There's part of me that wonders if I might not regard "Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps" as brilliant had it aired a year later or earlier or if "Remedial Chaos Theory" had simply come afterward, as the two episodes employed the same basic framework of one cutaway story per study group member, but this one just wasn't as good. But, whether or not I kneel in awe of Community's ambition any given week aside, did this episode deliver the laughs? Yep. It was still the best sitcom episode of the week, if only by a small margin.
(If you must have the show vs. show competitive interpretation of it, I would say that my laugh count was pretty damn even between both this and Parks and Recreation's "Meet 'N' Greet," but I ultimately gave "Horror Fiction" the edge in my October roundup simply because I found it more creative and I'm more likely to remember it ten years from now.)
Much as the last two episodes of Community have broken themselves down into seven separate stories, let's just go ahead and break this review up into seven little reviews, ranked weakest to best, one for each of the titular spooky steps:
7. Jeff – Not that I thought there was anything blatantly wrong with this story, but, as the heartwarming resolution, it couldn't help but be a little less riotous than everything surrounding it.
6. Britta – The quickest and least flashy story, perhaps, but the Britta-ized radio announcement of the escaped lunatic by itself gave it the comedic punch to be more than just the episode's control experiment.
5. Troy – Human Centipede references may be a little played out by this point (New Girl of all shows had one this week, and New Girl is about as cushy and mainstream a show as I can imagine), but Pierce having butt-boobs he can touch all day was a vision of true comedic terror.
4. Annie – The quality of this one lay less in the overall Twilight-flavored concept than in the little moments, such as Britta's flat affirmation that "I'm fine with this." and Jeff's coining of the phrase "drained and tainted bitch-dog." The CGI on Annie's werewolf transformation also wasn't too bad for a sitcom. It took me out of the moment less than most of the dinosaurs do on Terra Nova, anyway.
3. Abed – A sublime literalization of stuff that gets routinely shouted at slasher protagonists on TV and movie screens across the nation. True, turning the radio on at the wrong time for the news bulletin reminded me of a joke they did with Wayne Jarvis on Arrested Development some five years ago, but Troy and Abed's harmonized real-world humming saved it anyway. Abed's quick and dirty character development about economic woes and romance was also great, and undeniably successful: I would have been more upset to see these characters get offed than those in Britta's tale.
2. Shirley – That Shirley sees the entire gang – even sweet little Annie – as a crew of deranged, heavy metal-listening potheads she's mother hen of may be the best revelation of its type since we found out that Kenneth Parcell sees all humans as muppets. Her misunderstanding of how marijuana works and her version of Britta's repeated insistence that she lived in New York were both perfection.
1. Pierce – It's difficult to say how much of this was how Pierce sees himself and how much was pure fantasy, but either way it was hysterically funny and so perfectly, utterly Pierce. Abed's "Oh man!" after Pierce punches out Troy is brilliantly delivered.
All in all a fun little Halloween anthology. But while I enjoy a good "Abed is awesome" moral as much as the next guy, there is an ambiguity-appreciating part of me that kind of wishes they had left the identity of the one sane personality test a mystery. Going back to the "Remedial Chaos Theory" comparison, it was a stab at a heartwarming ending that was decently successful but still paled in comparison to the "Roxanne" dance party that capped off the pre-tag end of the episode just one week prior. (And, just like as "Chaos Theory," the tag was a non-canonical continuation of Troy's story. Crazy how closely the two episodes sync up.)
Funniest Moment: Pierce's entire story is the second funniest moment of the episode; the funniest is the group's collective expressions immediately after the story is over, especially Britta. Gillian Jacobs has been killing it this season.
Final Grade: B+