Friday, October 20, 2017

The Horror Of...Halloween Night, Community - "Epidemiology"

Halloween special episodes of TV shows have come and gone in waves over the years. And in this Binge Age it's strange to have any holiday themes when the show will likely come out at a different time in the year. But, once, Fall was a big time for TV entertainment. And some producers were determined to have their big October episode.

Not every special has been as memorable as one would like today, with our long pop culture memories. But some specials do stand out. Community, in it's run on NBC, liked to play with it's sitcom and TV world rules. The paintball episodes liked to push their world to breaking points. But Halloween was always interesting. In particular their second season Halloween episode is quite memorable to this day.

The show follows a collection of people looking for second chances in their lives, so find themselves at the small and unimpressive Greendale Community College. Jeff the conman/lawyer, is looking for the easy way out. Britta is a self-styled rebel out to help, but struggling with herself. Shirley is a single mom that dreams of opening her own business as to restore normalcy to her life. Annie is a smart kid that struggled with an addiction that derailed her parent's plans, but freed her to find her own way. Abed is a somewhat disconnected young man who likes to see the world through the lens of TV and movies. Troy lost out on a football scholarship when he got hurt senior year, but it's meant he's been able to reexamine his life and find his other passions. And, then, we have Pierce who is a rich older man who enjoys being among the young people and college life. He also likes to push and provoke people to justify his negative opinions, like too many people on Twitter.

So let's all head to class and crack the books on...


It's Halloween night at Greendale Community College. And, like every event, the dean is going all out with costume and decorations and food.

It's lovely. But when you decorate the food area like this I can't tell what I can and can't eat. Come on, you have decorative eyeballs in everything.

But Jeff notes that the garbage bins have containers of army rations from an army surplus store. Decades old food that the Army wouldn't use.

We also learn from Britta that the dean has plugged his iPod into the intercom to play the party's music. But it's a constant stream of ABBA, mixed with the dean's voice memos.

And ABBA is going to be our soundtrack for this little adventure. Amazingly, it works so well. It heightens the reality of the events to come, while amping the energy of scenes. It's comedic and good music in this setting.

The party has plenty of the awkward truths we learn and hopefully accept about Halloween.

We don't always know what a costume is. And you should just nicely ask.

(It is unfortunate that Annie mentions Miss Piggy before Shirley appears. Because that is a trick which sticks the name in your head. And then you have to get around it before you can get to a better one.)

Another lesson, you can make an amazing monster costume. But it doesn't mean you get in people's faces. It's a party, not a haunted house. Okay, Abed?

And, yes, Troy, you go and whatever you want. You be you, at Halloween and all year round.

Plus, someone is gonna end up going zombie...

Annie finds Pierce looking peaked. And he begins stumbling around. She leads him to Chiquita MD to get him checked out.

But he's not the only one not feeling fine.

The dean demands that this not be an issue of food poisoning, but people are getting sick.

And then Pierce moans and bites someone. This is NOT food poisoning.

Soon more and more people are wandering around looking a lot like Pierce, but not biting.

And then some start lunging.

Meanwhile, the dean is calling the army surplus store he visited. He wants to know what the deal is with the food. He then looks at one of the boxes, and reads it's info. He is oblivious, because it says it's a dangerous substance and if found you should use a code he then reads. The call is co-opted, and a Military operator starts giving him orders.

"Yeah. Bio Hazard. Like a host pepper nacho cheese, or something?"

Annie and Chiquita MD realize the outbreak is spreading, and they need to get the healthy people out.

But people start realizing that people are getting bitten, and everyone panics. Zombies!

But the dean is already acting.

He seals the building. He also apologizes, saying it is under control.

He tells them the military is coming, and will arrive in 6 hours. Until then, they are stuck.

So they make a break for the study room, to use as a secure space. They fight through, bar the doors, and take a breath.

They know they are surrounded now. Jeff tries to call out, but all he gets is a recorded message to stay put.

Chiquita MD explains that what is happening is something like rabies. It is leading to mindless aggression. It also causes a fever, which will start causing brain damage in 3 hours time.

Annie is aghast and wants to do something. So she concocts a plan to get the air conditioning on low, and counter the fever conditions.

Most of them are loath to act, wanting to stay safe.

But then some of them reveal they were bitten, and turn.

And some are grabbed when the room is breached.

This leaves Jeff, Abed, and Troy.

Abed wants to enact Annie's plan, but the other 2 want to just escape.

But Jeff gets himself infected trying to keep his clothes clean, and Abed sacrifices himself to get Troy out.

Outside Troy finds the dean. Troy decides to act and save the students. When the dean balks, he steals his keys.

He tries to be clever by using his initial Halloween costume to enter the building.

But it's a costume and is torn apart, so Troy tries to run for the air condition controls. But he gets bitten repeatedly.

He stumbles and fights the effects of the illness. He works the controls, but it isn't clear he finished the process before he collapses.

And Troy joins the rest in the zombie world.

But he succeeded. The temperature drops...

...and the zombies stop roaming and start shivering.

At the 6 hour mark, the military appears. They check all the doors, and question the dean. They are readying to kill the clueless dean, and everyone there, but they see that everyone has survived.

So it's Plan B. Everyone gets drugged.

And they all get treated and have the last day wiped from their memory.

They are told that someone dosed the whole party. They all shrug and accept this. It is Greendale, that's how a party there would end.

So the night ends with Abed and Troy heading off to watch some light comedy.

This episode has a lot going for it. A ridiculous situation. A ridiculous soundtrack. Ridiculous characters. And zombies thrown into the mix.

Zombies being added to comedy should break a show. But they built the idea with limits and logic. It's contained, minimized, and then the government straightens things out covertly. No one needs to know. And the world can move on.

Sometimes I like when a zombie story can pull this off. It doesn't always have to be a real apocalypse. Not in comedy.

The episode has some darkly comic moments, but it works to balance it with genuine character beats.

This is a fun and creative piece of horror comedy that would make a great addition to anyone's viewing.

And, who knows, perhaps we can revisit some of Community's other Halloween episodes down the road?

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