written by Donald Diego | directed by Tristram Shapeero
I liked this episode, although it was my least favourite of season 5 so far. I didn't find either storyline very involving or hilarious, but everything rolled along pleasantly and (for those in-the-know) it featured some left-field guest roles.
The study group split in two this week, which usually happens on the show. Jeff (Joel McHale), Buzz (Jonathan Banks), Britta (Gillian Jacobs) and Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) discovered a hidden cache of pristine chemistry textbooks, with a street value of $160 each—and began to argue about how best to split the money, which was complicated when Chang (Ken Jeong) stumbles upon their find. It felt like we've seen variations on the idea of friends turning its squabbling rivals, a few too many times, although the ridiculousness of the set-up was amusing (with the books being treated like packs of cocaine).
Better was the situation between Abed (Danny Pudi) and Annie (Alison Brie) now they're living together, as it was interesting to see the show strengthen their relationship now Troy's disappeared from Abed's life. It gives Abed a different dynamic to play in social situations away from the college, and we also got to see his blossoming relationship with girlfriend Rachel (Brie Larson). The issue here was a decision about who'll move in with them: Abed's aforementioned lover, or Annie's rotund and monosyllabic brother (Spencer Crittenden). To decide, they took the unusual decision to play a competitive game of "Pile of Bullets" (a VCR interactive game, hosted by a cowboy played by Vince Gilligan).
The latter storyline was definitely my favourite, partly because of the guest-stars. Few would realise Vince Gilligan's the creator of Breaking Bad (and ex-staff writer on The X-Files), but I'm guessing only a tiny minority would know that Spencer Crittenden is the geek host of a Dungeons & Dragons segment on Harmontown (the podcast presented by Community creator Dan Harmon). For those who subscribe to Harmontown, like myself, it was a treat to see Spencer given an opportunity like this—to become a fairly significant part of the show's universe, as a lead character's polar opposite sibling. I'm just a little confused he wasn't part of next week's episode instead, which sounds like a more natural home for him because it's the show's second D&D-inspired instalment...
This week's tag was also fantastic, and probably the funniest thing about the entire episode: a flashback to 1993 where Vince Gilligan's actor character was given the news he's got the "Pile of Bullets" job, much to the excitable delight of his hot wife (Gina Gershon). Considering this was Gilligan's first acting role, I was amazed he was so good. After last week's appearance by Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz, Community's becoming a place where showrunners can dip their toe into the world of acting!
Overall, "VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing" is going to evaporate from my memory very quickly, but it wasn't a bad effort from new writer Donald Diego. I loved a few things about it (including Abed's sweet attempt to fix his relationship with Rachel involving a watering can being poured over his head to simulate rain for a rom-com-style climax), but it just wasn't funny enough to hit a sweet spot for me.