The Great Pillow War of 2012 gets the Ken Burns treatment. A Dreamatorium divided against itself cannot stand.

By Christian Blauvelt
April 06, 2012 at 04:02 AM EDT
Tyler Golden/NBC
S3 E14
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Can you hear the drums, Inspector?

I remember long ago another campus fight like this.

But no more paintballs, Inspector.

You were humming “Daybreak,” and softly strumming your guitar.

I could hear the distant drums,

And Real Neil broadcasting from afar.

They were closer now, Inspector.

Every hour, every minute since the All Tomato.

I was so afraid, Inspector.

We were snug and very plush and none of us prepared to die.

And I’m not ashamed to say

The hush of down and feathers almost made me cry.

There were feathers in the air that night,

Britta’s flash was bright, Inspector.

She was shooting there for you and me,

Not artistry, Inspector.

Though we never thought we’d lose Guinness,

There’s no record.

If I had to do the same again,

I would, my friend, Inspector.

Considering Dean Pelton’s love of all things ABBA (see: “Epidemiology”) I’m surprised a re-worked “Fernando” with Inspector Spacetime lyrics didn’t make it into Greendale Campus Television’s epic documentary retelling of the Great Pillow War of 2012. Whoever was at the helm—be it the Guinness World Records film crew that descended upon the campus, or Troy and Abed themselves—ultimately opted for the high-toned dignity and serious-mindedness of Ken Burns. It was a fitting style to convey the magnitude (Pop! Pop!) of the largest pillow fight in community college history, and the greatest conflict to sunder Greendale since it was discovered centuries ago by Portuguese explorer English Memorial during his quest to find a fountain that cured syphilis.

You could see “Pillows & Blankets” as a generic parody of PBS, which for most of its existence has effortlessly mixed the highest levels of artistry with absolutely staggering banality. But it was really The Civil War, Burns’ eight-hour 1990 masterpiece, to which Dan Harmon & Co. chose to pay elaborate and, dare I say it, sophisticated tribute. Community captured it all: the pleading violins for a dash of wistful heartbreak; a little banjo for some Americana swagger; talking heads to add expert commentary (though, alas, no Shelby Foote, the smartest guy to ever appear on American television); detailed, sepia-toned maps to make sense of the carnage; slow pans-and-zooms across, and into, still photographs; recitations of text messages, in lieu of, you know, actual letters; and quotes from worthy literati like Leonard Rodriguez.

It was with just such a quote that “Pillows & Blankets” opened: “Between two groups of people who want to make inconsistent types of worlds, I see no remedy but force.” –Oliver Wendell Holmes.

That was exactly the cause of our strife: a refusal to compromise. Oh, Ayn Rand, what hath thou wrought?

NEXT: Troy and Abed create their own sister publication to EW, then turn to bloodshed. That’s how hard magazine publishing is.

Troy and Abed were once so close they graced the cover of Friends Weekly, an unofficial offshoot of EW. Guess who won Friendship of the Year! They had decreed that their pillow fort, New Fluffytown, would be an even more plush successor to Fluffytown, their blanket fort from the previous year. But as we now know, when the opportunity for setting a Guinness World Record popped up, Troy was tantalized by the possibility of meeting that dude with the long fingernails and being fitted for a beard of bees, while Abed refused to compromise the artistic integrity of the pillow fort by adding blankets to more easily secure the record. Basically, Abed said, “records are dumb.” Troy said that was “lame” and that “thinking records are dumb is stupid.” The deeper, more primordial reason for this conflict, though unaddressed by Community, is that man, by his very nature, fears contentment–like that fostered by a pillow or blanket fort–because we know on some level it’s a hindrance to growth. New Fluffytown was  a new Eden of sorts, a place where you were surrounded by softness, where every foot you crawled felt like a hug. But, as very old student Harry Jefferson said in Line of the Night #7, “Well, I guess all hugs have to come to an end.”  That’s the tragedy of life in a nutshell.

Troy seceded to form Blanketsburg and go after the record, while Abed renamed New Fluffytown “Pillowtown” for conceptual symmetry. The Fort Sumter that served as the prelude to our grief was The Study Room Kerfuffle, in which both sides had arrived for a tense negotiation over territory. It ended when the Dean called Alex “Starburns” resulting in him lobbing a hypoallergenic Sealy Select in a floral-print case to the other side, collapsing a queen-sized section of blanket fort. Jeff’s oratory and the prospect of magical friendship hats doing nothing to resolve the conflict, Troy delivered his All Tomato: Pillowtown would surrender all its territory by midnight. Or else. And he notified his followers thusly: “Citizens of Blanketsburg, I ask you now…to prepare for war.”

As midnight approached, Real Neil with Pipes of Steel (formerly Fat Neil) played “Daybreak,” Michael Haggins’  Muzak-heavy jazz jam that’s become Community‘s official anthem.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXvuUp-KY5g

NEXT: The Dramatis Personae of the Great Pillow War of 2012.

But at 12:07 a.m. all hell broke loose. Blanketsburg attacked. Line of the Night #6, Courtesy of Shirley: “There were no rules in that first battle. You hit someone, and if they went down you’d stop hitting them. Call that…common courtesy. But then what if they get up? Maybe keep hitting them until they learn to stay down? We call that common sense.”

The lines were drawn. And everyone’s roles were assigned.

Britta—The study group’s most amateur aesthete fashioned herself the Pillow War’s Mathew Brady, slugging a borrowed camera into battle to document the most heartbreaking moments. During the Civil War, Brady revolutionized photography by taking his camera outside the studio to capture, for the first time, the horror of battle. Britta seemed hellbent to “Britta” his achievement by recording only her conflict’s blurriest, most poorly framed moments. Line of the Night #5, Courtesy of the Narrator: “Unfortunately for Britta and millions of photographers like her, just because something’s in black and white doesn’t mean it’s good.”

Jeff—The disgraced lawyer used his oratorical skill to become a charismatic firebrand, fanning the flames of both sides’ bloodlust in a “Ferris Buellerian” attempt to delay schoolwork. (Webster’s Dictionary take note: “Ferris Buellerian” needs to be added to your next edition.) Jeff would label the accusation that he was pandering to both sides “A slanderous betrayal akin to 9/11.” Call that Line of the Night #4. After the war, however, Jeff would say that account was “essentially accurate.”

Annie—The Angel of the Battlefield, Annie turned a  storage room into an infirmary for soldiers with broken glasses and lightly grazed testicles, hooking them up to IVs of Gatorade and brushing feathers off them with lint-rollers. While the Civil War itself resulted in heartbreaking, achingly compassionate letters like that of Sullivan Ballou of the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers to his wife back in Springfield, the Pillow War gave us increasingly testy text messages with pass-aggro emoticons like “piece of sushi” as Annie came to understand the full extent of Jeff’s war profiteering.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSprdaGol34

NEXT: We ponder the nature of both war and Rambo movie titles.

Shirley—As the narrator said, this mother proved herself as adept at kicking asses as wiping them. She distinguished herself so quickly in that first battle that Troy appointed her his second in command, prompting the defection of Pierce, who had initially sided with his former houseguest because he was “less weird” and “less foreign” than Abed. Shirley chose to side with Troy, so that Britta wouldn’t get him on the weed, and because Abed was acting like a robot.

Pierce—After defecting to Abed, Pierce suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Big Bulletin Board, along with broken glasses, a hurt finger, and erectile dysfunction. The last of which, of course, had never happened before. He chose to redeem himself with Abed by pitching the schematics for a doomsday weapon. All he needed were pillows to build an unstoppably plush juggernaut capable of unleashing untold carnage.

This is getting too intense, so we need to break for a moment to recite a poem. It’s also Line of the Night #3, courtesy of Amanda Johnson, poet by choice, lesbian by birth.

“Pillows, but no sleep.

Feathers, but no birds.

Pajamas without children.

Violence without purpose.

I saw Mommy kissing Exxon/Mobil.”

Troy—The Brigadier of Blanketsburg heard about Abed’s superweapon so as a preemptive measure he hired Ben Chang and his Changlourious Basterds—the pre-teens he’d recruited during the Star Mitzvah—to rain terror upon the United Forts of Pillowtown. Line of the Night #2, courtesy of The Narrator: “…like Inglourious Basterds but with Chang instead of “In.” I don’t get it either.” Someone’s been driven Linsane, it seems!

Abed—Tactical mastermind feared by all. After Blanketsburg drew first blood he decided that “Pillowtown will draw First Blood: Part Two.”  Line of the Night #1, courtesy of an Abed Nadir Facebook status update: “The Rambo titles never made sense, and neither does war.” He writes an email cataloging Troy’s weaknesses: loud noises, the color red, smooth jazz, shiny things, food smells, music boxes, bell bottoms, boobs, barking dogs, and anyone saying ‘look over there!’” Unfortunately, this email was intercepted by Blanketsburg forces, emotionally devastating Troy, who promptly texted back that Abed will never have another friend because “NOBODY ELSE WILL EVER HAVE MY PATIENCE WITH YOU.” Am I the only one who loves Donald Glover’s “all caps” voice?

Abed decided the time was right to unleash his superweapon: the Pillow Man. Pierce covered his entire body with pillows, looking like a Klansman-endorsed version of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. He had become more pillow now than man, twisted and evil. And he unleashed his high thread-count terror on the Changlourious Basterds.

NEXT: I realize that I would not only watch but live-blog Ski, Shoot, Sing.

With an endgame obviously drawing near, both sides declared a temporary cease-fire so they could watch Ski, Shoot, Sing, a combination biathlon/singing competition, which was no fun to watch time-shifted. I realized right now while typing these words, that if Ski, Shoot, Sing did in fact exist, I would be totally hosting the live chat for it on viEWer.

The pieces were all in place for a final showdown, but as the two sides readied for a Lord of the Rings-style, choir-accompanied melee, the Dean announced that their attempt at a record was done for. The Guinness representative had been fired in what he described as “The World’s Biggest Mistake.” Bonus Line of the Night, Courtesy of Dean Pelton: “I doubt that will make the next edition.” With nothing left to fight for, everybody left. Except for Troy and Abed, who kept hitting each other with pillows for hours, because they knew that this would be the last thing they’d ever do together. And damn if they didn’t enjoy it. But wait…that solves their problem! They enjoy being together so much that they’ll be together even when hitting each other for hours. It’s that vaguely masochistic co-dependence that proves they need to still be friends. That, and a couple of magical friendship hats that Jeff had to retrieve from the Dean’s office. Could Troy have put that imaginary hat on with more childlike glee?

And so just like that, order was restored to the universe—which is to say Greendale. But that wasn’t the end of this yarn. No, no, no. Anyone who watches PBS knows that following the high-minded artistry of a Ken Burns is the inevitable fundraising pledge-drive that bludgeons into you the reasons why exactly what you just saw is artistic. All such arguments usually end with “You can’t get quality programming like that anywhere else but on (insert local affiliate here),” rendering every on-camera PBS fundraiser an honorary member of the Christopher Guest repertory. And just like the Glee Club’s proximity to regionals, Greendale Campus Television is “this close!” to losing their funding—for shows like Craig Pelton: A Year in Paris, From Labs to Riches: The Annie’s Boobs Story, That’s Enter-Chang-ment!, and, I’m sure, Cougarton Abbey.

What think you, prospective Greendale students? Was this a new pinnacle in the annals of Community’s excellence? You can discuss among yourselves. Like Troy, I’d much rather be off taking a warm bath with my wife right now. Just need to find a wife first. Today is my birthday, though, so anything can happen, I guess.

Episode Recaps

Joel McHale and Alison Brie star in this comedy about a community college study group that turns into a surrogate family.
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