Community, Season 2 Episode 6 “Epidemiology”,
Available for streaming on Hulu
To say I watch this episode of television every year for Halloween is a lie – I watch it much, much more often than that. In my opinion it is as perfect a twenty minutes and six seconds of tv as you’ll find out there. It’s one of the many episodes of Community that proves that when Dan Harmon and his writer’s room were firing on all cylinders, they could produce that rare thing – a perfect pastiche. What’s that, those of you who don’t spend most of your waking life thinking about pop culture might ask. For me, a perfect pastiche is a work that manages to lovingly imitate and smartly skewer a genre, all while adding something new to it. “Epidemiology” is a bubbling cauldron of horror and sci-fi tropes – you got your zombies, your disease outbreaks and your bad taco meat (ok that last one might be a bit less classic) – with some Swedish dance hits and George Takei thrown in for fun.
A Takei voiceover starts the episode (and keep in mind this was 2010, before he was everyone’s favorite clap back grandpa on Twitter) and of course we’re at Greendale Community college where the gang is celebrating the spookiest of holidays in costumes that match their quirks (pathologies?) – Jeff is handsome David Beckham, Britta’s an unsexy T-Rex without full use of her hands and whatever Shirley is, is hard to say, but as Annie (a basic but cute Red Riding Hood) tells us “She is NOT Ms. Piggy, I repeat, she is not Ms. Piggy.” Troy and Abed had committed fully to their two-person Predator costume, but after getting rejected by some girls (and Jeff), Troy ditches it for a lower-maintenance, but hotter, shirtless Dracula.
When Pierce (dressed as a very on brand Captain Kirk) starts getting sick, we find out the taco meat he’s been eating is actually some kind of nefarious army science experiment. Non-surprising spoiler – consuming it turns you into a flesh-hungry zombie. Of course Dean Pelton (Dean Gaga for the night) unwittingly bought it for the party, though that’s not his only way of torturing everyone – the party’s soundtrack is a mix of ABBA’s greatest hits and his embarrassing voice memos to himself. Both are a brilliant touch – you really haven’t lived till you’ve seen a full on zombie attack set to Dancing Queen or Gimme Gimme Gimme.
It slowly dawns on the group that there might be more than food-poisoning going on, or as Jeff says, “Have you noticed a weird vibe taking hold of this party? It’s like every fifth person is on something seriously hardcore.” Then Leonard goes full cannibal and it’s suddenly impossible to ignore the thronging masses of students-turned-zombies hangry for human flesh. The rest of the episode is a race against time as the group tries to save themselves from being zombie-fied and save their already gone classmates from having their brains turned to mush by the disease. There are subplots involving the Dean and the military, a very unexpected hook-up and Troy battling his instinct to be cool, only to find that it’s embracing his inner nerd that allows him to save the day (yah nerds!).
Because it’s Community, the group does all get infected and one of the best sight gags is seeing them as zombies, but still being themselves – Jeff texting in the corner, too cool to care, Annie diligently studying, but still as a zombie, get it? But because it’s a sitcom, the day is eventually saved and we’re back to the dulcet tones of Mr. Takei, wrapping up Halloween for this year, and providing you with the perfect voicemail message, just as long as your name is Kevin.