Episode Ten – “Basic RV Repair and Palmistry”
The idea behind RVs is simple – they combine the comfort of home with the adventure of the open road; the known with the unknown; transience with familiarity. When sitcoms hit the road, as they often do, the same idea applies: take the characters everyone knows, throw ‘em someplace new and see what happens.
“Basic RV Repair and Palmistry” explores this conceit, but only to an extent.
Sitcoms love to travel. Some actually do it (Parks and Rec went to London, Louie went to China etc.) while others, like Community, opt for recreating the experience on a soundstage. The philosophy is the same though – “hitting the road” gives audiences (and filmmakers) a break from looking at the same set week after week. It’s good for everyone’s sanity and also a great storytelling device in and of itself. Dropping familiar characters into unfamiliar territory opens up a slew of “fish out of water” story lines. The threat of the unknown makes for great dramatic tension and shows like Game of Thrones utilize this device to EPIC effect.
That being said, does “Basic RV Repair and Palmistry” make the most of that premise?
Episode ten opens with the gang crammed into Elroy’s RV on a winding road in the Colorado Rockies. Frankie has found a buyer for the Dean’s most recent impulse purchase – a 19 foot ceramic hand – and they’re en-route to deliver it and bail Greendale out of yet another financial crisis of the Dean’s moronic making.
First off, I’m definitely not comparing Community to Game of Thrones. That’s like comparing apples with Valyrian-forged oranges. It’s just that the “road-trip” conceit is full of possibilities and I found myself disappointed that Community opted for the simplest one – out of gas and stranded. I mean, for God’s sake, this is the show that shot an impromptu sci-fi epic in a cafeteria just last week! If the gang breaks down at the side of a mountain road, everything from alien abductions to a Wolf-Man appearance should be on the table. This is a personal grievance though, and what the episode does accomplish are, in fact, the two things Dan Harmon promised season six would deliver: episodes outside Greendale and an emphasis on relationships.
Before season six premiered, Dan Harmon went on record saying he doesn’t want Community to become Saved by the Bell with every episode taking place in the school. Season six will expand outside and the “fate of Greendale” (which took up much of the previous two seasons) would be pushed to the back burner in favor of developing character and relationships. You can read the interview here. So the choice for conflict to come from within the group instead of outside (Alien Wolf-Man?!), while perhaps less exciting, is a conscious one.
Inside the RV, everyone’s becoming increasingly angry with everyone else. Elroy is mad about his battery being drained, Abed’s attempts to flash back in time gets on Jeff’s nerves, and everyone is mad at the Dean for buying the big, stupid hand in the first place. Just when things appear to be spiraling out of control, however, resolution comes from an unexpected place – Frankie. Ten episodes in, she’s learned that the study group sometimes needs a firm, uh, hand, but other times, just a helpful word is enough to refocus their crazy into something useful. That’s exactly what she does with Abed when she recognizes the only way forward is to embrace his time-travel delusion instead of trying to snap him out of it like everyone else is. Evidently, coming late to the party has afforded her an outside perspective that’s proving more and more useful as the show nears the end of its 13 episode order.
Frankie’s ability to contend with Abed at his “meta-ness” is a clear indicator that her relationship with the study group has matured. Even Jeff was impressed. So even though Community may have squandered a premise here or there, maybe Frankie rounding into form is enough for a familiar show to feel new again.
Justin Rawana is recapping Community season 6 in a week-by-week format.
Read all recaps of Community Season 6 episodes: 9 here, 8 here, 7 here, 6 here, 5 here, 4 here, 3 here, 2 here and episode 1 here. Community airs every Tuesday on Yahoo Screen.