I try not to be one of those fans, but last night's Community episode prompted me to find my inner Comic Book Guy and say, "Worst. Episode. Ever." That's probably a bit unfair and hyperbolic, but it's certainly true to say there's never been an episode of Community I enjoyed less than "G.I. Jeff."
A large part of my dissatisfaction stems from its very nature as a detailed parody of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, an animated series I never watched based on a toy line I never played with. I was in high school when the toy line debuted, but even if I'd been younger, I doubt I would have had much interest; action figures never held much appeal for me. As for the animated series, not only did I not watch it, I feel a certain degree of contempt for the entire toy-commercial-disguised-as-TV-show genre in general, and my upbringing in a politically liberal household made G.I. Joe and its jingoistic Reagan-era militarism particularly distasteful.
If last night's episode had been a generalized parody/satire of crappy animated series based on toys, I might have enjoyed it more. But by anchoring it specifically to the series that to me represents the nadir of that genre, and even worse by making it as much a loving tribute to that show as a satire of it ... well, you've lost me. There were jokes I liked, like the repeated shot of Jeff and the other members of the study group hitting people or objects with rocks, and I admire the lengths the producers went to to replicate the look of those toy commercial TV series, but overall the whole thing left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.
The bigger problem is the way they justified the G.I. Joe sequences. One of the things I admire about Community is that they don't just do parodies and homages for the sake of doing a parody or homage; they have a specific, in-story reasons for, say, having all the characters appear as stop-motion-animated figurines or puppets, or turning into zombies, or whatever. (SPOILERS from this point on!) In "G.I. Jeff," Jeff was imagining himself in a G.I. Joe cartoon after accidentally overdosing on booze and pills because he was depressed about growing older. Specifically, about turning 40.
I'm sorry, but no. Jeff being worried about growing older? Fine. Totally believable. Trying to deal with that problem by getting dunk and taking quackish youth-restoring pills he bought in Koreatown? Sure, why not. But he's not 40. I think I can say without fear of contradiction that I've spent more time thinking about Jeff Winger's age than anyone outside of the Community writers' room, and possibly more than even them. I spent hours reviewing old episodes and paratexts for clues about Jeff's age, and I can assure you that there is not a single shred of canonical evidence suggesting Jeff just turned 40.
When I first researched the question, I determined that based on what had been revealed about Jeff's age suggested that he was born in 1977. An episode that aired after that seemed to confirm that hypothesis. Here's the relevant quote from that episode:
One time, when I was in seventh grade, I told everybody at school that I had appendicitis. I wanted someone to worry about me. But when Beth Brannon asked to see the scar, I didn’t want to get found out, so I took Mom’s scissors, and I made one. It hurt like hell, but it was worth it. Because I got 17 cards, and I still keep them in a box underneath my bed 22 years later because it proves that someone, at some point, cared about me.
We know that episode took place in 2012, so that means Jeff was in 7th grade in 1990. If Jeff just turned 40, that means he was a 16-year-old 7th-grader. Of course, he could have been lying when he said what I quoted above, or gotten the date wrong ... but he was speaking to his estranged father at the time, trying to make him feel bad about abandoning Jeff as a child, so if Jeff really had been 38 at the time, he would have had every incentive to say he'd been holding onto those cards for 26 years, just because it sounds that much worse.
It's fair to ask, "John, are you just mad because 'G.I. Jeff' Jossed your carefully constructed fan theory?" And if I'm being honest, maybe the answer to that is, to some extent, yes. But the bigger problem is what the decision to make Jeff 40 despite all the evidence to the contrary says about the writers. Community has always been very conscious of its own history. It's why they were able to pull off that Beetlejuice gag in Season 3, or the iPod Nano joke earlier this year. That they were willing to disregard their own continuity so flagrantly is very troubling and doesn't speak well for the future.