Community - Digital Estate Planning Review
Digital Estate Planning Is More Than Just A Quirky Gimmick Episode About Computer Games
“Community” – Digital Estate Planning
In the world of television there are two big US titles that target geek culture in particular, in very separate ways. On the one hand we have the hugely (over)popular Big Bang Theory, a show that in my mind not only parodies and references geek culture (comics, movies, computer games etc), but also belittles the common geek. If you think about it the show is about four successful scientists with interesting careers, but in the five seasons the show has been running for the most part their lives haven’t changed and, much like the show, have been stuck in a rut about a couple of guys that are more or less losers, almost mocking geek culture.
On the other hand we have Community. While the show may be more or less unknown in the UK, it has a loyal fanbase and looks on the genre in a vastly different way. Filled with pop-culture references and meta humour the show intelligently, faithfully and humorously integrates this into its plots without cheapening the meaning or making it feel tacked on. Following the lives of six characters in community college all from vastly different walks of life (the ex lawyer, the former jock, the mother of two etc), thrown together and forming a particularly special bond, the combination of these different personalities help the show thrive and stop from becoming stale.
Throughout the three seasons of Community there have been an uncanny amount of unique and outstanding episodes (paintball episodes referencing every movie thinkable, Dungeons and Dragons based episodes, Claymation, Law and Order based episodes, you name it), but possibly the most ambitious thus far has been “Digital Estate Planning”, an episode comprised almost entirely of 8-bit graphics, set in the world of a fictional computer game known as ‘Journey to the Center of Hawkthorne’.
When Pierce (Chevy Chase) invites his fellow Greendale Community College study group members along (And LeVar Burton, who unfortunately couldn’t make it) to Hawthorne towers to collect his father’s inheritance, instead the group is tasked with completing a specialised computer game, with whoever completes the game first earning the right to the money. Faced with many challenges to traverse, least of which being Gilbert (played brilliantly by Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito), an employee of Hawthorne Industries, the episode makes the best decision of, instead of everyone competing against each other for the money, the study group makes a pact to protect Pierce and help him earn his inheritance. At the same time, a side plot revolves around Abed (Danny Pudi) falling for an advanced AI character known as Hilda after her family is “accidentally” killed and her home is burnt down, gradually getting to know her and her programming better, deciding to stay with her and help her rebuild.
While the story itself is very good, the important thing about this episode is how much of a work of art it is. The attention to detail is phenomenal, with each character perfectly rendered representations of their actors. Each level is thoughtfully created and features a large amount of subtle references to everything from the NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game to Super Mario Bros., by way of Zelda. Even the way the characters jump is sneakily referencing old-school gaming, with Jeff (Joel McHale) moving more or less exactly like Mega Man while Troy (Donald Glover) hyperactively bounds around the levels like Sonic the Hedgehog. The episode also takes light jabs at non-gamers, throughout the comical inability for some of the study group to be able to control their avatars, with Pierce not only walking into a wall until Annie (Alison Brie) has to correct him, but also ends up being buried alive by his own incompetence, literally. At the same time Britta’s (Gillian Jacobs) ability to think outside the box while searching a village for supplies resulted in the discovery of a secret location, ultimately aiding the study group.
“Digital Estate Planning” is more than just a quirky gimmick episode about computer games though, it goes ahead and shows that comedy, and story-telling in general, if done well, can transcend mediums and cross boundaries you never even imagined.
Possibly the only real issue is where the episode is placed within the series. As a stand-alone episode, “Digital Estate Planning” feels out of place in the final three episodes of the season, seeming to get in the way of the structured plot at the time, and feeling that it would have been better suited as an earlier inclusion to the season. As it stands though, it’s an issue we can easily overlook, purely because of what an achievement the episode itself is.
Writer, gamer, and general all-around awesomeness compressed into human form. Co-founder of Reset Gaming.
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