Community S4E09 – Intro to Felt Surrogacy

“Intro to Felt Surrogacy” marks new territory for Community, as it forays into the world of puppetry, song, and children’s programming. In many ways, it’s a bit like “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”: it asks us to buy into a conceit that needs just a bit more suspension of disbelief than usual, what we see on screen is taking place in the characters’ imaginations rather than in reality, and the children’s genre is matched with a surprisingly dark story. Our regular cast members are reduced to voice actors while the main action plays out in a brand new medium. Any time a show attempts an episode of this scale, there are two possibilities: either it will successfully make the leap and stick the landing, resulting in a truly creative episode, or it will fall short, landing somewhere in the gaping chasm of ideas that really don’t work.

“Intro to Felt Surrogacy” falls into that void.

We open in the study room, with a silent study group that can barely make eye contact. When Dean Pelton arrives, we learn this awkward silence has been going on for days, and the group has refused to speak of whatever is bothering them. Always eager to help his favourite students, the Dean produces a puppet likeness of everyone, anCommunity Groupd encourages “puppet therapy” — discussing the traumatic event they’re reeling from via the puppets. Though they’re reluctant, they find it works, and the bulk of the episode takes place as a puppet flashback.

What makes this episode fail is that the story can’t live up to the structure or concept of the episode. The puppets themselves are fantastically rendered and fun to watch. But the songs are twee and unnecessary, and the story is weak. It’s difficult to believe the group decided to go on a hot air balloon, more difficult to believe the entire group fit onto a hot air balloon, and nearly impossible to believe the group took off in a hot air balloon without the hot air balloon driver… and yet the story only gets more improbable from there. They meet a man in the woods who gives them hallucinogenic berries.

Community is made up of several improbable stories. It’s not unusual for the show to ask its audience to suspend their disbelief, or perhaps accept that Greendale College inhabits a bizarre parallel universe that shares our pop culture but is bound by far more cartoon-y laws of reality than we are. But for those episodes to work, we have to really want them to — the concept and the meat of the story must be very good. Sadly, in “Felt Surrogacy,” they simply aren’t.

The emotional crisis in this episodeCommunity Shirley Puppet comes from each group member’s belief that they had shared a deep dark secret and that the rest of the group is judging them for it. As it turns out, thanks to the drugs, no one remembers anyone else’s secret… except for Shirley, who had the misfortune of sharing hers first during puppet therapy. She thought she saw her husband with another woman and followed him, getting so distracted that she forgot her children at the grocery store. It’s easy to see how this would make Shirley feel guilty, but not so easy to see why the rest of the group — other than, surprisingly, Jeff — reinforces her belief by acting like this is terrible. Rather than comfort Shirley by telling her it was an honest mistake and she’s a great mother, the group decides to re-share all the secrets they’d originally shared while high so that they all feel bad, forcing the episode into the realm of yet another obscure character choice.

The secrets the rest of the group reveal range from unremarkable to bizarre to downright unbelievable for the character. Annie, once so horrified at the prospect of being mistaken for a cheater, admits that she’s let the history professor rub her feet in order to get test answers. Though the group assures her this doesn’t make her a “slutty cheater,” no one, not even Britta, seems to find it at all disturbing that their history professor is preying on young female students like that.

Britta, meanwhile, admits that despite her political activism she has never voted in an actual election of any kind. Really? The appeal in Britta’s character has always been the way she accurately parodies a particular type of person, one who desperately wants to change the world but has absolutely no skill set to do so. Like the rest of this episode, the idea that Britta has never voted is a stretch too far.Community Abed Puppet

Jeff tells the group he found the “perfect woman,” but was scared off by the fact that she had a son, and now he’s worried he’s going to become his father. This is perhaps the most reasonable of the group’s secrets. Troy admits that as a child he accidentally started a forest fire, which, until now, we’ve never heard of. Um…okay. Pierce has never actually had sex with Eartha Kitt — surprise. And Abed? It turns out Abed never shared a secret with the group that night, and was merely acting sullen and quiet because they were. What a thrilling revelation.

The final nail in this episode’s coffin was the way it both begins and ends with extra emphasis on the Dean’s increasingly creepy obsession with Jeff. The Dean’s crush on Jeff has always straddled the line between humour and uncomfortable sexual harassment, but recently it has been pushed further and further into the realm of creepy. Jeff’s puppet is shirtless and has a tiny miniature whip in his hand. The episode ends with the Dean fantasizing that the Jeff puppet is flirting with him. It’s too much, especially in an already disturbing episode.

“Intro to Felt Surrogacy” aimed high, but in the end it should act as a cautionary tale to Community‘s writing team: a theme episode isn’t guaranteed to be good merely because it has a theme.


You can watch “Intro to Felt Surrogacy” onAmazon Instant Video.

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