Community: Digital Estate Planning (HULU)

When Pierce’s father dies, he leaves one final request for his son.  He must bring seven of his friends to play a video game he invented in the eighties and compete with them to earn his inheritance.  Only one person seems intent on making sure Pierce does not win. Can Pierce and his friends work together so he can claim what is rightfully his?

This is not a review of a video game or a board game, but of an episode of Community.  The premise of the series is that a lawyer faces disbarment because he faked his bachelor’s degree.  Therefore, he has to get a real degree at Greendale Community College in order to practice law again.  On the way, he forms a study group with a collection of misfits and goes on all sorts of wacky adventures.  This show embraces the geek in all of us in a manner that’s not insulting. It’s also one of my favorite sitcoms to binge watch on HULU.  I can honestly say that this episode is no exception. The first summary already shows that this episode is about an 8-bit video game. Since I review anything relating to video games and board games, this episode fits the mold.  I should warn you that spoilers in this review are unavoidable, so proceed with caution.

As you can see, this is a Pierce episode.  For those of you who don’t watch the show, Pierce Hawthorne is a racist and sexist elderly man with more wealth than sense.  I’ll admit that I’ve always felt neutral about Pierce as a character, but he does manage to carry a good episode and this is one of them.  Anyway, a while back, Pierce once suggested to his father, Cornelius Hawthorne, to invest in video games rather than their regular product, Moist Towelettes.  In retaliation, Hawthorne went so far as to design a video game for Pierce to play when he dies.

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As I said earlier, Pierce has to compete with his friends to rescue the white crystal from the black caverns, something his friends refuse to play along with.  Whatever faults the characters in Community have, one of them is not backstabbing someone they’ve been friends with for years. Troy even points that out when explaining why they’re not going to fight him. Abed also points out that there’s no sport in beating Pierce, something the other characters, and I’m sure the audience, agree on.  

As for why there’s no sport in beatine Pierce, it’s because he is an epic fail at playing video games.  In order to play the game, you have to sit in front of a computer, let the camera scan your likeness and see an 8-bit version of yourself on screen.  The opening credits show the process going down instead of the traditional opening with an 8-bit midi version of the theme song.

When beginning the game, Pierce can’t even tell which one he is, despite that being rather obvious.  Britta claims to have the same issue and follows it up with saying that she assumes nothing because she’s not racist. Since Britta is extremely liberal to the point of having white guilt, you can bet that she’s lying. Pierce also can’t figure out that you need to tilt the joystick right in order to move right and, when trying to fight his friends after hearing the rules of the game, accidentally digs himself into a hole.  He’s very lucky his friends chose not to fight him and, instead, turned it into an escort mission.

Just because this is a Pierce episode doesn’t mean the other characters don’t get a chance to shine.  When they get to the town in the video game, the other characters go their separate ways to see what they can collect.  Jeff and Britta visit an empty house with witty dialogue about a painting being crooked which Britta decides to straighten and ends up finding a secret passage.  Jeff ignores the painting and tells Britta to stop playing like a girl, which is obviously a sexist statement. It’s a shining moment in the episode when Britta proves Jeff wrong.  Then shows similar sexist beliefs by saying women don’t hack and slash our way through life. Britta claims that it’s because we’re one with life. I’m a woman and, when I’m not looking for secret passages in these types of games, I’m usually hacking and slashing.  You can also find secret passages in video games through paintings on the wall. Therefore, Jeff just demonstrated his own ignorance. Anyway, Britta proves herself wrong later in the episode by hacking and slashing jive turkeys.

Annie and Shirley, who split off to go buy weapons, find themselves at the Blacksmith’s and the former accidentally kills him.  When Shirley freaks out, Annie tells her not to apply real world morality to a video game. It’s something Shirley takes a little too literally as she proceeds to kill the Blacksmith’s wife when she finds the body.  Then goes upstairs to what the game hints at is Shirley slaughtering the children.

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They finish up by ransacking the store and burning it to the ground. It’s something you have to see to believe. What makes this black comedy moment even more funny is how the scene where they murder the Blacksmith and his family takes place right after Britta’s speech about how women are one with life.

Troy spends most of the game leaping and doing random things to figure out how to win it.  He even plays poker with Pierce in the game, where they are both so bad that they lose all of their clothes.  Don’t worry, it’s 8-Bit nakedness, so they can get away with showing their full bodies on national television.  

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Troy’s also the one who points out that Pierce’s father was right about video games being a bad investment in the eighties due to The Great Video Game Crash of 1983 during Cornelius Hawthorne’s speech about its purpose.  Then, during Abed’s plot, gets jealous that he can’t have his babies, which I’ll explain later. Troy also gets to do his and Abed’s classic “Troy and Abed in the morning” line with “shooting lava” replacing “in the morning.”

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Despite this being a Pierce episode, Abed gets his chance to shine.  Before I explain the role of my favorite character, let me explain the video game.  The name of the video game is Journey to the Centre of Hawkthorne and I already explained that up to eight people could play.  You start out in the study room and, when you die, that’s where you respawn with absolutely nothing.

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Doesn’t matter what potions you made, items you bought or anything else.  If you die, you will lose everything. Therefore, as Jeff points out and the rest of the group says is rather obvious, dying in the game is bad. This makes me wonder if Pierce’s father added that detail recently because, in the show, the group hangs out in a Community College study room and Cornelius Hawthorne visited that very room in a previous episode.

I should also tell you that the game is incredibly offensive but you’re not supposed to take it seriously.  I’m sure you remember that, in the second paragraph, I described Pierce as racist and sexist. Well, his father is even worse.  Let me put it this way, name any existing prejudice in the world and you can bet that Cornelius Hawthorne has it. The enemies you first meet are hippies who only say, “peace, love, sex” repeatedly and bite you at the first chance they get.  

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You have to “rescue” a white crystal from the black caves, which takes the form of a black man’s face. Shirley points out the symbolic racism in this objective that flies over Pierce’s head in a scene that could be a reference to Breaking Bad.  On the way, you go through The Valley of Laziness (a Mexican village with taco buildings),

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Gay Island (an island with a rainbow and a stone hill that looks like a penis)

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and ride the Free Ride Ferry (which is a wheelchair). In the Black Caves, you have to fight literal jive turkeys to get the crystal. Britta herself points out how offensive this all is every chance she gets.  It’s as if the writers said to each other, “What type of game would an evil man with every kind of prejudice in existence design?” and came up with this. There’s more to this game, which I’ll explain in the next paragraph.

As I said two paragraphs ago, Abed gets his chance to shine.  He spends the first part of the episode talking to an NPC named Hilda who gives him information on all sorts of topics.  

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He falls in love with her and finds out that she’s the daughter of the blacksmith Annie and Shirley killed. Then proceeds to explain that Hilda has to either marry one of the villagers or take her chances out in the wilderness. Therefore, the game is not only offensive, but also extremely complicated.  It’s Troy’s turn to point that out. Anyway, Abed ends up marrying Hilda, and making babies with her in a G-rated way. Be prepared for more black comedy and sexism you’re not supposed to take seriously. Abed proceeds to use the many children Hilda gives him by enslaving them in his business and having them make anything the characters require.  I really hope Abed never gets married and has children in real life.

I already said that Abed is my favorite character.  While the show’s main character is Jeff, Abed is the lifeblood.  He’s the eccentric member of the group who views their lives as a TV Show while referring to other media made famous by pop culture.  Abed understands various fictional worlds better than the real world and many people, characters and viewers, speculate that he has Aspergers Syndrome.  In this episode, he falls in love with the character, Hilda, due to being better able to understand a program than he can real women. He’s also the one who discovers the various rules of the game by explaining that, if you max out a character’s affection level, you can change their code.  

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It’s something he uses to make Hilda say she loves him and have her make his babies. He also uses his understanding of coding to make the babies his servants and use them to make various weapons as well as disposable mooks. Abed makes the mistake of saying that you can code children in the game to do what you want, like children in real life.  Annie tries to explain otherwise, but Jeff stops her. Pierce, at one point, refers to Abed as Rain Man, which is a movie I have yet to see and, in all honesty, don’t want to.

You might think this episode is a boring plot about cooperation with no true enemy, but you couldn’t be more wrong.  See, there’s one aspect I have yet to mention and that is Gilbert Lawson played by Giancarlo Esposito, most famous for his role as Gus Fringe on Breaking Bad, a drug dealer with the cover of an honest businessperson.  In this episode, he starts out as an honest businessperson who proceeds to fill in the eighth slot and tries to beat Pierce to his inheritance. First, he attempts to play fair by winning through skill only to drink an extra strength potion Britta made which turned out to be poison.  Then he uses cheat codes to beat Pierce and, when he gets to the throne room with the white crystal, has to agree to a certain condition in order to steal Pierce’s inheritance.

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Before I reveal this condition, I should tell you that Gilbert is more than just Cornelius Hawthorne’s underling.  He is Cornelius’s illegitimate son with a black woman. I’ll remind you that this man is not only extremely prejudice, but set up a game for Pierce where he could potentially lose his inheritance out of spite.  Imagine how horrible Cornelius is to his illegitimate mixed race son that he won’t even acknowledge as his. In fact, the condition he imposes is that Gilbert not reveal who his father is so he doesn’t “besmirch the good name of Hawthorne” (his words not mine).  It’s the one sad moment of an otherwise funny episode. Anyway, Gilbert ponders the conditions and then rejects them. The result is creating an enemy character who tries to kill Gilbert’s avatar while he’s shouting in anguish that he is Cornelius’s son. The study group teams up with him and uses Abed’s weapons and babies to help defeat him.  This comes with a funny and gratifying scene where you see Cornelius taking his final breaths as he explains that he will not cheat the player out of a proper victory. In the end, the study group forfeits, something that might seem contrived. However, keep in mind that this episode takes place in a computer lab. Considering that the episode shows more of the game than they do the room, it’s something you can easily forget.  I think they heard Gilbert’s cry and, since some of them had their own parental issues, they could easily relate. Pierce especially, considering that he and Gilbert have a common enemy. What makes this moment even more heartwarming is that Gilbert got the acceptance from Pierce that Cornelius would never give him, even in death.

Like many sitcom shows, this one has a credits gag at the end.  You’d expect it to be something about the video game but that’s not what you get.  Instead, you get to see Troy and Abed going to the study room and finding a baby they think is abandoned.  They talk about how they have to raise the baby, with Abed getting a job at the food service while Troy’s sad and angry that he has to stay home and parent.  Then it turns out that the baby’s mother was getting something from under the desk and leaves with the baby. Troy and Abed continue to go on as if it never happened.  Not only does this have nothing to do with the episode, save one line from Troy, but it also makes no sense continuity wise. This episode takes place during Chang’s insane takeover of Greendale, which is a complicated plot that I won’t get into.  However, I will tell you that he kicked the study group out, so there’s no way Troy and Abed could go near the school, much less spend time in the study room. What’s sad is that this isn’t even how Mark Harmon wanted the episode to end. According to this article, his original plan was for Abed to adjust the game so that Pierce could play baseball with his dad and finally hear him say, “great job, son!”  Unfortunately, Chevy Chase left early due to fatigue, which was a common issue with him. In this case, he did this on the last day of filming so Mark Harmon had to make do with this credit’s gag. It led to a feud between the two ending with Chevy Chase leaving the show. In this case, I do agree with Mark Harmon that this would have been the perfect Credits Gag for the episode, even if he did have his own dick moments in the feud, which I won’t get into.  However, I will say that it’s rather a shame that they couldn’t film it.

This episode is funny and enjoyable.  I give it 8 out of 10; it lacks the proper credits gag, but still an enjoyable take on retro gaming.

2 thoughts on “Community: Digital Estate Planning (HULU)

    • Thank you! This episode of Community is one of my absolute favorites! I loved the old style video game world! What’s even cooler is that fans of Community are actually creating the video game in real life!

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