How Community Paid Tribute to Saturday Morning Cartoons with GI Jeff

Community played with different genres and story structures. The series turned mafia films, Rankin Bass Christmas specials, and action films into character explorations throughout the series. The Season 5 episode “GI Jeff” (or “Government Issue Jeff”) is not as talked about amongst that group, but serves a special role. It’s an animated episode that looks at the lead character’s growth throughout the series along with his flaws and uses Saturday Morning Cartoons perfectly to embody them.

What Is GI Jeff About?

The episode – directed by Rob Schrab and written by Dino Stamatopoulos – and starts with the current group as GI Joe characters, with Jeff (Joel McHale) or “Wingman” in this universe, killing a member of Cobra, Destro (Isaac C. Singleton Jr.), and getting everyone – Britta/Buzzkill (Gillian Jacobs), Annie/Tightship (Allison Brie), and Shirley/Three Kids (Yvette Nicole Brown) arrested. In “GI Joe reject” prison, they meet Abed/Fourth Fall (Danny Pudi), who says this is all just a syndicated children’s cartoon and reveals a child’s toy he found at Cobra’s “Greendale” site. Jeff passes out, fades into a child’s toy commercial, and decides to go to “Greendale.”


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That sequence sets everything in motion, revealing that the real Jeff is in a Coma after taking scotch and age reversal pills he found in Koreatown (yes, the episode does contain some 2000s-2010s unnecessary racism) on his 40th Birthday. Like “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” Jeff has receded to an image of his past to reckon with the fact that he’s lying about his age and feels unfulfilled at Greendale.

GI Jeff Deals With Themes of Mortality

“GI Jeff” plays into these details by having the same child actor (brent anthony) who played a memory of young Jeff in Season 1 return to the episode itself. Wingman is prosecuted because he cannot stop killing people and kills the first person after, as Cobra puts it, “shooting at each other and missing for 20 years.” He’s subconsciously thinking about his own mortality and whether he’s doing enough with his life. He even says later that “All I want to do is be a good GI Joe. What’s wrong with me?” Like at Greendale, Jeff is constantly looking for the control he had as a lawyer while coping with the kinder version of himself he’s become at college. The episode turns that questioning on its head.

Such is the case of choosing a Saturday morning cartoon, a staple of childhood. The episode does play a little inside baseball with GI Joe specifically, but it has all the makings of that classic animated show vibes to connect with non-fans of the show. It makes fun of the cheap-looking, sometimes stilted animation with poorly dubbed moments, inconsistent character designs, and reused animation. Also, the toy commercial shows the kids playing with the submachopter, and then Wingman uses it to escape naming all of its specificities – right after Fourth Wall calls their reality a “cartoon about action figures for kids” is hilarious. Not to mention the inconsistent logic and easy-to-solve conclusions. The little blotches in the shots throughout make it feel like the episode was pre-recorded on a tape at times. All of that fits as a memory of Jeff’s youth, like the action figure on his desk.

GI Jeff Explores Jeff’s Feelings of Inadequacy

“GI Jeff” also connects to Jeff’s feelings of inadequacy as a now Professor at Greendale. They fight versions of Chang/Overkill (Ken Jeong), Duncan/Xim Xam (John Oliver), and Hickey/Major Dick (Jonathan Banks), all of whom are easily defeated (side bar: I’d be handed over if I didn’t mention Xim Xam having a twin who feels all of his pain or Jeong’s excellent delivery of the line “it shredded my meniscus”). That leads Jeff to comment about how the site and Greendale “feeds on ambition” ie makes them weaker. Jeff/Wingman even initially decides to stay in the GI Joe world and never grow up. He changes his mind after realizing that Cobra Commander (Schrab) and GI Joe leader, Duke (Michael Bell) haven’t experienced things involved with age like scotch or sex and that he can’t have those if he decides to stay in this world. This landscape serves as a playground for Jeff to sort out this episode of aging and push back on the notion that his growth is stalling him. His life with his study group may not be as exciting as being a lawyer or leading GI Joes, but it has allowed him to be a more mature version of himself.

The later stage episode of the series fits in nicely with the other high-concept episodes of Community. “GI Jeff” lovingly pays homage to Saturday morning cartoons from the 1980s and 1990s while using them as a toy helicopter to fly into Jeff’s crisis of aging and soars into understanding like a kid running around with a toy.

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