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Recap / Community S5 E09 "VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing"

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Jeff, Shirley and Hickey's discovery of a hidden stash of textbooks causes power shifts within the group; Abed and Annie play an old VCR game to decide who gets to choose their new roommate. Annie wants her brother Anthony to move in, while Abed wants his girlfriend Rachel.

The Community episode VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing provides examples of:

  • Absurdly High-Stakes Game
  • Accomplice by Inaction: Shirley tries to avoid doing this, and ends up being the mastermind.
  • All Part of the Show: Rachel thinks the guy slipping and falling by her locker is part of Abed's apology. It is not.
  • An Aesop: Shirley tries to put the events of the textbook scheme into perspective (and escape culpability for her role in it) by claiming that they learned a valuable lesson from it. Everyone else is skeptical:
    Hickey: We went through some stuff.
    Shirley: But we learned something...
    Hickey: No we didn't!
    Shirley: We learned that sometimes there's no lesson.
    Jeff: How is that learning?
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  • Ambiguous Disorder: Anthony, even more so than Abed. He has none of Abed's quirk and charm, yet he is very handy at fixing things.
  • Artistic License: College-level textbooks would still be incredibly valuable even without page numbers since most colleges do not provide books for their students. Many teachers at that level don't even teach from a textbook and their purpose is to fill in the gaps left in lectures.
  • Blindfolded Trip: Happens to Britta, off-screen. (She still knows where she is.)
  • Boring, but Practical: The textbooks that are worth a lot of money. Subverted in the end since they don't have any page numbers, making them very impractical.
  • Callback: Abed refuses to flip a coin or play Rock-Paper-Scissors because they create alternate timelines.
    • The couch Abed and Annie sit on during the game is the same pattern as the "Dreamatorium".
  • Calvinball: The rules of Pile of Bullets are very hard to follow.
  • The Cameo:
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    • Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan plays the actor who stars in the VCR component of Pile of Bullets.
    • His wife is played by Gina Gershon.
    • Paul Williams plays the shady book dealer who Britta contacts to sell the stolen textbooks.
    • Annie's brother, Anthony, is played by Spencer Crittenden, the Dungeon Master of Harmontown.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Abed still uses Jeff's Netflix accounts.
    • Shirley once again shows a disturbing knack for adapting to a criminal mindset in a hurry.
    • Abed's love of buttered noodles returns.
    • Abed refuses to flip a coin (or do rock-paper-scissors) because it creates parallel timelines
    • Abed's old dorm roommate Pavel returns to help Abed apologize to Rachel by pouring a watering pot over him to simulate rain.
  • Cool Big Sis: Annie tries to be this to Anthony. Eventually, however, she admits that she resents how he took her side. Anthony tells her she needs to fix her own issues before she can be the cool sister.
  • Conversational Troping: Abed's "third act apology" to Rachel deliberately parodies the Romantic Comedy cliche of the rain soaked apology.
  • Corpsing: Gillian Jacobs after Dean Pelton's rap in the Cold Open, with her looking straight into the camera (and visibly biting her lips) before shifting again. Though mostly turned from the camera, there seems to be quite a lot of movement of Joel McHale's mouth, indicating he may have been fighting a laugh as well. The extra with the keyboard also has a slight hint of cracking a couple of times.
    • According to the cast, the scene took multiple takes because no one could get through the rap without cracking up, with Gillian Jacobs frequently ruining takes by laughing and looking at the camera. Dan Harmon and the editors ultimately settled on this take after reasoning that it made sense for Britta to find the situation funny.
  • Crime After Crime: At first Jeff, Shirley and Hickey are only guilty of theft of school property if even that. However, when Chang stumbles onto them, they escalate to assault and kidnapping. Then they try a blackmail scheme to keep Chang quiet. Then Shirley goes all out and adds three more counts of assault and kidnapping to her list of crimes. One shudders to think what she would do next if the books did not turn out to be worthless.
  • Disappointed in You: Anthony isn't mad at Annie; he knows she had a hard life, and that would make anyone neurotic. He's disappointed that she and Abed turned a friendly visit into a power play.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The textbooks are treated like they're a valuable stash of illegal drugs that the main characters have stumbled upon and are trying to sell.
  • Do You Think I Can't Feel: Anthony tells Annie that of course he cared when she got cut off. He was only a kid and that was why he took their mother's side; even if he had rooted for her, there was nothing he could do. What's more, he's disappointed that she thought she was taking a moral high ground by inviting him to stay.
  • Empathic Environment: Parodied in Abed's "Third Act Apology", with Pavel pouring "rain" over Abed's head, and pulling out a cardboard rainbow after Rachel accepts the apology.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • Jeff draws the line at blackmailing Chang to keep their secret.
    • Even Abed, no stranger to the Ambiguous Disorder himself, considers Annie's brother Anthony weird and off-putting.
  • False Confession: The group forces Chang to record one.
  • Foreshadowing: Shirley warns Jeff that nothing good is ever found in a vent. Sure enough, it's the textbooks that end up driving the group apart. Not to mention, they're misprinted.
  • Full Motion Video: Annie and Abed play this.
  • Gilligan Cut:
    Britta: Guys, guys! Calm down. I'm sure we can work this out. We just need to stay cool and talk it through.
    (cut to everyone but Shirley being tied up.)
  • Gold Fever:
    • The subplot with Jeff, Shirley and Hickey and the stolen textbooks.
    • Pile of Bullets also appears to be based around this. Possibly. It's kind of hard to keep track.
  • Handshake Substitute: Abed and Annie try and weird handshake/fist bump/finger wiggle thing.
    Annie: ...is this working?
    Abed: It's a handshake in progress.
  • Heel Realization: After the group makes Chang do a False Confession, Jeff realizes that what they're doing was too evil.
  • He Knows Too Much: Chang is not allowed to leave the storage room after he sees the textbooks. Jeff is also forbidden from excluding himself from the crime.
  • Hidden Depths: Anthony might look weird and off-putting, but when his sister tries to apologize to him for her and Abed's behaviour using family stuff, he reveals to be quite lucid about the whole situation, more so than his sister. He says that Annie can't keep using her drug addict background as an excuse to manipulate people.
  • Hookers and Blow: Devon's wife tells him to develop a taste for cocaine because now that Pile of Bullets has set him on the road to stardom, they'll finally be able to afford it.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: The Edison siblings, Anthony and Annie, are this.
  • Hypocrite: Once again, the divide between Shirley's religious beliefs and her fundamental personality is explored: she initially objects to Jeff and Hickey's plan on moral and religious grounds, but after they convince her to sell them she very quickly becomes the greediest and most ruthless of all of them.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Shirley very quickly becomes ruthless and greedy in her urge to profit from the stolen textbooks, leading to her eventually overpowering and betraying everyone else. This means that she is the one who is humiliated and forced to eat humble pie when she tries to sell them to a black market bookseller only to discover that they're misprints and have no page numbers, making them essentially worthless.
  • MacGyvering: Annie's brother casually fixes her and Abed's refrigerator door with just a few items from his pocket.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Shirley is clearly left looking rather ashamed of herself and what she's done when it's revealed that the textbooks are worthless. Unfortunately for her, by that point it's equally clear that no one else is particularly inclined to be forgiving towards her.
    • Restraining Chang and forcing him to record a False Confession prompts this in Jeff as he realises that things are going too far.
  • Never My Fault: Throughout the entire episode, Shirley never takes responsibility for her actions, and asserts that it's Jeff and Hickey's fault for dragging her into this and that she didn't want this.
  • No Honor Among Thieves: All of the participants of the textbook subplot, but Shirley in particular takes to this mindset. Which backfires on her when the textbooks turn out to be worthless, leaving her humiliated and facing a large group of her friends who are clearly not particularly happy with her after being betrayed and tied up.
  • Only Sane Man: This trope is tossed between the various participants in the textbook subplot like a ball:
    • Shirley initially refuses to participate in the textbook scheme, pointing out that it's a crime and that no good will come of it;
    • The moment Chang walks in on Jeff, Shirley, Hickey and Britta with the stolen textbooks, he immediately tries to leave;
    • The group setting Chang up as their fall guy is the moment Jeff realises they've gone too far, letting him take on this role;
    • Hickey points out that Shirley's "kidnap everyone who tries to leave the basement" approach to the situation is rapidly becoming insane;
    • Britta tells the hyper-paranoid Shirley and Hickey that Jeff is clearly trying to drive a wedge between the remaining participants in the textbook scheme.
    • Way over in the other subplot, both Rachel and and Anthony watch in bewildered boredom as Annie and Abed get way too intense over a crappy 1990s VHS game.
  • Out-of-Character Moment: The Dean is shocked by how angry his rap becomes, as if he were possessed. In the last scene he is seen trying to recreate it.
  • Overly Narrow Superlative:
    Abed: the highest stakes 1993 interactive VCR game of your entire young adult lives.
  • Parental Neglect: When Annie went to rehab, her mother turned her back on her.
  • Piss Take Rap: Played Straight at first by Dean Pelton in the Cold Open when he dresses like a Payday candy bar and gives a freestyle rap apology to Jeff and Hickey about their paychecks being delayed. As he goes on he gets angrier and it suddenly turns into a gangsta style Political Rap as the "Save Greendale" committee watches.
  • The Pratfall: A student slips on Abed's fake rainwater after his apology to Rachel. He is not a stuntman.
  • Reality Ensues: Pointed out by Anthony. He understands why Annie is mad at him for taking their mother's side, but tells her that's not an excuse for making him a part of her weird mind games with Abed. Anthony mentions he was only thirteen, and he wasn't able to recognize that their mother was emotionally abusive. Thus, Annie has no right to hold a grudge against what he did as a child.
  • Running Gag: Britta's delivery of "EV-ERY-BODY!" is the third parody of The Professional's memetic "EV-ERY-ONE!" line this season.
  • Savvy Guy, Energetic Girl: The Edison siblings, Anthony and Annie.
    • Abed and Annie have this dynamic as roommates without Troy.
  • Schmuck Bait: Annie's method of assigning chores. Jeff, Shirley and Hickey eagerly agree to clear out the storage room because they think they've figured out that Annie always assigns easy tasks first and builds up progressively to harder ones. Unfortunately for them, Annie's realised they think this.
  • Second-Act Breakup: Abed and Rachel's breakup. Lampshaded when Abed makes a "Third Act Apology".
  • Serious Business: Abed and Annie take playing Pile of Bullets way too seriously.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: The textbooks are misprints without any page numbers and are essentially worthless, thus making the whole evening's Gold Fever drama a waste of time for Shirley, Jeff, Hickey, Britta and Chang.
  • Shout-Out: Another to Gary Oldman's memetic delivery of "EV-ERY-ONE!" in The Professional.
    • One might assume the sky-blue color of the textbooks to be coincidental, were it not for Hickey's actor's most famous role, Vince Gilligan is making a cameo, and the theme of the plotline involving the morally corrupting effects that greed and easy, illegal money can have on a seemingly decent average person...
  • Sniff Sniff Nom: Britta determines the quality of the textbooks by sniffing one.
  • The Stoic: Annie's brother Anthony. It's enough to unnerve even Abed.
  • Stylistic Suck: The Pile of Bullets VHS, full of cheesy video effects and warping typical of an old VHS tape.
  • This Is Going to Be Huge: The Tag is the actor for Pile of Bullets getting the job back in 1993. His wife begs him to take it and move to Los Angeles, saying that VCR games will be the next Star Wars.
    • It Will Never Catch On: The wife also tells him to quit his job at Apple Computers, mocking its giving of stock options.
  • The Unsmile: Abed still needs to work his smile but Annie's brother Anthony's smile is even more disturbing.
  • Token Good Teammate: Anthony is the only Eddison that Annie still likes. Even when he calls her out for her actions, he's civil about it and doesn't raise his voice.
  • VHS Game: Abed and Annie play a VHS-based game called Pile of Bullets, where the rules are a little hard to follow.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Anthony calls Annie out for her behavior the previous night. As well as accusing him of "taking Mom's side" when she turned her back on Annie when she went to rehab. As he pointed out, he was 13 at the time.
  • Whole Plot Reference: This is pretty much a Breaking Bad episode, only more PG rated and no need for murder.
  • Why Did You Make Me Hit You?: Shirley pulls this on the others after she overpowers them and goes to sell the textbooks all by herself. It's played with, in that while she does have a valid point — Shirley was initially reluctant to have anything to do with the textbooks and had to be persuaded by Jeff and Hickey, which she points out — when she did eventually join in she clearly let her greed control her and took things way further than everyone else was willing to, and refused to take responsibility for her own actions or decisions.
  • Younger Than They Look: Anthony, Annie's brother, is around 19, yet looks much older.

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