A review of tonight’s “Community” coming up just as soon as we do the Reverse Danny Thomas…
If “Community” was going to do an episode-long salute to Pierce, a departed character who never fit in entirely with the study group, played by an actor who could be complicated to work with, then you can be sure “Community” was going to really blow the doors off for the exit of Troy, perhaps the show’s most beloved character, played by the far more easygoing Donald Glover.
So as Glover heads off to focus on his rap career(*), develop a comedy at FX and explore other opportunities, “Geothermal Escapism” sees Troy off right, in an episode that translates Abed’s trauma at losing his best friend into something the audience and the rest of the student body can understand: another campus-wide game that turns Greendale into a hellscape.
(*) I neglected to point out last week that Pierce’s yacht, the Childish Tycoon, is a nod to Glover’s MC alter ego.
Dan Harmon tried to retire paintball with the brief film noir gag near the end of season 3, and the messy season 4 finale suggested he was right to do so. But changing the chaos-inducing game from paintball to Hot Lava breathed new life into the conceit, and it helped that it was less of a pop culture pastiche than usual. There were specific references, to be sure (Abed falling into the lava evoking, among other things, Ripley at the end of “Alien 3”), but it was more of a general post-apocalyptic nightmare. The fun was more in seeing the ways that the Greendale students and teachers adapted to the game, whether Chang joining the locker boys, Buzz constructing a mobile desk, or the various uses for chairs (centipeding, inchworming, chair walking). It was weird and inventive and fun in a way that “Community” does so well.
Just as importantly, though, there was a genuine character story to it. This is a big deal for Troy, for Abed, for the rest of the study group, and for the show, and Britta’s concern throughout spoke to her role as both Troy’s ex-girlfriend and the group’s non-appointed therapist. The show’s best high concept episodes have an emotional spine to them, so that it matters that these particular characters are going through this crazy story, and that was the case here.
And Troy’s farewell scene – scored to a new version of “Come Sail Away” by Styx (which is both appropriate to his journey and – as you can see in the clip below – something that always makes Troy cry) arranged by “Community” composer Ludwig Göransson and sung by Aimee Mann – was lovely and perfect. It hit on the specific nature of his relationship with each member of the study group while depicting Troy at his most mature and generous (telling Britta, for instance, “You’re the best, and I love you,” while Colorado-bound Jeff confesses just how much cooler Troy is about to be) and was a reminder of those moments (like the end of “Mixology Certification,” or his conquering of the air-conditioning repair school) where Troy already demonstrated the ability to be the man Pierce posthumously wants to turn him into. (And in having Pierce hire LeVar Burton as Troy’s companion for the voyage, we even got a Pierce/Troy farewell of sorts.)
I can understand a young, ambitious guy like Glover wanting to set out on his own to see what he can accomplish. But Troy was one of the show’s most reliable, versatile, laugh-out-loud funny characters, and I’ll miss having him in these remaining 8 episodes (and, potentially, in a sixth season and/or a movie). I’ll miss his misunderstandings, I’ll miss his naivete, I’ll miss his enthusiasm, and I will absolutely miss him crying about everything.
If he had to go, he deserved a great send-off, and “Geothermal Escapism” absolutely qualified.
Some other thoughts:
* Chang’s same-sex celebrity crush is future “Community” guest Nathan Fillion!
* Loved the mixture of sadness and boastfulness in Britta telling Buzz, “I get it. I lived in New York.” Also, the payoff to the knock-knock joke rivalry with Jeff – “Who’s there, bitch? Floor! Floor!” was fantastic. What a splendid episode for Gillian Jacobs, which indeed got to show Britta as the best, early and often.
* The minor recurring characters all make confessions during the raid on Shirley Island, including Magnitude admitting, “I’m actually British!” (Which Harry Potter fans already knew.)
* Troy reacting to Britta climbing onto The Orb: “I had a dream like this, but it was sexual!”
* So sad that Troy finally has the ability to talk to LeVar Burton and his questions are so lame – and yet sound like so many of the ones I hear at Comic-Con panels, in fan encounters with actors, or in songs by Biff from “Back to the Future.”
So enjoy Troy crying one more time, and then I want to know: what did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com