Community: “G.I. Jeff” (5.11) - TV Recap

By Jordan Ferguson


Community: Season 5 Episode 11 - “G.I. Jeff”

April 3, 2014, 8:00 p.m. (EST), NBC

When it comes to pop culture, I consider myself at the very least reasonably aware. As a fan of Community I have never ascribed to the theory that the series is great because it is incredibly pop culture literate. The idea that the show is one big in-joke for pop culture nerds is definitely true of it, but what has always drawn me to the show is its thematic depth and intricate character work.

All of this serves as prelude to a discussion of “G.I. Jeff,” which is a near perfect personal litmus test for how well the show works when you aren’t in on the jokes. Most of Community’s other high-concept episodes have been homages to things I am familiar with, but as someone who never watched G.I. Joe, I was on the outside looking in this week. And honestly? What I saw looked pretty good. The episode uses our familiarity with how this show works to allow it to engage in shorthand. There is no introduction here that explains why Community is a cartoon this week, because five seasons in, there doesn’t need to be. The show directly references this episode’s spiritual predecessor, “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” but not until near the end of the episode. It trusts that we will go with it at some point, and that we understand there is a character story underneath all of this, even if it is not immediately apparent.

“G.I. Jeff” may be a masterpiece for fans of the show it lovingly pays tribute to, but most of the particular jokes in that regard likely sailed over my head, or were funny in a global sense more than a particular one. While I liked this episode, I can’t necessarily parse it in the way I usually do in this space, because much of it is just foreign to me. I thought the “plotting” within the cartoon was delightfully insane, I totally enjoyed the Inception-esque layers of fantasy Jeff is forced to break through to survive, and I liked what it was trying to say about Jeff’s mortality.

That the episode’s central conflict is kicked off by cartoon Jeff actually killing one of the bad guys is a great moment for fans of any kid’s cartoon. No matter how horrible the enemies, no matter how thick the cross-fire or how big the explosions, the bad guys are just not allowed to die. See a plan explode? Look for that tiny parachute. Throw someone off a bridge? Don’t worry, you’ll see them come up for air. This is an unwritten rule of children’s programming (actually, it is probably a written rule) and that Jeff breaks the barrier of mortality in a story about him coming to grips with his own is pretty smart stuff.

If the episode has gone all the way to Jeff’s bender being a suicide attempt, I would probably have had problems with how jammed into the final minutes all of this emotional stuff is. But because it was instead an accidental near-death experience, brought on by his depression at the idea of turning 40, the episode gets a little bit of slack in terms of how much it really dealt with Jeff’s emotional reality. All of the actual climax was rushed, but then, the show reduced the stakes just enough that it didn’t anger me how quickly they were resolving the issue.

And anyway, this is an episode about the allure of childhood, about nostalgia as freedom, and about the danger of letting your younger self’s dreams control your current expectations and happiness. It is easy to get lost in the pop culture of your childhood, to let yourself be pulled back to a simpler time. But there is danger in this as well; it threatens to pull you away from reality, to warp your sense of the world around you. Jeff Winger is 40, a community college professor, and has none of the things he dreamed of as a kid. But he is happier than he realizes, I think. He is surrounded by friends he cares about, and who care about him. He is helping people to improve themselves. One of those people is himself. Jeff doesn’t have the life he always dreamed of, but part of growing up is learning that your dreams don’t always come true, and also that reality can be much better. Jeff wanted to be a big, amoral lawyer, and for a time he was. But what he has become since then is something much more rewarding, even if that is a hard thing for him to see.

“G.I. Jeff” has a less authentic relationship with existential despair than “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.” It uses this crisis more as fodder for references than to reach at emotional truth. But it gets at enough of the latter for me to not begrudge it the former. This is an episode that probably spoke to you more if you loved G.I. Joe as a child. But it also works for someone who doesn’t, as a story about the dangerous pull of the past and the dubious pleasures of the present. We all want more, at some points. We all let down our younger selves in certain ways. But if you can surround yourself with friends, if you can find a way to do good in the world, if you can help, well, then things aren’t so bad. The darkness starts to seem just a little less dark when you have someone to share it with.

The Roundup

  • -“Which will probably happen any day now as long as your tits stay on display.”
  • -“Yo, Joe! What? What…we’re not saying it together?”
  • -“It’s purpose, to fight Cobra, because they’re terrorists. Look. I think I’m over-explaining it. The bad guys are snakes, and the good guys are Army people.”
  • -“However, let’s be truthful. This is a very disorganized militia.” “Yeah, what’s anyone’s rank? We’re all just dressed like serial killers and strippers.”
  • -“How long are we in here, Cold Shoulder? Cold Shoulder? What’s with that guy?”
  • -“If this were a cartoon, there’d be a word for ‘cartoon’ in our language, which there isn’t.”
  • -“It doesn’t hurt me because it isn’t real.”
  • -“Who wears a saw on their arm?”
  • -“And G.I. Joe is going to pay-bra. I riffed that.”
  • -“”Cartoon coffee?”
  • -“And how is that supposed to effect us?” “Psycho…logically?”
  • -“Imaginary Britta is right. And only the imaginary Britta.”
  • -“So…what do boobies look like?”
  • -“Take me with you! I want to see women’s boobs!”
  • -“I swear to God I feel Korean…”
  • -“You’re still 18-49, that’s valuable for almost a decade.”
  • -“Graffiti is bad. Go play sports.”
76/100~ GOOD. “G.I. Jeff” may be a masterpiece for fans of the show it lovingly pays tribute to, but most of the particular jokes in that regard likely sailed over my head, or were funny in a global sense more than a particular one.
Jordan Ferguson is a lifelong pop culture fan, and would probably never leave his couch if he could get away with it. When he isn’t wasting time “studying the law” at the University of Michigan, he writes about film, television, and music. In addition to writing for Next Projection, he is the Editor-in-Chief of Review To Be Named, a homemade haven for pop-culture obsessives. Check out more of his work at , follow him on twitter @bobchanning, or just yell really loudly on the street. Don’t worry, he’ll hear.