Though having a corporate sponsor like Subway throw up all over an episode of a struggling show like Community is understandable, it still feels wrong. And cheap. And like a misuse of trust. Blatant entertainvertising aside, “Digital Exploration of Interior Design” already suffers from several weak, unresolved storylines and a few forced moments of comedy which give the episode an overall “blah” feeling.
Continuing a storyline from last week’s episode, “Digital Exploration” opens with a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Subway restaurant in Greendale’s cafeteria. Actually, in true Greendale fashion, it’s more of a the-big-fake-scissors-broke-so-the-dean-has-to-chew-through-the-ribbon-with-his-teeth ceremony. Pierce and Shirley aren’t happy since they had proposed opening their own sandwich shop in the space. Citing the student rulebook, Pierce points out that any on-campus, for-profit business must be at least 51% owned by a Greendale student.
To circumvent this rule, Subway has taken advantage of a surprisingly legal process known as “corpo-humanization” whereby a real person can represent the corporation. Their newest employee, Subway (Travis Schuldt), has contractually given up his birth identity and has enrolled in Greendale. (Starting to notice how many times the word “Subway” is being used?)
While talking to Annie, Jeff has a startling realization that Greendale students are assigned lockers. Annie tells him that he’s been missing out for the last three years since he skipped Pre-Orientation Freshman Welcome Seminar and Diversity Fire Circle 2009. When he finally locates his locker, he finds, among hundreds of old flyers, a note from someone named Kim who calls him a selfish jerk. Even though he doesn’t remember her or what he did, he decides to track down her locker so that he can confront her. When he gets there, though, he is told by another student that Kim died two weeks ago, leaving Jeff unable to apologize. Later, he comes to find out that the other student is Kim (guys can be named Kim, too, you know) and that he put that letter in Jeff’s locker because Jeff always forgot who he was.
Since their apartment is being fumigated and they need somewhere to sleep, Troy and Abed decide to build a massive pillow fort in the halls of Greendale. This is completely different than the blanket fort they built before (“Conspiracy Theory and Interior Design”), but no less of an undertaking. Popping up out of nowhere, Vice Dean Laybourne (John Goodman) confronts Troy about joining his Air Conditioning Repair School (a storyline almost forgotten about due to the show’s long hiatus). When Troy says he’s busy building a pillow fort with Abed, Vice Dean Laybourne asks Troy why he must always be the Constable Reggie to Abed’s Inspector Spacetime. This seed of doubt leads Troy to break off from Abed and make the blanket fort he originally wanted.
In an effort to take down Subway and his evil employer Subway, Pierce and Shirley have convinced Britta, with her “progressive morals and looseness,” to get close to Subway so that they can destroy him. It turns out, though, Subway has feelings for Britta and they have much in common, including a love of George Orwell’s 1984 and the desire to take care of handicapped animals. When Pierce instructs Britta to record her conversations with Subway, she refuses but doesn’t know Pierce has already planted another recording device on her which eventually records her and Subway having sex that goes way outside the mainstream pretty quick. As a result, a corporate suit from Subway fires Rick (no longer Subway) and replaces him with another corpo-humanoid.
Back at Abed’s pillow fort, Vice Dean Laybourne stirs the pot again by asking Abed why the quality of his fort should be sacrificed because Troy wants to secure the Guinness World Record for the biggest blanket fort. Eventually, a standoff ensues between Troy and Abed and a mini-Civil War erupts between the students of Greendale. Both forts take a few hits, and Troy and Abed both lead their troops into retreat, Abed declaring “To be continued.”
Again, one can’t fault Community or NBC from seeking a large sponsor like Subway in their time of need. However, the showrunners’ concept of dialing the advertising up to 11 would have worked if it was more satire and less genuine advertising. There are way too many shots of people enjoying a Subway sandwich or drinking from a Subway cup. The whole façade of “we’re making fun of this type of advertising” just doesn’t hold up.
The whole storyline of Jeff and Kim seems underdeveloped. It ends abruptly with Jeff seemingly becoming friends with Kim and then, in the next scene, not remembering who he is. Likewise, Annie has some serious issues going on with Jeff, but they are never addressed and kind of just swept under the rug.
While earlier this season, John Goodman’s Vice Dean Laybourne has been a terrific character to watch, in this episode it felt like he was begging for laughs, repeatedly saying he’s “going through some stuff.” It doesn’t seem relevant to the story at all, so it feels like a transparent attempt at a few lame jokes.
The rift between Troy and Abed started with last week’s episode with Troy scolding Abed and the appearance of Evil Abed. Next week’s episode appears to be more of the same and, while it is good to see the writers stretching a bit, it’s hard to imagine their fight ending in any kind of satisfying conclusion.
Matthew Newlin lives in St. Louis, Missouri and has been a film critic for over six years. He has written for numerous online media outlets, including “Playback:STL” and “The Weissman Report.” He holds a Master’s of Education in Higher Education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and is an Assistant Director of Financial Aid. A lifelong student of cinema, his passion for film was inherited from his father who never said “No, you can’t watch that.”