Shirley’s a character that hasn’t had much to do this season, with no visits from her ex-husband (where have you gone, Malcolm-Jamal Warner?) and only brief mentions of her food business (or sandwich biz, I guess). Coincidentally, she’s the only female member of the Greendale gang that’s closest in age to Jeff, but you clearly can’t have an age-appropriate relationship on network TV. Nope. Not with the younger Britta and Annie around.
In “App Development and Condiments,” Greendale Community College is selected to test the beta version of a social app called Meow Meow Beenz, where students rate teachers and vice versa on a 1 to 5 scale. Eventually, the campus becomes a futuristic dystopia where the higher your number is, the higher social status you have at the school. Everyone at Greendale becomes trapped in Meow Meow Beenz’ tentacles. Abed actually likes small talk now and, yes, even Hickey gives in. Being likable improves your chances of a higher number. And we all know where that places the always-cheerful Shirley and the always “Britta” Britta, mustard on her face and all.
This became another high concept, genre parody episode, but also had somethings to say about the state of our current Facebook, Twitter, whatever-the-hottest-social-media-app-currently-is culture. App-based social ranking is even more vital in the always status-hungry school environment, because everyone wants to be popular and cool. We’ll do almost anything, whether it’s smudge the details on our online profiles or manipulate people by our emotions (like Jeff accuses Shirley of) to be liked.
Shirley being hurt by Jeff not inviting her to a dinner she couldn’t even go to anyway fuels her becoming the eventual head of the Fives. When Jeff betrays the lower-numbered Britta to win over the student body and the other Fives (with some stand-up comedy laced with clever generalities about the various numbers) to get a higher ranking, it’s Shirley’s need to hide her emotions that he exposes. Jeff has always been the defacto leader of the study group, and him gaining a Five combined with his slight about the dinner invite finally forces her to express how she feels. They both have a need to be in control, and this common trait leads to Jeff apologizing. Their dispute and resolution was a little reminiscent of season three’s excellent “Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism.”
Britta and the gray-clothed lower numbers revolting, overthrowing, and eventually becoming the same tyranny and corrupt power they replaced was also a nice commentary on how those things go. The need to restore order and punish the oppressors just reuses the same methods of exclusion and judgement the original wrongdoers utilized.
Not the funniest episode, but much like the rest of season five, there were been some really good character-heavy, more serious moments among the sillier stuff. The group is older and facing the reality of what their lives are becoming. Season five has tackled many of the changes that have taken place around them. But this was still an episode that featured the frightening sight of Starburns in a leathery Lord Humongous from Mad Max outfit, so there’s still lots of room for the absurdism that Community is great at.