With last season’s cancellation of Chuck (NBC’s resident spy-dramedy for the past five years), fan boys and nerd herders alike were faced with a series of migraine-inducing questions, the answers to which would likely change our lives forever. Would this mean Zachary Levi is finally free to pursue the role of Yorick Brown in a film adaptation of Brian K. Vaugn’s Y: The Last Man? What would we do without our weekly fix of Yvonne Strahovski prior to the release of Mass Effect 3? And perhaps most importantly, where would we go for our blatantly obvious and oft hilarious product placement for Subway? Then, like a phoenix rising from the ashes of an overly toasted foot-long sub, a hero arose.
Last month saw the return of another of NBC’s cult favorites, Community. And, with last week’s episode came some of the most clever product placement ever seen: the introduction of a Subway sandwich shop in the cafeteria of the show’s fictional Greendale College, along with a new ancillary character. His name? Subway.
Subway’s role was a simple one. He was there to blend seamlessly into the show’s backdrop while periodically showing up to remind Greendale’s students (as well as Community’s viewers) about the ever delicious and reasonably priced food at Subway. Unfortunately, things went awry when he and Britta (one of the show’s regular characters, portrayed by Gillian Jacobs) fell head over heels for one another, despite very clear rules regarding those types of things in Subway’s contract. The episode ended with corporate representatives showing up at the college and hauling Subway off, presumably in a van with tinted windows, and replacing him with another, similar looking ambassador.
Typically, I find product placement on television and (to a lesser extent) in film to be distracting. It has a tendency to take me out of whatever I’m watching; to plant me back in reality where all I’m able to think is, “Who holds their beer like that, with the label facing out so that everyone within a five block radius can see exactly what they’re drinking?” and I’m rendered unable to recall any other details from the show or movie. But what the writers over at Community did was groundbreaking: they actually wrote. Rather than simply having a character point out just how much they enjoy a Veggie Delite from time to time, they actually developed a story arc about it. Personally, I’m anxious to see where they go with it throughout the remainder of the season.