|Episode no.||Season 5
|Directed by||Rob Schrab|
|Written by||Dino Stamatopoulos|
|Original air date||April 3, 2014|
"G.I. Jeff" is the eleventh episode of the fifth season of Community, and the 95th episode overall in the series. It originally aired on April 3, 2014 on NBC. The episode was written by Dino Stamatopoulos, and directed by Rob Schrab. The episode was completed in the animation style of the popular 1980s children's television cartoon, G.I. Joe.
The episode received generally positive reviews, with critics praising the affectionate homage to the childhood cartoon series. Despite positive reviews, however, the episode saw season lows of 0.9/3 in the 18-49 rating/share demo and 2.50 million American viewers.
The episode begins with Cobra forces led by Destro (Isaac Singleton Jr.) attacking the Taj Mahal. They are intercepted by G.I. Joe troops led by Flint (Bill Ratner). Among the force is the (rather dysfunctional) study group; Annie (Alison Brie), codenamed “Tight Ship,” who questions their orders, Britta (Gillian Jacobs), codenamed “Buzzkill,” who comments on her suggestive outfit with inappropriate language. Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown), codenamed “Three Kids,” who's too busy talking to her kids on the phone to focus on the battle, and Jeff (Joel McHale), codenamed “Wingman”. Jeff shoots down Destro's plane, but takes things too far when he shoots out Destro’s parachute. A surprised Destro falls to his death, causing Flint and the rest of the Joes to stare in horror.
Wingman, Three Kids, Buzzkill, and Tight Ship are charged with violence, suggestive language, and mature situations unbecoming of G.I. Joe at a court-martial presided over by Duke (Michael Bell), Flint, and Scarlett (Mary McDonald-Lewis). Wingman defends the first killing in G.I. Joe history by countering it should be their duty to eliminate Cobra because it is a ruthless terrorist organization, but the four are sent to jail.
In the jail, the Group meets "Fourth Wall," played by Abed (Danny Pudi), in the adjacent cell. Fourth Wall explains that they are in a cartoon and that he has infiltrated a Cobra dig site called "Greendale." Wingman loses consciousness, sending him to a live-action, mock G.I. Joe commercial featuring three young boys playing with G.I. Joes and their accessories. Wingman regains consciousness in the G.I. Joe cartoon where he hears beeps resembling hospital equipment and Annie’s and Britta’s voice calling him Jeff. Wingman dismisses this, saying he belongs in G.I. Joe.
Meanwhile, at Cobra Headquarters, Cobra Commander (Rob Schrab) delivers a eulogy at Destro’s funeral. He is interrupted by "Vice Cobra Assistant Commander," played by Dean Pelton (Jim Rash), who delivers news of an energy surge at the Greendale site. Cobra then initiates an attack of the G.I. Joe base to avenge Destro’s death. Cobra bombs a hole in Wingman’s jail cell, allowing the Group to escape. Wingman tries to help out in the battle, but he just ends up killing more Cobra soldiers and accidentally setting Lifeline on fire, causing him to burn to death. The Squad leaves in a “Submachopter” tiltrotor and Fourth Wall suggests going to the site at Greendale. The mention of the word causes Wingman to lose consciousness again, sending him into another live-action G.I. Joe action figure commercial where the Squad is now called “The Mutineers” because of Wingman’s fatal sharpshooting skills. Wingman regains consciousness and the Mutineers arrive at the Greendale site.
The Mutineers easily defeat opposition and enter Study Room F, where Wingman realizes that he works at Greendale as a teacher named Jeff Winger, and that this cartoon reality is in his imagination. Jeff leaves to go to his office and realizes why he is unconscious – because he drank the bottle of Scotch whiskey and took anti-aging pills from Koreatown. He returns to the group and explains that he took them because he has been lying about his age. Fourth Wall informs him of the different layers of existence, where he is currently in the 1980s cartoon layer. He explains that Jeff sees visions of the next layer, the toy commercial plane, which separates him from the real world where Jeff must go to confront the reason for the hallucination. Jeff says he doesn’t want to go back because he doesn’t want to be a middle-aged community college teacher; he wants to be in G.I. Joe because he is immortal in this cartoon world.
Just then, Cobra and G.I. Joe forces intervene to reveal they have joined forces to become "Jo-Bra" and capture Wingman. Cobra Commander and Duke ask Jeff questions about real life that make Jeff realize he cannot live in this cartoon universe forever. Jeff tricks them and uses his jet pack to escape the cartoon reality. Jeff leaves the toy commercial layer and enters reality where he is on a hospital bed, surrounded by the members of the Save Greendale committee. Jeff reveals that he’s 40 years old, to the surprise of the group. They nevertheless support him and say he should not have been embarrassed to reveal his age. The group gives him a present of a coffee mug they bought at the hospital gift shop that says “It’s an Old Boy,” with the “Old” written in. He tells them to bring it in for a hug and they all laugh while the camera fades to black.
The animated end scene shows Buzzkill catching two kids spray-painting their names onto a park structure. She botches a Public Service Announcement and gives a cynically complex message before Fourth Wall intervenes to give a short message: “Graffiti is bad. Go play sports.”
The episode was animated in the style of the popular 1980s television cartoon, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. Jeff, as "Wingman," adopted the look of G.I. Joe’s Duke, though with inverted colors for his costume; Annie, as "Tight Ship," was an analogue to Shipwreck; Abed's "Fourth Wall" was an homage to the Native American G.I. Joe, Spirit; Shirley, as "Three Kids," wore Stalker’s costume; Professor Duncan, as "Xim-Xam" (and his twin "Mix-Max"), was an homage to the Crimson Guard Twins; Professor Hickey as "Major Dick," with an eye-patch and costume to that of Major Bludd; Chang, as "Overkill" wore Quick Kick's costume; and Dean Pelton, as "Vice Cobra Assistant Commander", served as a foil to Cobra Commander. During the courtroom scene in Wingman's trial, Scud from Scud: The Disposable Assassin is seen in the background. Fourth Wall's illustration of the layers of reality is a reference to the 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Deities & Demigods/Legends & Lore book. The hospital scene where the group laughs and the camera fades to black pays tribute to the light-hearted endings of G.I. Joe cartoons. The end-credits Public Service Announcement by Buzzkill and Fourth Wall is a reference to a PSA from the original G.I. Joe cartoon, as well as the 35 overall PSAs done in the series.
Series creator and co-showrunner Dan Harmon initially announced that there would be an animated episode during the cast and crew's visit to the San Diego Comic-Con in July 2013. Series writer and co-showrunner Chris McKenna said the idea for the concept of the episode came about in a simple way: "I think Harmon said, 'Let's do a G.I. Joe episode!'" McKenna said that the show wanted to pay tribute to the 1980s animated series: "[G.I. Joe] was something from our childhood that was very important to us and we had fond memories of it, and we thought it would be a cool way to do another animated episode. Like all Community episodes, it takes on a certain style. This one has a very specific story reason for it. I don’t want to give too much away, but our characters find themselves on a Wizard of Oz-type journey through the world of G.I. Joe. … There’s a mystery that Jeff in particular has to get to the bottom of." McKenna added that the Community team had been working overtime to craft "a loving homage to the G.I. Joe series." 
Though production for the live-action episodes had been completed in December 2013, the cast recorded their voices in late March 2014. McKenna said the delay was due to the fact that they broke and re-broke the story several times in order to utilize all the regulars and guest stars in the Community universe, as well as to find a proper justification for using the animated medium to tell their story. McKenna said that Rob Schrab (Scud: The Disposable Assassin) was the "perfect person" to direct the episode and "he's absolutely a maniac trying to get it together." McKenna explained that this episode is not simply a sketch, but that the characters take on this style to carry out a story that takes place in the real world, which Harmon stated was a story was about "age and dying."
The episode was animated by Harmon's animation studio, Starburns Industries, which had previously animated the claymation episode, "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas". The episode was animated with the permission of the G.I. Joe's toy manufacturer, Hasbro. Harmon had this to say about Hasbro's willingness to lend its iconic style:
"The weird thing was how cooperative they were. Not that we maligned their product in any way, but their product is a syndicated, children's cartoon with a different rating than ours, so it's like part of the point of the episode is that there's a different sensibility within this world. So I thought they'd have more problems than they did with the idea of Jeff Winger's G.I. Joe character accidentally killing people. But they were cool with that! More power to them, because they were very, very gracious with their product. That's really cool too, because you're accustomed in TV that if someone pulls out a Snickers bar, it always says 'Snookers.' So the weird thing is that when you see actual branding like that, it hits your brain like it's kind of revolutionary. Which is dumb, because why should that be? But you see the G.I. Joe logo and we have G.I. Joe characters talking to our characters…"
Upon airing, the episode was watched by 2.50 million American viewers, receiving a 0.9/3 in the 18-49 rating/share. The show placed fourth out of fifth in its time slot, behind The Big Bang Theory, Hell's Kitchen, and Once Upon a Time in Wonderland; and fifteenth out of seventeen for the night.
Critics gave the episode generally positive reviews, with many remarking on the authentic feel of the 1980s cartoon G.I. Joe. The episode drew criticism, however, due to unfamiliarity of many in the audience with the cartoon to which the episode paid homage. Brian Collins of Badass Digest praised the episode's use of the animated medium to tell an essential story in the Community mythology. He said this episode proved "once again that in Community, there's (almost) no such thing as a throwaway episode." Collins enjoyed how the episode immediately distinguished itself from the 1980s cartoon by questioning the lack of deaths when firing multiple weapons while fighting a terrorist organization like Cobra. He commended the episode for being frank with the viewer from the beginning with the idea that the episode took place in Jeff’s mind, unlike the fourth season’s finale. Collins noted how this episode compared to the second season’s stop-motion episode where Abed had a mental breakdown. The ultimate reveal, however, in this episode that Jeff is in a coma (due to alcohol poisoning mixed with suspect anti-aging pills) made this much the episode much darker, Collins said. Collins also praised the episode for delivering a grounded piece of canon about Jeff turning 40 years old despite making him a “bit too old” for the 23/24-year-old Annie: “It's a daring move, and the fact that he's been ‘lying’ about his age doesn't quite land since he's never revealed it in an episode, but it's one of the many things that helps keep the show grounded in more of a reality than we're used to on a sitcom.” The reveal is especially poignant, Collins wrote, because Jeff was now the one with the crisis, where previous episodes saw dramatic stories such as Troy leaving (Abed's crisis), Pierce dying (the Group's crisis), and Britta seeing her activist friends move on. Collins ended by saying “it’s a goddamn hilarious episode. Rob Schrab (the director of the episode) plays Cobra Commander, and had me laughing out loud nearly every time he spoke - particularly during Destro's eulogy, which he botches because he's never had to give one before now.”
Joe Matar from Den of Geek rated the episode “2 out of 5 stars,” though qualifying his rating by confessing he “can’t even remember watching a single G.I. Joe [episode] and I certainly didn’t own any of the action figures.” This mirrored the rating given by Dave Bunting (Vulture), who also qualified his rating by saying he “never watched that mid-’80s animated series, and the line of action figures that inspired the cartoon also didn't mean much to me.” Similar to Bunting’s reason for the lack of connection with the episode, Matar explained that though this episode is a loving homage to the old G.I. Joe action figures, he couldn’t “imagine this episode holding that much appeal for you. It certainly didn’t for me.” Matar criticized the episode’s heavy dependence upon “nostalgia and recognition of a bygone era of budget animation and cheesy toy commercials,” adding that “either your familiarity with this old junk will be triggered from frame one and you’ll be grinning the whole episode or you’ll sit there, stony-faced, at times bewildered, like yours truly.” Despite his harsh criticism, Matar explained that he understood the irony that the characters were “upset when someone actually dies.” Matar resented this “in-joke” as much of the story hinged upon this concept. Unlike Collins, Matar did not appreciate Jeff imagining the entire episode like in the fourth season finale:
“Something continually upsetting to me is the way Season 5 at its worst reminds me of Season 4, a period in Community’s life that I don’t even consider to be the same show. But remember the abysmal Season 4 finale where Jeff kind of had a psychotic break and imagined the Darkest Timeline was real and then it turned out it was all a dream? Well, this one makes a lot more sense and it doesn’t cheaply hide the ‘dream’ aspect so as to use it as a twist at the end, but still, it feels lazier than I expect Community to be.”
Todd VanDerWerff’s (The A.V. Club) unfamiliarity with the 1980s cartoon did not negatively affect his rating, however, as he gave the episode an “A-.” VanDerWerff said that though he was too young to have knowledge of the cartoon, he enjoyed this spiritual sequel to season two's stop-motion episode, "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas". He said that he enjoyed the episode turning into a “weird, Inception-inspired attempt to break out of Jeff’s subconscious.” He also enjoyed the episode “kept getting more and more ridiculous as Jeff struggled to wrangle everything together into a coherent narrative funny.” Like Collins, VanDerWerff enjoyed that the stakes were established early on and that it was revealed that the episode took place in Jeff’s head – similar to Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas taking place in Abed’s head. He praised the episode for being able to handle darker topics, explaining that Jeff wasn’t actively trying to commit suicide, but taking pills thinking it will bring him youth:
“The episode also doesn’t shy away from how that act of self-destruction might as well be subconscious suicide anyway. Jeff’s horribly depressed about being 40 and having only made it as far as a community college instructor. Even if he’s surrounded with friends, he’s not in the place he thought he would be when he was a little boy and imagined greater things for himself. Adulthood might carry with it pleasures that childhood doesn’t—from naked breasts and Scotch all the way up to deeper emotional connections with other human beings—but childhood carries with it the pleasure of not really knowing how much sorrow and despair the world can hold. That’s why nostalgia for the things we loved as children is such a powerful opiate: It takes us back to a place where we knew we were loved, as Don Draper would have it. I’m not saying this episode doubles as a subtle critique of all of those Buzzfeed articles about how great it was to be a kid in the ‘90s, but I’m not not saying that either. We all get older and have to put away childish things. Getting lost in them can be a danger in and of itself.”
VanDerWerff also praised director Rob Schrab’s ability to “beautifully [capture] the animation limitations of ‘80s afternoon cartoons…[and] the flat lighting of ‘80s toy commercials.” VanDerWerff requested to give Shirley more material in future episodes, while appreciating her name “Three Kids” as a joke to how rarely the show gives her more than a catchphrase. Though he found the episode to be “very enjoyable” and “very funny,” VanDerWerff lodged a minor complaint at the final scene in the hospital:
“I think works a little too hard to put a cap on everything that doesn’t leave the audience contemplating their own mortality…But I still thought the episode built nicely to a place of genuine existential despair and then sort of… shoved it right back down so we could have the standard group hug…It’s not a huge flaw—Community has been walking right up to the edge of the howling void and then walking right back with a hug since 2009—but it’s one that nonetheless kept me from completely embracing everything that was going on in the end.”
- Goldman, Eric (April 2, 2014). "Community's Cast and Creators Preview the Big G.I. Joe Animated Episode". IGN. Retrieved April 3, 2014.
- Bibel, Sara (April 4, 2014). "Thursday Final Ratings: 'The Big Bang Theory', 'Grey's Anatomy', 'Scandal' & 'Hell's Kitchen' Adjusted Up; 'American Idol', 'The Millers', 'The Crazy Ones' & 'Elementary' Adjusted Down". TV by the Numbers. Retrieved April 5, 2014.
- Marnell, Blair (March 21, 2014). "First Look: 'Community' Goes 'G.I. Jeff' In New Animated Episode". Crave Online. Retrieved April 3, 2014.
- Fizzygoo (April 5, 2014). "Abed's 'cartoon planes of existence' image origin". Reddit. Reddit.com. Retrieved April 6, 2014.
From The 1st ed. AD&D Deities & Demigods/Legends & Lore book (pg 113 of the 1984 Legends & Lore version/edition)
- West, Kelly (March 28, 2014). "Yo, Joe! Community 'G.I. Jeff' Episode Gets A Preview And An Informative Clip". Cinema Blend. Retrieved April 3, 2014.
- PSAGIJoe (August 12, 2009). "Flint - "Listen to yourself" - A G.I. Joe Public Service Announcement". YouTube. Retrieved April 3, 2014.
- Nededog, Jethro (July 21, 2013). "Comic-Con 2013: 'Community's' Dan Harmon Apologizes to Fans, 'I'm a Bad Person'". The Wrap. Retrieved April 3, 2014.
He was able to confirm that there will be an animated episode, something he knows for sure since preparation has to start early for that one.
- Snierson, Dan (March 21, 2014). "'Community': Details on the 'G.I. Jeff' animated episode -- FIRST LOOK". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved April 3, 2014.
- Ching, Albert (April 3, 2014). "'Community' Aims to 'Tell a Real Story' with Animated 'G.I. Joe' Homage". SpinoffOnline. Retrieved April 3, 2014.
- McLean, Thomas (March 27, 2014). "'G.I. Joe' Animated 'Community' Preview". Animation Magazine. Retrieved April 3, 2014.
- "Starburns Industries: About". Starburns Industries. Retrieved April 3, 2014.
- Collins, Brian (April 4, 2014). "TV Review: COMMUNITY 5.11 "G.I. Jeff"". Badass Digest. Retrieved April 4, 2014.
- Matar, Joe (April 4, 2014). "Community: G.I. Jeff review". Den of Geek. Retrieved April 4, 2014.
- Bunting, Dave (April 4, 2014). "Community Recap: Jeff Sold Separately". Vulture. Retrieved April 4, 2014.
- VanDerWerff, Todd (April 3, 2014). "Community: "G.I. Jeff"". A.V. Club. Retrieved April 4, 2014.