Tuesday, April 21, 2015

6x07 "Advanced Safety Features" (Six Seasons And One More Dance) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]


"Advanced Safety Features"
Original Airdate: April 21, 2015

First off: it's really bizarre that this episode with a running plot line about liking each other came right after the episode where we questioned why these guys liked each other. No mention of last week's episode was made and none of the characters seemed to think the reason why some members of the group might not like other members could be because of the massive invasion of privacy that happened a week ago.

Is it possible that this episode was actually meant to air before "Basic Email Security"? Nope. That's very unlikely, since even the production codes line up one after the other.

So the only logical explanation here is that "Basic Email Security" took place in an alternate reality where our lovable misfit characters are all awful to each other. Ta-da! Mystery solved. Moving on to this week's Prime Reality episode, entitled “Advanced Security Features”.

Britta/Rick

I was going to try and make a Romeo and Juliet prologue parody here, but it's 9:00 in the morning and my Shakespeare parody powers don't kick in until at least noon. Just acknowledge that the tale of Rick and Britta is a tale of star-crossed lovers, torn asunder by the addictive high of selling stuff to people who don't need it. It started with Subway (although I guess people occasionally need a sandwich?) and now Rick is doing guerilla marketing for Honda, Community's other very forgiving, very in-on-the-joke sponsor. Britta is less than happy about this, not only because Britta's anti-capitalist, but also because it means that she can't be with Rick. Again. Like I said: star-crossed lovers.

This episode is kind of a revisit of the last time Britta and Rick wanted to be together but couldn’t be ("Digital Exploration of Interior Design"), but I think I like this one because it shows a growth – especially in Britta’s character. She actually takes Rick to see her parents, repeatedly mentions that she wants a real relationship and not just sex in the back seat of a Honda CRV, and even joins Rick in guerilla marketing for Honda even though she considers herself morally against it. Maybe Rick grew as well, but no one except Britta can figure out which parts of Rick’s personality are carefully chosen affectations meant to sell products and which are genuine, so Rick’s character growth will remain a mystery.

I do love that this is another episode that proves that Britta isn't completely incompetent at everything she tries. We learned in season three that she’s excellent at design – especially for weddings – and now we learn that she's actually pretty good at selling stuff to people, which is a valuable quality in a bartender as well as a guerilla marketer. I’ve always had this theory that Britta is incredibly perceptive and that means stuff like planning weddings (because being perceptive visually is still being perceptive) and selling people what they might want or need would definitely come easy to her. It’s only when her own ego gets in the way that she messes up, like whenever she attempts psychology/therapy and ends up insulting her patients in some way. But egoless Britta? Or a Britta that isn’t wholly invested in what she’s doing? Naturally skilled and very wonderful.

Jeff + Elroy

Here’s where the storyline about liking people comes in, and I guess it’s a good one even though it’s short and barely-there, because it does at least show a growth in Jeff over the course of the episode. Now if the show could just expand that whole “character growth” thing a bit and make it happen over the course of the season (or the series), that’s be nice.

Jeff starts his story when Annie and Abed find him in his office, drinking and playing on his phone (Bejeweled? Texting mysterious people we never see? Who knows!) and tell him that they’re going to play a game with Elroy in order to get him to like them more. Jeff, because he can’t show he cares about anything, ever, without fearing that his coolness will come into question, dismisses this as lame. Of course he does. His theory is that showing aloofness = people thinking you’re cool and liking you. Annie makes fun of this theory, because of course she does – for Annie, caring about people is about as cool as you can get.

When Jeff realizes that Elroy likes the group just fine, but might not like him, he starts freaking out and trying to find ways to win Elroy over. At first this B-plot seems like another case of Jeff simply not liking when people don’t like him [Jenn's Note: or don't like him as much as they like others ("Beginner Pottery," "Asian Population Studies," etc.)], but it turns out in the end that Jeff is upset because he does like Elroy and wants to be his friend and never knew that Elroy disliked him. It’s not the fact that he’s disliked that’s the problem; it’s the idea that Jeff is disliked by someone he respects and thinks of as a friend.

Jeff’s original plan of aloofness in order to gain likability flies out the window when he gives in to Annie and Abed’s advice to just be vulnerable for a change and flat-out tells Elroy he likes him. When Elroy calls him a good guy and says they’re going to be friends, though, Jeff weakly attempts to go back to his aloofness and responds, “Yeah, fine, whatever.”

Yeah, I said Jeff grew, not that he changed. The way things are going, Jeff will always be the sort of person who tries not to care, or at least tries to look like he doesn’t care. The fact that he attempted to push away his instincts and opened up this episode, though, at least shows that he’s capable of moving past them just a bit. Should Jeff be more evolved than this at this point in the series? I definitely think so, but I also think there’s a comfort in falling into old habits for some people and I just suppose Jeff is one of those people.

It looks like the writers of the show also seem to be those people, since these characters haven’t been changing much over the years. This is unfortunate because falling into the comfort of old habits is as true to humanity as it is bad for storytelling.

Other Stuff:
  • Greendale’s having another dance! [Jenn's Note: How many actually is this? Can someone count? I feel like we're up to seven or eight dances already, but maybe I'm making that up.]
  • “Do you believe half your own politics?” “Yeeeeeeeah(?) …Yeah!” A+ delivery, Gillian Jacobs.
  • I agree with Abed’s theory on DJs and have expressed this to my brother, who listens to music with DJs, on several occasions. He does not take it well.
  • Jeff’s off-screen response to Abed on the topic of guerilla marketing was PERFECT. Is it weird that that one little joke was my highlight of the episode? I just really appreciate the editing choice of having Jeff’s line off-screen.
  • “I’m just gonna give this school’s assets a quick freezy-weezy.”
  • What was so special about Troy, Frankie? LITERALLY EVERYTHING. HE WAS THE HEART AND SOUL OF THE GROUP AND I MISS HIM MORE WITH EACH PASSING DAY. [Jenn's Note: What Deb said.]
  • Was Jeff’s “Troy was very gifted at steel drums” line ADR’d? I think he actually said… kettledrums? Could they not get a kettledrum?
  • Annie cares enough about Britta to warn her about Rick being in the parking lot! These little moments of care between Annie and Britta are great, now DO A WHOLE EPISODE OF THEM.
  • “Now, I have one more class, but if you can wait forty minutes, I will meet you – NUH UH!” A+ delivery, Alison Brie.
  • Annie and Abed trying out new handshakes is great, but I think they should go back to that one they did in the first season finale as Annie was leaving with Vaughn.
  • Okay, maybe Annie and Jeff going “MNEEEH!” at each other is the highlight of the episode for me. That was adorable. [Jenn's Note: So adorable that it deserves inclusion into this post.]

  • I found little things like Jeff saying “Hey, party people” and calling Annie and Abed “goofs” to be charming and indicative of Jeff’s affection for his friends, which I really needed after last week’s trip into that alternate reality where everyone’s awful.
  • “Would you say that I’m Level 7 Susceptible?” “No, because why would I? Because that’s moon man talk.” A+ delivery, Paget Brewster. Wow, the ladies are owning the line delivery this episode.
  • Frankie and the Dean had a funny little plot but it wasn’t really big enough to include in the main review. I loved Frankie’s inability to comfort the Dean without calling him an idiot (and variations thereof) though.
  • “It’s Elroy’s favorite band, too. I once hallucinated one of their music videos in his RV!”
  • “’Fine!’ That’s you. That’s my impression of you. Jaded hipster a-hole.”
  • Did Elroy start singing some “I Love You (For Sentimental Reasons)” at the end there? Yay! I love you, I love you, I love you, etc.
  • The running gag of the Honda guy trying to disappear mysteriously was fun, especially when Britta just humored him at the end.
What did you all think of Community's half-way point this season? Did you miss Subway... er, Rick? Let us know what you think in the comments below. Jenn will be back next week for the review of "Intro to Recycled Cinema." Until then! :)

12 comments:

  1. First, thanks for the review. This is one worked for me better than the last one.

    I thought this episode had a clear, intertwined, A, B, & C storylines with the Dean's Level 7 Susceptible problems driving (in a Honda Fit) the C, and just like most 3 level episodes, I wish it was paired down to two with a running gag of people constantly returning Honda merchandise and sequestering the Dean. That said I enjoyed this episode almost as much as the first three of this season.

    This season has really worked to rehabilitate Britta, and this episode spends a lot of time with Sub…Rick and Britta as she tries to be with someone who cares for her. The problem is that Rick’s life isn’t going in a direction Britta can accept, which BTW is a real thing that everyone who dated during college gets. Like all real life jobs skewered by the show, guerrilla marketing isn’t a real job (despite how much it has meant to Community), but some type of covert lifestyle. Britta finally convinces Rick to leave the job, but he can’t miss out on a next score, and he leaves Britta heartbroken. Unlike Britta’s responses in the past, this Britta doesn’t get drunk and sleeps with the wrong guy. She goes to spend time with her parents, which only sort of works. Britta finally has the right response to something, and it has been nice how this season has re-embraced the Britta of the first two seasons.

    What didn’t work for me was the B storyline of Elroy not liking Jeff. Why? Never gets said really. Never gets resolved. Doesn’t Chang anything. Jeff dismisses Elroy’s affection to avoid not looking cool, despite everything he did to get it. Yes this story line gives us material for Annie, Jeff, and Abed, but other than introducing another weird board game, I just never could have gotten into this. It would have been much better to do….

    More with the C storyline of the Dean buying everything made by Honda. The Dean’s gullibility has been normally linked to his affection for Jeff, Dalmatians, and outlandish costumes, but this storyline really touches on his upbeat, but still innocent, nature. Jim Rash is so good at playing the Dean, and what time he gets he just chews up the screen with it this week. His pairing with Paget Brewster’s Frankie has been so incredible. They are so different. Every interaction is awkward and caring even when Frankie is comforting the Dean while still saying he is an idiot over and over. It would have been great if the gang worked together to keep the Dean from shopping and constantly toting around Honda products to return. It could have been a group project with pairings that could have still had the new handshake, Elroy and Jeff could have still bonded, and the products would have gotten their day without trouble.

    Like the KFC and Subway episodes from the first 3 seasons, this episodes focus on Honda with a wink, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more, say no more (and that’s from Monty Python and go see all of it if you didn’t that reference!) approach probably went overboard, but Billy Zane’s silly management shtick kept it from getting overbearing. I get why these episodes exist, but this one just doesn’t compare with Basic Rocket Science or Digital Exploration of Interior Design, but it was better than Basic Sandwich from Season 5 so there’s that. The steel drum joke didn’t land for me, but it was nice to see Frankie trying to help the group. They have really done a good job of working Paget Brewster into the show. As much as I love Elroy’s character, Frankie has really been the better edition. I think it shows in episodes like this one where she has very little screen time, but the idea of who she is so clear to the writers and Brewster, there is no missed beat.

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    1. The problem is that Rick’s life isn’t going in a direction Britta can accept...

      Ehhhhhhhhhhh I don't think that was the point. I think the point was that she wasn't sure if anything about him was actually genuine (as is pretty much revealed at the end). She never knew if he really loved Avatar, for example, or if he only loved it because it was popular and therefore he's expected to love it. She wanted a real relationship with opinions and thoughts and disagreement, and Sub... Rick couldn't give that to her. He couldn't have an opinion that was REAL and not forced by his guerrilla-marketing background.

      Britta finally has the right response to something, and it has been nice how this season has re-embraced the Britta of the first two seasons.

      Can I say how happy I was that Britta's starting to try and maintain a new relationship with her parents? I love it. I love it so much.

      What didn’t work for me was the B storyline of Elroy not liking Jeff. Why? Never gets said really.

      I'm oooooooookay with this if only because Jeff never needs to have a reason for why he's disliked. He just immediately gets weird if someone doesn't like him or likes someone else better. From a storytelling perspective, I wish I knew. I could just infer I guess and assume that Elroy doesn't like Jeff because he's kind of a tool? Because of all that happened last week? IDK, man. IDK. That was one weak story though.

      I'm gonna completely and totally admit to getting ready for work while I watched this episode and I totally ignored the C-plot apart from the end. I got the gist of it well enough though. I'd like some more Dean/Frankie interactions in the future, too, because they're pretty endearing together.

      I think it shows in episodes like this one where she has very little screen time, but the idea of who she is so clear to the writers and Brewster, there is no missed beat.

      Well, yeah, and that was the whole meta commentary by Chang, right? The show doesn't know exactly which void Elroy is supposed to fill. With Frankie, she was never filling a void, really -- they managed to flesh her out and make her a good character by just tossing her into the group and letting her breathe. I still feel like the show is trying to decide WHAT role Elroy should play and right now he mostly just plays... in the background. Occasionally making jokes. And I love Keith David a lot and think he has immense potential for more stories. (And better stories, too.)

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    2. I really thought Britta loved Rick, but the only trope I can think of that fits is Sam and Diane from the series finale. They love each other. They are wrong for each other. That's it. He doesn't really love Avatar, but he can't say that in public. He couldn't be real in public, and that wasn't enough for Britta (and it shouldn't be enough for anybody).

      We are locked-step on Britta and her parents. More of that.

      Plot B was weak. Agreed. Jeff's obsession with being the most preferred person is well established and you probably have a point. I just didn't think it worked well as a B story.

      I think the meta comment from Chang, and like everyone trying to label Frankie as the new fill-in-the-blank, is part of the point. Troy and Shirley are not replaceable. They have done a better job with Frankie, but they really could do so much more with Elroy. Keith David has been impressive for years, but with all of the trope twisting that Community is known for, there are some characters where they still end up under serving. Shirley's character got next to nothing in S5. I still want more Elroy.

      I liked the episode overall. I didn't like parts of it. I loved parts of it. Lawnmore Maintenance is still my favorite of the season, but what this season needs is more Alison Brie. I think that has been my biggest disappointment with this season.

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    3. Elroy didn't like Jeff because his attempts at staying cool and indifferent reminded him of how it was with Natalie. This is implied when both do the same gesture after Elroy leaves singing "I love you I love you..." They are obsessed with keeping up their cool public facades. Jeff has shown that he can drop that facade when he's with friends and will eventually have to do this with Elroy as well (and probably will when no one else is watching). This tied in very well to the A plot where Rick also wanted to uphold a certain, faked image of himself and Britta in public.

      I very much like the bait-and-switch plot tactics that certain storylines have used this season. Episode 5 led you to believe that Jeff would have to patch up with Willy somehow. Instead the whole conflict happened because he and the Dean still didn't trust each other enough and hadn't confessed their friendship to each other after all these years. Episode 6 eschewed the learning the lesson bit from the third act altogether and instead had them protect the core value of accepting everyone at Greendale (echoes of Basic Crisis Room Decorum) when they give a comedian with a bad choice of career some desperately needed income. And Episode 7: you'd think this is something Jeff would have to fix, but it turns out it was Elroy's long-harbored issues that prevented them from connecting.

      I thought Ep7 was very good, but then me being Britta fan and Gillian being on fire onscreen again has something to do with that. I liked when her and Rick's separation played out like a hardened criminal lapsing back into old habits. How could Britta ever trust him again when he could give in to old impulses any minute? And she knows she can't.

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    4. Oh yeah, and there I go calling Julie Natalie. "She's an artist etc", heh!

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    5. Although not completely sold, the Julie/Jeff cool and indifferent comparison is a good one Log Lad. That said, I don't like being the one baited, but these are insightful comments. I liked the nobody is named Natalie joke, but even Hootie and the Blowfish laughed about it. Acting like everyone was stupid for guessing it was a little too close to annoying.

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  2. IDK, Deb, I feel like that Jeff/Annie moment and the resolution with Britta (that scene where she watches Rick walk away from her to go market at the dean was really well done and I felt for her) are the only things I can say with absolute certainty that I LIKED this episode.

    And really, at this point... I need to like more than just random scattered things, you know?

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    1. Absolutely, and I agree that there wasn't a lot to genuinely like in this episode. The best I can say about it is that it was trying to give characters arcs instead of letting them remain flat while jokes happened around them, but the thing about (recent) Community is tiny episode arcs don't really cut it anymore, because we've learned through experience that they're not actually building to anything bigger. Jeff never learns, Annie never "grows up," Britta never matures - like I said: the writers keep falling back into old tropes because, I think, it's easier for them than coming up with new ways to use these characters. If the characters never change and never grow, the writers never have to say, "We could have an episode with Jeff hating not being liked but, darn - he grew out of that in season three."

      Little character things like Jeff showing affection for his friends (dancing for Abed's movie in "Laws of Robotics & Party Rights" or calling them "goofs" in this episode) tell us that there's evolution happening on some level, but it's not the "big picture" evolution that I really want. I think season one's character development gave me really high expectations for this show that I can't shake, even though it's been disappointing me on that front for five seasons now.

      I still liked a lot of the jokes, plus overall it wasn't anywhere near as bad as last week's episode and it didn't hurt the characters the way last week did... but yeah: the show used to be more than "a few nice jokes and not horrible."

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    2. Those little moments used to be enough really because there was at least some trajectory as to where the season was going -- what was the major arc present? In season four, I think the show tried to bring that arc back: this was a show about messed up people who learned to love each other and a school and the people IN the school. And the season ended with Jeff (and the ENTIRE REST OF THE GROUP) realizing that their love was important and carried them through and it was immeasurable that way.

      AAAAAAAND then season five happened. No real trajectory or growth, there, and it was mostly recycled in terms of loose "plots" and "arcs" and all of it went to crap anyway once Troy left. And season six is having the SAME problem. What's the arc this time around? At least last year I guess we had that really loose "save Greendale" arc. But... what's the point of it all this year? Really?

      I do like the little moments of affection the group shows for each other -- how Annie and Abed grew closer, Jeff and Annie teasing each other, Britta and Annie sharing a moment, the dean being scolded by Frankie, etc. but it feels... flat. And kind of pointless, because it feels like you just have spurts of ~moments~ that don't really amount to much in the end.

      And you go back to things that SHOULD matter (like, say, Jeff's heart being opened or Troy departing, etc.) and the show drops them like a hot potato because it's so afraid of committing to anything that will alter our enjoyment of the characters or compromise the "jokes" that it squashes them all like bugs.

      ... That was more rant-y than I initially intended. All this to say that I didn't hate this episode at all, but I just wonder if I'll ever feel anything other than "... well that was okay" again? And yeah, uh, "a few nice jokes and not horrible" is A TERRIBLE SCALE TO MEASURE THE SHOW ON. And yet, here we are.

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  3. First of all, thanks for the review – not really much to add, other than after the sturm und drang of last week's episode it was a relief to get back to something a bit lighter and fluffier, though I wish it moved things on a bit more. With only 13 episodes in a season, cute filler episodes (and it was cute, even if was filler) are a luxury the show really can't afford. Some mini thoughts if I may -

    How long has Britta had straight hair? It really suits her, at least when it's down. Also, I'm sure after she has sex with Rick in the back of his car she calls him Frank, fortunately he doesn't seem to notice. Who's Frank?...

    How come Annie and Abed suddenly seem so coupled up? Two episodes ago she seemed to be barely holding it together under the strain of living with him, now they're inseparable. What gives? It's nice to see the fun side of Annie, but is she somebody who can only cope with Abed by adopting strict procedures to avoid inflaming his obsessions or is she the new Troy, fully on his wavelength and joining in all his escapades? Continuity people, continuity.

    On the subject of Troy – I never rated him much when he was in the show, he seemed fundamentally insubstantial, likeable enough but not fulfilling a real role. But you guys are right – there's something missing about the show now that he's gone in a way that you couldn't really say about Pierce or even Shirley. I guess that's the thing about hearts, you don't really notice they're there until they stop.

    Jeff weakly attempts to go back to his aloofness and responds, “Yeah, fine, whatever.”
    Yeah, I said Jeff grew, not that he changed.


    Fortunately, I think this was addressed by the brief blink and you'll miss it moment at the end when you see Jeff and Elroy in Britta's bar (“The Vatican”? Seriously?) sharing a Scotch like two old friends. I think he has evolved, at least a little.

    Oh, and there was one other nice but very brief Jeff/Annie moment – at the end, when the group are congratulating Jeff for manoeuvring Frankie into playing the drums (and doesn't Frankie look like she's having a blast?) Annie turns and throws him a delightfully warm “what are we going to do with you?” sort of smile.

    And a couple of not so happy thoughts -

    There was actually one call back to last week – we had Jeff raging at Frankie for calling him a functional alcoholic in an email to HR, and this week we see him in his office, alone, drinking scotch during daylight hours. This is not a good sign, and I doubt it's a coincidence.

    We're seven episodes into a 13 episode season, and we've had – what? Two, maybe three cute Jeff/Annie scenes, and no J/A stories. What is Harmon playing at? Most showrunners in TV would kill to have the sort of chemistry Joel and Alison have between characters on their shows, and yet he's trying to deny it even exists and may even now be foisting the idea of Annie and Abed as a couple on us – seriously Dan, do you despise the fans that much? I hope I'm wrong, but...

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  4. After seeing reviews and comments for last episode, and having been frustrated by how last season didn't tackle the entire season's worth of plot potential that "Cooperative Polygraphy" provided them with, I decided to play an experiment and simply skip last week's episode and see if it had any bearing on future episodes.

    So far, none whatsoever! Not a good sign.

    On the other hand, I did like this episode. I like a lot of the Britta-centered episodes, and this was charming and funny.

    I do agree that there's yet to have an arc solidify for this season other than "allow Britta to be actually awesome again," which is great but not enough. I don't think season 4 had anywhere near the arc you believe it had, though; the finale was nice enough, but internally it was such a mess. Season 5 didn't fix anything, and unless season 6 gets some fire under it, well, skipping last week's episode it's still doing more for me than the second half of season 5 by miles, but come on with fire, please! This is the sixth season fans have been shooting for! Go out with a bang, not with a whimper (the way it would have been if season 5 had been the end).

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  5. I thought there were a lot of great moments in this episode actually. They did seem a little scattered but I think if this ep were in a stronger season overall we wouldn't be nearly as bothered. But because the show has been struggling we want something great that is going to rescue it for us.

    Mostly I was pleased to see a Britta centric story that really showed her off (actually looking for a mature relationship, being pretty good at her job and interacting with her parents). Jeff hasn't been a compelling character for me for awhile which saddens me because I think they are wasting Joe McHale (his reaction shots are gold still). If they have created a show where we are not satisfied with saying it was pretty funny and not horrible, that is a good thing, but it will mean that just funny isn't going to be enough when we know they can do more.

    Deb mentioned most of the little charming moments but I will add a few because I was happy they made me smile. I do want to smile and enjoy this show.

    - I did laugh at Chang's horrid Powerpoint presentation. There was no real reason for it but I enjoyed it because I've sat through so many horrid Powerpoint presentations. A lot of people just need the clicker taken away from them.
    - "We don't like to talk about it." "But you often do."
    - "Don't ever say that name without compensation." When Annie tried to help Britta stay away from Rick I flashed back to the episode when she tried to help Britta stay away from Blade (which happens to be one of my favs) It was a good moment for them.
    - "Can you actually crouch down a little bit because you're taller than my instructor and I'm only a yellow belt."
    - "I disagree. I think it's a whole new story. I have a beard now and an identity."
    - I know it seems inconsistent (cause I thought Annie and Abed hashed out their differences back when she moved in and taught him about empathy) but I still like them hanging out together and being goofs. The Ears Have It made me laugh to.
    - "I'm cheating my ass off in a game of hide and seek right now. We weren't supposed to leave the rec center."
    - Billy Zane as the Honda boss was amazing (nice beard) and I love that they made him him all smooth (he's always had a stunning voice) and then made him try to sneak out all the time. awesome.
    - add that to the fact that they included Lisa Loeb as the musician and I was brimming with 90s nostalgia
    - "I have a rule about being constructive so I can't ask any questions right now because all the questions I have are rhetorical and they end with the word idiot." Paget delivered those lines like a boss!
    - I still find Britta's parents a complete hoot. They are wonderful and that final scene of family game play killed me.
    - The synchronized jumping from Annie and Abed when Jeff showed them the band poster was beyond cute.
    - "As long as I'm up here does anyone want anything reached?"
    - Ellroy and Britta talking in the bar was the highlight for me. And when she was trying communicate what a drawbridge was I was laughing so hard. And that random guy sticking his head out of the backroom. hilarious.

    I just realised something. The inconsistency that the show has these days ruins even good moments because we can't trust they will be permanent or go any where or build on anything else. Oh, that makes me so sad...but I'm glad I watched this week in any case. I'll just have to read your reviews each time and see if I want to watch the last few of the season.

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