Let’s admit this up front: Community has a formula. In their most popular and acclaimed episodes, they take a small-stakes event (such as a paintball match, a game of dungeons and dragons, the disappearance of chicken fingers from the school cafeteria) and treat them as if they are life-or-death matters. But the fact that it’s a formula doesn’t make it any less profound. Community manages to illuminate a central hidden truth about human relations: Small things matter.
We like to compartmentalize our lives into major moments that matter, and then lump together the rest of the moments. We think of the rest as throwaway moments — trivialities that matter only a little. It’s in these moments that we get careless. We thoughtlessly text, speak, consume, and react, unaware of the inevitable way those things can come back to haunt us. The recent “Pillows and Blankets” episode of Community takes its cues from those Ken Burns documentaries you tell yourself you’re going to watch on PBS but then can’t manage to make it all the way through. Most notably, they mimic the narration technique in which actors read excerpts from old letters, only these excerpts come from e-mails and texts.
These are considered by most to be trivial forms of communications — as are the accompanying emoticons and half-formed sentences. But when these correspondences are read in the context of the great pillow fight, they feel weighty. Every word has implications — not for entire nation, but for relationships.
Rather than asking us to ogle at a national crisis or extreme circumstances, Community demonstrates the crucial importance of the drama we all experience every day. When we argue with our friends, when we blow someone off, when we act selfishly, we often fail to realize the impact those things can have, not only on those directly involved, but on those around us. Troy and Abed may be the ones arguing, and their awareness is definitely limited to the fight they are having with one another, but this episode is all about the implications of that fight and the way it spills out into their study group and the school itself.
Sure, the scale is absurd, but that’s only to match the absurdity of Troy and Abed’s argument — the way in which their divisiveness affects the entire school feels entirely real and justified. Their immediate friends are forced to pick sides, underlying motives are exposed and exploited. When resolution comes, it comes as a result of Jeff Winger being forced to acknowledge the nature of Troy and Abed’s friendship: mundane and silly, but undeniably epic.
That’s Jeff Winger’s big takeaway from his entire time at Greendale Community College: Things don’t have to be big to be important. Jeff may have had dreams of being a big-time lawyer, but he’s got all sorts of opportunities to make a difference where he is. And so do we, if only we can learn from Jeff’s mistakes, and get over ourselves.