The largest and longest pillow fight in human history provides us with one of the funniest, most touching and heartfelt episodes of the series, not to mention the culmination of the majority of this season’s story arcs. Wait, this wasn’t the season finale?!
This episode is done in a Historical Documentary form, documenting the largest and longest pillowfight in history, spawned from last week’s dispute over New Fluffytown, ultimately costing hundreds of dollars of damage and resulting in over twelve transfers. After what has been since named “The Study Room Kerfuffle” from the end of the previous episode, an all-out war has commenced and spans two and a half days at Greendale. Dean Pelton brings in a camera crew to document the war for the Guiness World Records representative, which leads to the footage being made into this documentary. In the war, Annie is a “nurse,” Britta tries (and fails) to be a photographer, Jeff gives inspirational speeches to keep the war going, Shirley is a commander in Troy’s army, Pierce remains the dried up heir of a moist towelette empire, Troy is the leader of the seceded Blanketsburg, and his now bitter rival Abed is a tactical mastermind and leader of the renamed Pillowtown.
Jeff tries to mediate Troy and Abed’s war with Dean Pelton by using invisible “magical friendship hats,” but Troy and Abed refuse and continue the war. Pierce initially joins Troy’s side with Garrett, as he’s the less weird of the two. Shirley is appointed as Troy’s second-in-command after she decides to stick with Troy, believing the war to be Abed’s fault for “being a robot” and wanting to prevent Troy from getting hooked on weed thanks to Britta. Pierce subsequently switches to Abed’s side, along with Leonard and Starburns. During the first battle: Blanketsburg charges Pillowtown’s territory in the library; it lasts for six minutes, with no territory changed. Afterwards, the sides agree on certain rules, but during the “Battle of Big Bulletin Board” people like Pierce are still injured—broken glasses, a wounded middle finger, and “erectile dysfunction” that he swears had never happened before. Meanwhile, Jeff gives inspirational speeches to both Blanketsburg and Pillowtown to inspire them…to delay classes further. After his humiliation in the previous battle, Pierce crafts plans for the Ultimate Pillow weapon. However, Troy hears about it, and recruits Chang and his army of children: the Changlorious Basterds, kids who are brutal at pillow fights because “it’s all they know.” Pierce unleashes his unstoppably plush pillow weapon—a huge suit made entirely of pillows—on the Changlorious Basterds.
Annie finds out about Jeff giving speeches to both sides, showing that he doesn’t want to end the war and doesn’t care about Troy and Abed’s friendship. She does, however, convince him to write in a journal; since he believes conversation is only about “getting what you want,” his thoughts in a journal can be genuine. Meanwhile, Troy intercepts an e-mail from Abed that lets everyone know of Troy’s insecurities and emotional frailty. Troy responds with a four-part text message that outs Abed’s inability to have another friend because no one will put up with him. Jeff hears that they are hurting each other’s feelings now, and being affected by what Annie told him before, he calls a summit between Troy and Abed to fix their friendship. However, bringing them together backfires, as they agree that their friendship is over and the loser will have to move out of their apartment.
The Battle of Greendale takes place in the North Cafeteria, as 100 troops on each side begin the attack. However, Dean calls an end to the war when it turns out the Guinness Representative has been fired, and since the war no longer has a reason to continue, everyone leaves—except for Troy and Abed, who don’t stop fighting. They realize that they don’t want to stop because it will be the last thing they do together, but knowing that doesn’t matter now because they are “grown-ups with grown-up problems.” Jeff brings back the magical friendship hats from earlier—even going all the way back to the Dean’s office to “get them” to convince them he truly believes—and with them, Troy and Abed reignite their friendship. Jeff realizes that, since he made himself believe in something as ridiculous as magical friendship hats, he would do anything for his friends—something anyone in the world feels—allowing him to finally understand war.
There was so much packed in this episode that truly recapping it was almost a practice in futility. It’s exactly the kind of episode that causes contention in the critical world regarding Community. Supporters will say this is why the show is great, detractors will say it’s why the show isn’t. Those in favor will argue that its daringness and willingness to transcend the common television structure with finesse shows its intelligence, even when the individual jokes might be considered juvenile. Critics of the show, however, will argue that this kind of episode is exactly what keeps away a wider audience; it appeals to a specific generation and type of humor that the broadest demographics won’t get, with writing that only seeks to confuse the audience into thinking it’s intelligent by throwing in lots and lots of words really quickly that sound insightful and complex, but in reality are merely lessons we can get from a children’s show.
As a reviewer, I have to recognize that the critics have very valid points. The show isn’t perfect, and in terms of the crazy high-concept stuff, too much of a good thing doesn’t always work; “Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps,” for example, is one of the weakest episodes of season 3, and felt kind of tired. But, despite variations of the “documentary episode” happening twice in Community, “Pillows and Blankets” handled the more subtle and specific elements of a Historical War Documentary exceptionally. Keith David has a voice built for narration, and the complete and utter seriousness from every voiceover and interview coupled with beautifully staged (and hilarious) photos made this feel like the all-out war that was promised, even without really seeing much of it. Every character got some sort of spotlight, even our supporting characters like Leonard, Fat Neil, Garrett, and Starburns. Little things, like reading text messages, e-mails, Facebook statuses, and pretentious poems—quite possibly what will be used in documentaries made about our generation decades from now—were superb and very funny.
It’s clear that a ton of time was spent just coming up with names and random facts. With 22 minutes of almost non-stop narration, we got more fast-talking word jokes than we’d get in an entire season of another show. Troy’s All-Tomato, Jeff and Annie’s thumb/birthday cake/piece of sushi/umbrella icon discussion, and the detailed descriptions of each battle strategy kept everything dense, but not in an overwhelming way. The neverending run-on tirade about the North Cafeteria is something that could never fit into another episode, logistically. Oh, and again, it was just really, really funny. Serious kudos to Andy Bobrow—and anyone else on staff that contributed—because this episode would have been immensely boring had the narration not been so competently written.
But, even at all that, Community has always prided itself in having characters and emotions at its core. And again, the critics have a valid point; most of the time, the show isn’t nearly as insightful and intellectually brilliant as many supporters like to think it is. Generally, almost every lesson on the show boils down to some variation of “friends are important and they love each other.” With a few exceptions (like the heavily philosophical insights in “Critical Film Studies”) “love your friends” is essentially what the show “means.” It’s not mindblowing, and in fact is exactly the lesson we learned from just about every mildly educational children’s show ever created when we were kids. Yet, does that make the lesson any less valid? If there’s one thing in life that no one (except the most cold-hearted of people) ever grow out of, it’s that we want to be loved and appreciated, and in turn love others back—not necessarily romantically, but just through companionship.
In a cultural TV landscape focused on constant romantic entanglements, moral ambiguity, and cynical interpretations of the modern world, it’s a relief to be reminded that some things can be simple and give you that fuzzy feeling, but are still just as important to our lives as any other discussion. As dark as Community can get (and it certainly has this season in particular) we still know that these deeply flawed people can be happy because they have each other, regardless of the crazy ridiculous goings-on at Greendale. The solution to Troy and Abed’s multi-episode quarrel is quick, quaint and simple—something that a television critic could quickly denounce for being too easy or anti-climactic—but ultimately, it’s effective and it makes sense. The true, unconditional love created by a real friendship has the potential to transcend even the most “grown-up” problems. A friend can crash another friend’s borrowed car, but even though they might be mad for a while, eventually they’ll get over it, oftentimes without any big “talk” or moment or anything. They just stop thinking about it, because that feeling of companionship overpowers it.
Troy and Abed recognize that they have differences and flaws (as seen by their angry e-mail/text messages) and they can frustrate one another, but ultimately their yearning for “doing stuff together” overpowers it. And Jeff, who in “Remedial Chaos Theory” was the jerk who kept the group from having fun, finally understands: despite how dumb it all may seem to you, if you know it’ll help your friends, you’ll do it, because friends will do anything for each other. He learned similar lessons about the necessity of putting his friends over himself back in season 1’s “Introduction to Statistics” and season 2’s “Early 21st Century Romanticism,” but this experience with true, unconditional love is the fullest and most touching one we’ve gotten yet.
Does it provide some big philosophical discussion on the nature of humanity? No, but that’s what we have our Battlestar Galacticas and Breaking Bads for. Community is here to make us laugh and make us feel, even if for the simplest of reasons. “Pillows and Blakets” does that in spades. Oh, and you know, it’s also just really really funny.
Some stray tidbits:
- Tag: Troy and Abed on a Greendale Campus Television pledge-drive. It’s been a while since we got a true Troy/Abed tag.
- Other videos from Greendale Campus Television: Craig Pelton: A Year in Paris, From Labs to Riches: The Annie’s Boobs Story, That’s Enter-Chang-ment.
- Keith David! Seriously, just Keith David. Also, nice callback to The Cape.
- The painfully piercing insults Abed and Troy give to each other via e-mail and text message are actually heartwrenching to hear.
- While no actor was particularly weak, Yvette Nichole Brown was probably the best of the bunch this time. Her commentary was some of the funniest, not just because of Shirley’s dialogue, but Brown’s hilariously serious and emotional delivery about the battles. I’ve always fought for Shirley to get more material, and this is why.
- I think this is the first time we’ve learned Annie is a Healthcare Administration student.
- On Britta’s photography: “Just because something is in black and white, doesn’t mean it’s good.”
- It was nice getting a reference to Troy being a former high school quarterback, since it was basically forgotten midway through season 1.
- Dean Pelton’s “Jeffrey find me!” screams were wonderful.
- Jeff’s “Ferris Buelarian” attempt to delay schoolwork involved calling the war “A slanderous betrayal akin to 9/11.” Never thought I’d say this, but…I’d missed the 9/11 jokes.
- Pierce, the Unstoppably Plush Pillow, was downright terrifying.
- Fat Neil runs the radio! Hopefully we get to hear more of his show in the future.
- Saying Chang “has been kept on the sidelines until this moment” works as a meta-commentary for this season. Luckily, “The Changlorius Basterds” (and their making necklaces out of mattress tags) was worth the wait.
- Fun captions: Leonard “Bucket of Guts” Rodriguez; Annie “Angel of the Battlefield” Edison; Shirley “Big Cheddar” Bennett; and we now know Harry Jefferson is the blind “Very Old Student” from the previous episode.
- Keeping with the child-like blanket fort theme, these college students are playing Go Fish, as opposed to, say, every other card game college students actually play.
- I’m betting a rip-off of Ski Shoot Sing will be premiering on FOX mid-season next year.
- ”Leonard likes this post!”
- “This is gonna be the last thing we ever do together.”