists in the world of the show and was made in the style of a man best known for a documentary on the Civil War. The shift in style is key. Presenting “Pillows and Blankets” in this specific format adds a level of seriousness that wouldn’t have existed had this been the same kind of documentary as “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking” or “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux”. This isn’t another chance to show Modern Family how a mockumentary is supposed to be done*, nor is it even an exploration of the Dean on a journey into his own personal heart of darkness**; to the characters, this is a civil war, an event of great import and seriousness. The use of the same style as The Civil War helps “Pillows and Blankets” to highlight that point.

*The camera crew has to have a reason to exist, people!

**I could have said “heart of deanness”. You’re welcome.

It almost goes without saying, but the way the episode absolutely nailed the aesthetic of the Ken Burns-style documentary is incredibly impressive and leads to some great laughs. It isn’t funny simply because it was entirely unexpected and off the wall***, but because it is also so faithful. From the voiceover narration, to the use of “primary documents”, to the slow zooms and pans over still photography, everything is spot on in terms of style. Again, this is a case where the normally weighty tone of this documentary format becomes a gag itself. The juxtaposition between these hallmarks of serious documentary filmmaking and the subject of a campus-wide pillow fight leads to some big time cognitive dissonance, which results in some
hearty laughs. Take the “English Memorial Spanish Center” bit, for example. Keith David is narrating a field of battle in much the same style that troop movements at Gettysburg were described in “The Civil War”. He is treating it with the same tone and reverence, but the words coming out of his mouth are just so entirely out there given what is normally expected of such a
documentary that it becomes even funnier (although that monologue would have been funny if one of us delivered it on vocaroo, to be sure).

***I personally had no idea that they were going to attempt an episode in this style, which is probably why I was entirely blown away by it the night it aired. Earlier in the day, I had seen Alan Sepinwall tweet that he couldn’t believe Community did an episode that was a Ken Burns homage, but I thought he was engaging in a round of #CrazyCommunityPitches or something. It never occurred to me that he was being serious.

While this is an incredibly unique and incredibly funny episode of Community, it is not without its faults. The episode has a very strong focus on Troy, Abed, and Jeff. While that leads to some great moments that the show has been building towards for its entire run, those moments come at the expense of the other main characters. It would admittedly be tough to cram in an arc climax for all the characters along the lines of the one Troy and Abed experienced in this episode; however, it was disappointing to see the rest of the study group reduced to their most basic traits: Britta Britta’d things, Shirley was a barely-contained rage monster hidden by a veneer of sweetness, Annie was a disapproving and scolding angel on
Jeff’s shoulder, and Pierce was old, irrelevant, and kept off screen as much as possible. These characteristics are true of all these characters, but they were not developed or explored in new ways at all within the context of the episode. The burden of pathos was shifted to Troy, Abed, and Jeff, and the other characters suffered slightly as a result. They were still allowed to be funny, but they were certainly not as memorable as the three leads. 

THE SEASON

Season 3 is recognized as the most heavily serialized season of Community to date. Many episodes deal with a variety of ongoing plots, whether it is Britta’s attempt to become a therapist, Shirley’s Sandwiches, Jeff’s ongoing struggle against himself (more on this later), or
the ménage a trois between Troy’s need to become a man, Troy’s desire to stay young, and Abed. While the season’s attempts at serialization (and the season as a whole) were controversial in some corners of Community fandom, I maintain that some of those attempts at serialization were successful because they were concerned less with moving the plot forward and more with moving the characters forward. We didn’t see ongoing plots for the sake of emulating The Wire. Instead, we saw ongoing plots as a new way to examine characters as they moved along their respective story circles.

Considering that Dan Harmon uses story circles both on an episode and season-long level simultaneously, the circles lead to incremental changes in each episode that eventually add up to big changes over the course of the season. By tying these incremental changes in with a continuing set of circumstances, the audience is presented with a unique way to track those changes over the course of many episodes. We can now see how a character would react to a similar situation when the changes they have accrued over the course of the preceding episodes are introduced. By utilizing continuing stories, Dan Harmon and his writers were able to display the changes each character went through more clearly as they moved out of their zone of comfort.

“Pillows and Blankets” is concerned with two of the most successful of these character-based attempts at serialization; Troy/Abed and Jeff. On the surface, as part two of a two parter, this episode is primarily about the state of Troy and Abed’s friendship as seen through the prism of Troy growing up. Troy’s decision between embracing maturity and continuing to have youthful fun with his friend has been a recurring story throughout the season. Troy recognizes that his friendship with Abed as it currently exists is keeping him in stasis, and while he doesn’t want to lose that friendship, he wants to become an adult. Troy’s choice between the two is made most evident by Vice Dean Laybourne’s attempts to get him to join the AC Repair School, but both Troy and Abed have moments where they recognize this impending growth and how it may affect their friendship in episodes such as “Remedial Chaos Theory”****, “Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps”, and their heartbreaking discussion in “Contemporary Impressionists”. They realize they are getting too close and that their desires in life are dovetailing less and less. This is then made manifest by Vice Dean Laybourne, who pushes Troy to stand on his own and no longer be Reggie to Abed’s Inspector. Troy wants to be seen as a man, as his own person, and Laybourne makes it clear that his friendship with Abed is holding him back. While Laybourne may have been the one to add the vinegar to the paper mache volcano that was the Trobed friendship, it was already primed to explode.

****I’m referring to “chop busted, fellow adult”, and Troy’s reaction to being treated like a child by Jeff. Even though it didn’t take place in the prime timeline, it is still very revealing because either A) there is a timeline somewhere where it did happen due to the alteration of one variable, meaning those sentiments exist in the prime timeline, or B) assuming that all of the timelines occurred in Abed’s head, it has been shown repeatedly that Abed is incredibly perceptive when it comes to how the other members of the study group will react to a given set of circumstances, so the fact that he recognizes this desire for maturity in Troy makes it very valid.

While it isn’t as clear on the surface, this is also a very important episode for Jeff. Jeff has been engaged with a conflict between his lawyer self and his Greendalian self throughout the series. He wants to be the cool guy who is above the goofy community college hijinks, but Greendale still manages to change him, slowly but surely. While he has had breakthroughs in the past, his scene with the magical friendship hats represents a turning point for him moving forward. His entire story circle has been building to him truly embracing Greendale, and the idea that he participated in something so unnecessarily goofy as returning to the Dean’s office to get the hats shows the effect that his friends and his surroundings have had on him. This isn’t a temporary fix, either; rather, Jeff acts very different moving forward from this point. I don’t want to steal anyone’s thunder here, but I find it very interesting that his next big Winger speech, in “Origins of Vampire Mythology”, is more directed towards himself than the group. He isn’t monologuing in order resolve a conflict or heal a rift among his friends, he’s monologuing in an attempt to heal himself.

Although Jeff’s story circle was truncated at the end of season 3 due to Harmon’s impending ouster (and he seriously backslid in season 4 in order to generate drama), the small changes in Jeff throughout the season and the series culminated in a beautiful moment where he did something truly unselfish. Naturally, he immediately undercut it by bragging about how he
“nailed” it to the film crew, but his arc was not compete at this point. He wasn’t a fully actualized human being yet, and the episode left him room to grow while still showing the strides he had made to this point. More change was yet to come, but the events of this episode represent a key signpost in turning Jeff from a smarmy lawyer looking to get out of Greendale with as little effort and as few attachments as possible to the guy who walked down the halls of Greendale with his friends at the end of “Introduction to Finality”.

THE STRAY OBSERVATIONS and THE COMMENTARY ON THE COMMENTARY

-Despite my 2,000+ words of analysis about humor and emotion and serialization, the true genesis of “Pillows and Blankets” came from the fact that the season was behind schedule and over-budget. The two parter was a way to save money by reusing sets and costumes, and the still photography enabled them to show action without actually having to stage all of the action.

-The “we are this close to losing our fund-“ joke in the tag gets my vote for the “biggest break of the fourth wall in Community history” award.

-I must say, the episode did manage to make good use of Chang and his child army. For a plot that seemed like a total throwaway in “Contemporary Impressionists”, the Changlourious Basterds was a good gag that made sense in the context of the episode.

-Keith David nailed his dialogue in one take. What a pro!

-Andy Bobrow had experience writing in this style, as he had written and directed a short called ”The
Old Negro Space Program”
that employed the same Ken Burnsian style prior to working onCommunity.

-I had never watched it before writing this review, but the “This is War” documentary on the season 3 DVD has some really high quality information on the creation and filming of “Pillows and Blankets”. The fact that they made a documentary about the making of their fake documentary might be the most Community thing ever. If you’re like me and haven’t checked it out yet, I highly recommend doing so.

THE QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

-What are your thoughts on the serialization used in season 3 and how this episode functions as a representation of that experiment?

-What did you think of how the documentary style was employed in “Pillows and Blankets” compared to the mockumentary episodes of Community?

 

On the AV Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/advanced-introduction-to-finality,97134/#comment-1073705121 (page 248)

 

Discussion

  • I caught this episode recently in syndication and it was very enjoyable.  At the same time, I don't think I'll ever love this episode.

    –  Serialization wasn't a total failure, but it was close.  The Harmon story circle for episodes usually made the plot secondary and the character primary.  The plot was molded to fit a character's journey.  If every character had had a season long journey (and not just an attempt for a few of them), then serialization could've worked out better

    –  Abed's involvement is the main difference from the previous mockumenatries.  In the previous ones, we were seeing the story Abed chose to tell.  Even if he refused to act like the puppet-master, it was still his show.  That felt more organic and personal.  It's also what made those episodes feel different from the mockumentary TV shows.  In P&B, Abed's just an active yet unaware (or at least without any control) participant like the rest of the characters.

  • Yeah, the fact that several characters got shorted in the serialization department doesn't help my argument that it worked. I liked what it did for Jeff, Troy, and Abed, but the rest of the study group fizzled out. They were trying to go somewhere with Pierce and Shirley, but it seemed more concerned with using Shirley's Sandwiches as a way to drive action than anything. They could have been onto something had they followed through on the "Pierce descends into alcoholism after the death of his father" idea, but that plane didn't even have a chance to crash before it blew up in the hangar, and we were left with weird asides like Pierce drinking ink. 

    I don't really see why S3 catches all the flack for being a failed example of serialization, though. Honestly, the most traditional serialized arc took place in S2-Shirley's pregnancy. It was a plot that was followed across the season, but that wasn't about her as a character, but rather her as a plot device, it was met with derision from most corners. On the other hand, the Evil Pierce arc in S2 was more in line with the serialization we saw in S3. It didn't necessarily follow one unified plot through the season, but rather followed how Pierce was growing and changing as a person. That's what I mean when I talk about character based serialization, and that's why I like the Troy, Abed, and Jeff storylines in S3 so much.

  • While this episode is certainly not without a very justified, detailed and sustained lead up to the T&A conflict, I still don't see how P&B in particular actually deals with it in a meaningful way, let alone settles it, as this episode was charged with doing. There's an exchange of intercepted hurtful emails and then an abrupt reunion because of imaginary hats. Maybe I'm expecting too much, but it's not like the show didn't build those huge expectations, so it was very, very unsatisfying. So let's talk about that. Did it work for you and why?

  • I didn't think it was supposed to be settled in this episode. I didn't want to get into it in my review since that would have been tackling future events, but I felt it was more of a "the princess is in another castle" type situation. This episode got them over a speed bump, but the underlying issue was still there.Troy has still put off deciding on AC repair school or plumbing or what have you, and was content with putting it off at the beginning DEoID. However, that choice was still looming. This episode put his struggles front and center, whereas early episodes used them as a B or C plot, or even as just a throwaway line ("Forced to be together forever!"). 

    Following P&B, there is still some lingering resentment on the part of Troy when Abed takes the lead (his disgruntledness at Abed demanding to be the lead detective in BLU comes readily to mind, but Troy is more accepting of it at that point because he knows it isn't worth risking their friendship). If anything, that's the takeaway of this episode. Yes, Troy wants to be a man and stand on his own two feet, but doing that and being friends with Abed are not mutually exclusive. He doesn't have to separate himself from Abed or always be the Inspector to be a man. He truly can have both, and this is the first episode where that is not presented as a totally either/or choice. 

  • I'll chime in and mostly emphasize what SG Standard has already said.  I thought the conflict was meant to seem resolved, and it was for the moment at least, but there were still some lingering issues.  So I guess the resolution wasn't so much about getting rid of the tension inherent in Troy and Abed's friendship as much as making future problems that arise from that tension now hopefully easier to deal with.

  • But no future problems arose and nothing was dealt with. It was back to the status quo with them. After this episode aired most of us were left thinking "this isn't the resolution, there's gotta be more to this" and there wasn't, so I'm left to conclude that 313/314 did exactly what it seemed like it was doing and what I hoped it wasn't.

  • Ultimately, I don't blame "Pillows and Blankets" for the lack of future problems. And I'm not sure there needed to be further resolution, or more "problems," per se. Perhaps a general sense of wariness between the two. Which I think there was, most notably as Troy headed off to Air Conditioning Repair School. Maybe there needed to be more; I don't know, I'm not and never really have been bothered by it. As far as "P&B" goes, I think we'll just have to agree to disagree about whether or not this moment worked as a band-aid.

  • Nice parallel with the Jeff situation, which I hadn't really considered before, I think due to my overall disappointment in this episode.  I'm a pretty big defender of season 3–probably in part because of all the drama surrounding the show at the time, in part because I think it gets a bit over-judged because we are (were?) so spoiled after seasons 1 and 2–but while this episode is fantastic stylistically,  I think it veers too close to "Community is that show that does all the parodies!"  As we've discussed before around here, we all appreciate that Community (S1-3) doesn't usually use its homages just for the sake of the gimmick, but to make a point, either by framing the goings-on in a different way or exploring how the characters act in a different, heightened setting, etc, etc.  If anything, it seems like the style took so much of the time and focus in this episode that we didn't get to the meat of Troy & Abed's conflict.  As is probably over-clear from my little short intro the other day and/or having put up with me for 2 years, I like it when Community makes me sad.  I love that they'll dare go there (ahemahemcertainshowsthatarescaredtodoanythingwithstakes), but it's not clear to me why they chose to skim over the tough stuff here (Actually, I think at the time I thought they were making a point by patching things over so quickly because they wanted to hold on to the friendship so badly, only to have it blow up later because you just can't deny these issues too long. But I don't think that blow-up really came in the rest of the season. VSA touched on it a bit, but was more about the study group in general and Abed). After a season of build-up of this great split between Troy and Abed and how their relationship will navigate going from that part of college where you're basically a big kid in an eternal dorm-sleepover to the part where you're about to be an adult with a 9-5–which is such a completely realistic struggle–that resolution was just a disappointment.  I don't care if they'd found a legit way to bring them back together or tear them apart (and maybe they'll get a chance to explore this again with Glover leaving), but the imaginary hat thing wasn't an answer.  Unlike the resolution of Cooperative Calligraphy, where deciding to blame ghosts was a group decision to let something silly and immature go for the sake of the group, this felt like letting something serious and real go for the sake of smoothing things over a little longer.  

    Anyway, you bring up great points and this really is a fun episode to watch outside of my big giant complaint above and everyone else really is well-cast in their roles in the documentary (even if those roles are, like you say, a little reductive) but I just have a hard time getting past the too-easy resolution to this one.

    Also, there's a documentary about the making of the fake documentary?!?  Okay, I've really got to save up the $20 for the S3 DVDs, now that I'm not making a point by not buying them anymore.

  • Unlike the resolution of Cooperative Calligraphy, where deciding to blame ghosts was a group decision to let something silly and immature go for the sake of the group, this felt like letting something serious and real go for the sake of smoothing things over a little longer.  

    I feel like that was exactly the point. The resolution to this episode wasn't a cure all, it was a band-aid. Laybourne was defeated this time, but the issues between Troy and Abed aren't permanently solved. After all, if Laybourne had never talked to Troy and Abed in DEoID, Troy still would have had to make some tough decisions later in the season. They fended off Laybourne's opening salvo, but that is all. Offering a temporary fix allowed the show to take another look at their friendship later in the season, this time from Abed's perspective.  

  • I edited this, probably after you read it, to reflect that that was my original interpretation at the time of watching it, but I never felt like I got my resolution.  What episode did you feel like it came in?

    "See?  This is why we need the Edit Stamp of Shame!" said no one, ever….

  • The moment of resolution that comes to mind immediately for me is the end of ITF. While it is made clear in words that Troy is able to embrace both his friendship with Abed and his maturity when he says that he will be able to stay in the AC school and see the study group since he is the AC school's messiah and they have to listen to him, the moment that really did it for me was in the closing montage. Specifically, it was the combination of when Troy and Britta move him out of the blanket fort and into his room and when Abed stepped into his new Dreamatorium. The Troy part was complete summation of the struggle that Troy had gone through over the season in one shot. Do I grow up and leave my friend behind or do I continue to live in a state of arrested development? By not fully committing to either, he was able to have both. 

    As for Abed, he was able to adapt to what is a pretty big life change for him (and we all know how little Abed cares for change) by just being himself. We know that Abed has found a way to deal with Troy maturing that doesn't involve demanding that things stay the same or that Troy do exactly what Abed wants. That's a pretty big step for Abed, and it signals that he accepts what Troy wants to do. It's a big switch from telling Troy that he can do whatever he wants, as long as he doesn't do it in the pillow for in P&B. Now, Abed is OK with Troy doing whatever he wants, while still being accepting of him while he does it. 

     It may not be a full on reconciliation, but it is certainty a state of rapprochement in the face of a new status quo, which feels much more true to life than a cheery reunion with rainbows and unicorns and no noticeable changes for anybody.

  • But I don't even see a band-aid. I don't see Troy realizing that he can have both Abed and his future. I don't see them "settling on a lie", as Todd put it, to preserve their friendship. The few interactions they have are clouded by raw anger and animosity in the moment and when they finally make up it's in such an abrupt, childish way that kills the intended forward momentum. I wasn't asking for a big dramatic conversation a la CFS, but I needed something to indicate that a big thing just happened to them and that even as friends still they wouldn't be the same again. I've had friendships fade or deteriorate over much less. As NPR says, where's the part where they contemplate what their friendship is now that they're adults and have just put the pillow fighting (adolescence) behind them? Otherwise, what is the point of this two-parter?

    I think the hurtful emails should have been the stakes raiser in 313. Those were bombshells and they come two-thirds of the way through this episode instead. Oddly, the show both "goes there" and then doesn't do much with it.

  • As NPR says, where's the part where they contemplate what their friendship is now that they're adults and have just put the pillow fighting (adolescence) behind them? Otherwise, what is the point of this two-parter?

    That's a good point. The ep doesn't entirely resolve itself conceptually, even if we didn't know what would come later. 

    Also, they way it was situated towards the middle of the season (or what would have been the middle in a full-length season) made it seem like it should be a crucial ep in the seasonal story. Even making it a 2 parter raised expectations that turned out to be kind of undue.

    I don't totally disagree with SG's point that ITF kind of resolved the Troy/Abed issue, but in a really brief, abbreviated way. Like it was the end cap on everything else that happened, which brings the onus back to P&B. There needed to be a longer, more explosive period of tension between Troy and Abed. I like what you said, Lloyd, about how the emails should have been sent earlier, and given us time to see the full extent of the rift between the two of them, before it was resolved. Obviously, I would have liked a meatier resolution, too. The symbolic one with the hats has it's merits, but just making the two of them aware of the fact that they still like each other isn't quite enough. We have to find out if there's enough there to keep them together in their adult lives, or if it's ultimately necessary to go their separate ways (for their future careers and lives, etc.)

  • Regarding the Ken Burns framing, I'm with you on it being impressively put together as far as mimicking the sensibility and style, but I just don't think it fits Community. Put simply, the conceit relies almost entirely on Keith David telling and explaining jokes, which is why you have characters reduced to punchlines.

    I also echo what seffina said about it not feeling organic because we're not seeing it through the perspective of the group. Why is the camera crew interested in the personal conflicts? They even stick around after the pillow fight ends, which has nothing to do with the world record.

  • I get what you and seffina mean regarding the documentary format not feeling organic, but I feel that is a side effect of something that is necessary for this episode to work on a practical level. In the previous documentary episodes, Abed removed himself from the action so he could be an objective fly on the wall. During the events of P&B, he's right in the thick of things, as is the rest of Greendale. To me, if the documentary to come from someone within the school, like Abed, it would naturally take on a much more subjective bent. The earlier documentary episodes show us the action as Abed wants us to see it; presenting that same perspective in this episode would ruin the illusion that we are seeing things as they actually happened. Bringing in an external camera crew allows for an entirely objective perspective to exist, free from worry that Abed (or Garrett, or whoever) is showing us a biased version of events.

  •  I'm with you on it being impressively put together as far as mimicking the sensibility and style, but I just don't think it fits Community. 

    I like what you and Seffina said about this. I kinda think it half-fits. They tone of the show and the warmth of the characters is still present. But their reasons and resolutions aren't explored enough. SG mentioned that Britta, Pierce and Shirley get basically sacrificed (though the jokes involving them are great). But the Jeff/Annie scenes, as always, could have gotten a little deeper. Why are they still sparring over petty things, and is it enough that Annie prods Jeff into being a little bit better person? I'm just kind of re-treading old complaints there, though.

    Anyways, I think it was a partly successful experiment. Like "Intro to Documentary Filmmaking" I thought some of the upbeat energy of a normalCommunity episode was lost….but with all the concepts and parodies, even when they overreach or are partly off, it keeps the show from just being an endless s1: episodes which give us a pleasant shading in of the characters, but ultimately stick to a fairly naked sitcom format most of the time. I don't think s1 would be thought of nearly as fondly if they'd tried to do two more of them. (Well, maybe by NBC execs, but that's about it.)

  • "Earlier in the day, I had seen Alan Sepinwall tweet that he couldn’t believe Community
    did an episode that was a Ken Burns homage, but I thought he was
    engaging in a round of #CrazyCommunityPitches or something. It never
    occurred to me that he was being serious."

    That was my reaction when I was reading "What's on Tonight" that night.  It gradually dawned on me that it was serious.

    I couldn't stop smiling for about the first ten minutes of this episode, so enthralled was I by the fact that an episode of television like this one was actually happening.

  • "it was disappointing to see the rest of the study group reduced to their
    most basic traits: Britta Britta’d things, Shirley was a
    barely-contained rage monster hidden by a veneer of sweetness, Annie was
    a disapproving and scolding angel on
    Jeff’s shoulder, and Pierce was old, irrelevant, and kept off screen as much as possible"

    I don't think this was that bad. Characters sometimes end up on the sidelines in a cast this big. Indeed, in this episode, more than half the study group didn't have much to do, but I wouldn't say they were regressive. And Pierce was hardly irrelevant.

  • By "irrelevant", I was referring to how he was embarrassed at the Battle of Big Bulletin Board (and referencing "You! Are! Still! Relevant!" from Horror Fiction). Once again, he's totally out of his element due to his age. Compare him to the Changlourious Basterds-they're young, and therefore good to have in a pillow fight. He's old, and doesn't belong. It was more of Pierce trying to act younger than he is and refusing to be sidelined due to his age, which is pretty much consistent with who he is. 

  • This is an episode that I've always come close to loving, but I'm just not quite…there. It's fun to watch, but it suffers from the common Season 3 problem of putting concept before characters. To me, that's Season 3's biggest flaw, not so much the serialization issues but more that the show just didn't seem to have as tight of a hold on its characters as it did in Seasons 1 & 2. 

  • Fantastic review, SG.  As with most of these recent reviews, all I can contribute is my similar sentiments to the praise and dejection this episode warrants/exhibits.

    /praise Keith David on performing everything so superbly as always.  I'm sorry my mom always got you confused with David Keith, then Brian Keith, then Brian Dennehy, then Patrick Dempsey, then Patrick Bateman, then Jason Bateman, then Jerry O'Connell… OK I'd better stop before this becomes my whole reply, sorry.

    I enjoyed the Ken Burns stylistics of the episode quite immensely, and the shortchange of the majority of the cast didn't bother me either.  If we compare it to another highly stylized/coloring outside the lines episode, say, Modern Warfare— in that one Annie and Pierce get very little to do, Shirley gets a nice speech about her kids but serves more as a point of final contention/object of the tug of war between Jeff and Britta over true selflessness/righteousness than as a person in her own right.  And Abed gets to do cool stuff until he gets paint on his clothes.  

    What helps Modern Warfare excel above Pillows & Blankets is how it effectively utilizes that embraced style to accentuate its main focus, Jeff and Britta's relationship and Jeff's journey throughout Season 1.  It has a beginning/middle/end, it has narrative echos to past and future episodes, and it flows cohesively.

    Comparatively, while all the individual beats of Pillows and Blankets is fun and engaging, it never comes together as a whole (beyond Jeff's final speech).  And what's so off-putting about that speech to me personally is something I brought up in a previous review here– it's as if we had Critical Film Studies in its entirety, only the ending involves Britta learning a lesson about responsibility in the workplace instead of Jeff and Abed taking the time for that last "REAL conversation" to truly reconcile and fulfill the denouement to the previous 18 minutes.  

    In similar vein, a Britta plot in that episode COULD work and be evocative and memorable, but the preceding elements of said episode are about Jeff and Abed– their anxieties and gift of the magi pull/push towards and away from one another.  

    With a minor subplot mirroring how easily one can feel isolated/slighted/inferior/deficient a friend from one gesture to the next, one moment to the next (Troy and Chang and the burning Briefcase from Pulp Fiction).

    Tying that back to Pillows and Blankets again, as you astutely and comprehensively pointed out /cheer /praise, the documentary style gets us invested in the seriousness of this "pillow fight"– of what's at stake for these two sides.  And when Troy and Abed escalate things, it truly hits hard.  And then it doesn't.  It becomes a life lesson for Jeff instead and Troy/Abed backpedal.  Now, them backpedaling to avoid hurting each other much more even though this central conflict will HAVE to be addressed eventually?  

    I've no problem with that.  But did the episode take the appropriate time and focus to show that transition?  To show the hurt and pain and the NEED, the absolute NEED to get back together and try to pretend this didn't happen just to avoid going down that well just a LITTLE while longer?  To address their NEED to be together even if they didn't really SOLVE anything?

    In my opinion…. NOPE!

    Jeff's lesson in and of itself?  Much like that fictitious Britta plot extension to Critical Film Studies, it works very well for what it is– and I do like Jeff's "and that finally makes me understand war" line very much.  And even thematically, this DOES tie into the elements/narrative flow of past episodes THIS season:In this episode:Jeff and Abed both face drastic, hectic change.  Both are resistant to it and embrace their old personas.But AGAIN– Jeff changes and transforms to meet the occasion, while Abed recedes to avoid pain.  Because Abed and Troy are tied so strongly together– their attempts to combat each other and AVOID combating each other only serves to make the pain that much worse when they bump heads.  

    So thematically– yeah stuff still plays out true to the rest of the season– but this individual episode still feels lopsided towards Jeff when T/A needed that focus, needed that development now more than ever.  Maybe if the rest of the season had truly connected to the events here and added some more meat, this wouldn't still disappoint me so, but that's the way it goes.  

    At least Troy's upcoming departure in Season 5 allows us to potentially revisit the issues here and in Contemporary Impressionists and truly bring things to a head, hit the core of these characters' dynamic as friends, hurt a bit, but make the show stronger for it.

    Anyhow, Long Story Short:  this was a Paris/Torres Voyager episode that got shifted into a "Seven of Nine learns a life lesson" story in a lot of respects.  But the narrative device was fun and well deployed, and there was no Neelix.  So all criticisms aside– I enjoyed the ride even if I didn't like the destination or the lack of callbacks after this point.  

    Doppeldeaner Count for this Season 3 Episode:  We have the two opposing sides of bed linens fortification, the multiple versions of people that come out as they switch sides with either honesty (Pierce) or duplicity (Jeff), the darker elements of Troy and Abed that come out to combat one another when things really start to get serious, the imaginary world of their hats in the Dean's office and the reality of Greendale and the adult future outside those walls, with Jeff as an ambassador between those two worlds.  

    We have Neil getting his new radio persona some screen time to positively combat his Fat Neil moniker (define yourself to others instead of accepting their rules and terms of who you are).  

    We have Chevy's double as the Pillow Monster.  We have Dan Harmon representing English Memorial (after whom English Memorial Hall is named and from which a Spongyandbruised avatar was born /cheer).  And we have Keith David as that narrator who MIGHT be the same guy from The Cape… MAYBE.

    Thanks for the awesome read, SG.  Glad you enjoyed the documentary style as much as I did, even if things didn't really come together beyond that.  As said withContemporary Impressionists, I'd take any Season 3 episode over Competitive Wine Tasting (not to bash it too heavily– just emphasizing I place TRYING and succeeding/failing with an interesting idea over a placeholder pizza episode that's just kind of there [and I love the Veronica Mars and Fiddler on the Roofbits {is this too many parentheses? Sorry.  I'll stop here}]).

  • Y'all are quite an insightful bunch. Thanks for taking the time to chat about my little review. 

  • Oh yeah, this review for THIS episode in particular and your stellar efforts ESPECIALLY deserve this fishstick:

    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

    Leonard likes this review!

  • /tips hat with thanks

  • it's as if we had Critical Film Studies in its entirety, only the ending involves Britta learning a lesson about responsibility in the workplace instead of Jeff and Abed taking the time for that last "REAL conversation" to truly reconcile and fulfill the denouement to the previous 18 minutes

    I still really love this point/comparison. Also:

    But AGAIN– Jeff changes and transforms to meet the occasion, while Abed recedes to avoid pain. 

    Another good point. I don't know exactly where the balance between "great/funny individual ep" and "important to the overall character arcs" sits. I guess they tend to work together, since s3 has good episodes which don't advance the characters as much as I'd like (P&B isn't on the top of the list, but I'd call it "good", for sure). Then the ones that aren't so good, IMO, like "Impressionists" or "Course Listing Unavailable," those really bring home the problems with the serialization, since the larger ambitions don't even feed good comedy in those examples.

    I LOLed at the Voyager comparisons. (Those are my favorite parts of "Wine Tasting", too….also, even though the Britta/Troy bits in that ep don't really go anywhere, they're still enough to make it one of the better eps of that coupling. At least there you can see that they're into each other.)

  • Agreed that I like the general elements of "Competitive Wine Tasting."  If it weren't for the "my uncle put his finger in my no no" parts it wouldn't even really feel/find anything offensive or atonal about it. It's just sort of there with some nice bits that don't come together– Hungry Hungry Hippo of episodes- chomp and circumstance.  

    And yeah it's funny to take a step back from my criticism and realize that my main argument with  Pillows and Blankets is essentially "darn episode– just had to settle for being fun and engaging instead of doubling down on the character pathos– it's ONLY a good episode."  There's really nothing horrid about it beyond that missed potential– that under utilized moment between Abed and Troy even if we got so many nice comedic moments to counter it (and all under a VERY creative template).

    Quite true about the serialization components of "Course Listing Unavailable"– even throwing that "your bio grades are invalid but not like your Spanish grades from Season 1 were NOT invalidated and we could have made this a Laybourne mastermind plot to justify it but we didn't (didn't even NEED John Goodman there to sell it since Dan Bakkedahl could handle things)" aspect aside, there still so much that feels chaotic and forced in getting the group back to T/A's apartment table.  

    Yes, it's supposed to be chaotic and jarring like much of this entire season to show how nothing the gang does to keep things together is succeeding– their bonds WILL be challenged– but all the same, it didn't have to be executed in such an awkward fashion (though like everyone else here, I love the individual Greendale 7 Speeches- "LET'S BURN THIS MOTHER DOWN").  Like a lot of the latter portions of Season 3, I'm more in love with the ideas and design present in the narrative than the individual points of execution.  

    I guess Season 2 just made making such comedic character centered gems look so effortless and full of endless energy that I got my hopes up too high in spots following it.  

  • Great review!

    I can't get mad at this one. I just… can't. Yes, the big T/A gets waylaid, but the episode itself is such a formal marvel, and so full of jokes, it more than compensates. And then there's the "Holy crap, I can't believe this made it on air" factor. Incidentally, this is why I love S3: even when the characterization was a little off, or when the story was so/so, the show went on such a fantastic experimentation streak that it crossed the line from commercial entertainment into some kind of weird art performance (in retrospect this probably should have cued us to the fact that Harmon was indulging every possible fantasy before being cancelled or canned).

    Anyway, back to the episode. The T/A resolution is not as much half-assed as it is overly telegraphed. The conflict itself is handled well – Abed's surgically precise dickishness highlights once more the tragic nature of his character. It's striking how Abed can't be just a little pissed off, just as he can't be just a little into impressions, or a little into a chicken empire business. Abed is a creature given to perfection, whether that has to do with Jesus movies or the kind of e-mail that will destroy Troy. Or the perfect configuration for the study group*. And it's this perfectionism that is slowly distancing him from the group.

    Troy on the other hand is a man of compromise. He matures when he rejects perfection – when he gives up being The Truest Repairman so he can see justice fulfilled ("This guy killed someone. Call the police."**). And this is where the true T/A rift lies – in their still irreconcilable ways of understanding life. S3, to its merit, used all of its second half to explore this; if P&B seemed to only half-assedly solve it, it was because it was supposed to be a half-assed patch; Troy needed more time to grow into, and reject his Truest Repairman role, and Abed needed to have that little moment of clarity in the Closet of Doom.

    So maybe it's not so bad that the T/A conflict was solved so matter-of-factly in P&B. At least Jeff got a genuinely good and moving moment of growth out of it (how funny is it that he ends up hijacking the season's most anticipated moment of reconciliation?). And then there were these jokes, in no particular order:

    – Annie tending to the "wounded" with a lint brush and a basinet full of feathers:http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
    – Troy's subliminal boobs drawing: http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
    – The Pillow Man – the only thing creepier than the Greendale Human Being:http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
    – Dan Harmon's barely visible buttcrack: http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
    … and so many more!

    *massive parenthesis – binging on Breaking Bad these past few weeks, I was struck by how much Abed's obsessive script running in RCT reminded me of Walt's sad speech in "Fly": "I truly believe there exists some combination of words – there must exist certain words in a certain specific order that would explain all this." Both Abed and Walt are about endless permutations – controlling the uncontrollable. And what is Evil Abed, if not a Heisenberg-lite, goatee and all?

    **It's pretty striking how dark the show went there without too many people noticing. And Troy's practicality has always struck me as very moving – he rejects gaudy nonsense like The Sun Chamber in favor of a simple testimony – someone has been killed, and needs justice.

  • Agreebuddy! It's like you were reading my notes on the episode. In fact, here's the first note that I took; "Oddly,
    an episode revolving around a fight between Troy and Abed serves as a launching point for
    an exploration of Jeff’s growth." So, to answer your question, I find it endlessly funny that he hijacked the season's most anticipated moment of reconciliation. Great points on the differences in how Troy's outlook on life is more moderated compared to Abed's drive for perfection. Those traits have been there before, but they really do drive the episode as well as future action in the season in a way that I hadn't picked up on. 

  •  Haha, did all that rambling make any sense? I'm so tired I can barely see straight.

    I used to be pretty mad at the episode's cheesy resolution, until I realized it was supposed to be cheesy, because the conflict was never fully solved.

    The more I think about it, the more I get the feeling S3 didn't as much oversimplify the characters as it focused on only one trait for each, and in doing that, it amplified it to nearly expressionistic levels – Jeff's neurotic anger, Abed's OCD, Shirley's anger, and so on.

  • Total sense. I find I have my best writing ideas when I can barely keep my eyes open. I intentionally wrote most of my review in that state so I could be at my most insightful and stuff. Unfortunately, a side effect of that is me getting really rambly, but at least I ramble in ways that seem thoughtful.

    That's the thing about the cheesy resolution-it wasn't supposed to be much of a resolution because it didn't fix anything. The conflict itself didn't arise between Troy and Abed organically (if it weren't for Laybourne setting them up the fight never would have happened), so it really kind of follows that it couldn't end organically. This fight was never about the underlying issues in their friendship, so why should the resolution to the fight solve those issues?

  • "until I realized it was supposed to be cheesy"

    grrrrrrr

  • Great review, SG! I especially liked your ideas about Jeff's growth, and how this episode shows a permanent change in him. I'll definitely look for that next time I watch s3.

    I probably would enjoy the ep more if I'd seen The Civil War, which might make the whole format funny to me, the way the parodies of Glee and Law & Order do in RHM and BLU. Though IMO those episodes comment on the shows they're emulating, both criticizing them and showing why they can be good or at least comforting. I'm not sure if P&B does the same thing with Ken Burns.

    There are definitely some really funny bits in P&B. I noticed a lot more of them the second time I watched it, and I feel like I underrated the ep a little bit when it aired (like just about everyone else, I was frustrated that the Troy vs. Abed plot was barely a spark, much less the full on fire I'd been expecting), and I probably overrated DEoID at the time, because the Britta/Subway stuff was so great.

    Do you think this ep (or the 2 parts taken together) were important for Annie, and her processing her feelings towards Jeff? Or did you just find them to be re-treading stuff they'd already done? I'm curious because I'm not sure myself.

  • I agree that this episode isn't so much a parody of the tropes of the style, a la RHM, BLU, or IDF, as it is a straight up adaptation of the style. I think it still works because of the juxtaposition of the high art of the documentary style and the low art of PILLOW FIGHT, though. But no, P&B didn't have the commentary that those other episodes did, though it did offer a new aspect those other episodes didn't have.

    Annie…Annie's a tricky one. As I mentioned, she's pretty much the good angel on Jeff's shoulder in this episode. That isn't a new thing for her, as it's something she's been doing all the way back to…sheesh, early S1 I suppose. However, after her story in Horror Fiction, her judgmental-ness towards Jeff does take on a new light. She's not just being a good friend, she's actively trying to fix him and turn him into suitable boyfriend material. She wants to change Jeff into her idealized version of him. I don't know if that counts as retconning her interactions with him pre-Horror Fiction, but it adds a new dimension to every time she suggests how he should act to be a good person going forward. So it is re-treading stuff that has been covered, but it is re-treading it having provided the viewer new information that adds a new dimension to her actions. So I suppose, if I may paraphrase this episode, it is re-treading, but also, it isn't?