Community: “Basic Intergluteal Numismatics”

Butts are a basic unit of comedy. Whether you’re a sixth-grader gleefully farting at recess or a well-paid comedy writer, it’s a rich vein of humor. So much of this episode revolves around the giggly use of “butt” or “ass” or “ass-crack” that it’s hard to really spend any time analyzing the plot of this episode.

Did the episode work for you? Well, how funny do you find those words? The answer to that question likely yields the other. I liked the episode a lot, but I myself am a notorious giggler and make no apologies for it. It’s the juxtaposition that sells it—the decision to partner what might be the single silliest plotline in Community history with a parody of one of the most decidedly not silly filmmakers in Hollywood, the dour David Fincher.

There’s a sicko loose in the halls of Greendale Community College, someone going around dropping quarters into any ass cracks that are left exposed. The attacks become a media fury (in the, apparently, three different papers that chronicle GCC student life), sending a panicking Dean Pelton running to the Save Greendale Committee for help. Jeff and Annie team up to solve the mystery, a move gives them a chance to sublimate their desire for each other into the safe cover of genre tropes (funny to think just how deeply spending all of that time with Abed has affected every member of the group’s behavior).

Jeff and Annie found an unexpected chemistry working together on the Debate team back in season one. There their flirtation felt genuine, but the surprise kiss at the end of that season’s finale felt out-of-place and weird, and they have never been able to recapture that chemistry. Jeff’s natural chemistry has always been with Britta, and Annie has shown far more chemistry with Vaughn and especially with Abed (!) in the years since.

But Jeff and Annie scenes are always clunkers. Last season’s unforgivable subplot that found Annie setting up a fake life with Jeff was the nadir, but the show was heading into equally treacly waters long before that. So for an episode to comment on that awkwardness is promising, but the episode itself doesn’t do anything to further their chemistry or rip them apart. At the episode’s end the romance is as D.O.A. as ever. Luckily, the rest of the episode, from Troy’s traumatic encounter with the bandit to the triumphant return of both Dino Stamtoplous’s Starburns and John Oliver’s Professor Duncan, is so funny that the Jeff and Annie problems don’t distract from the jokes.

As the first true “theme episode” since Harmon’s return to show once again combines tribute with story as well as it did in the past. As a tribute to Fincher’s work, the episode succeeds. All the tics are there, from more general tropes of the thriller genre like constant rain and breathless chases, to more specific callbacks like using the same Bach music played during the library research scene in Fincher’s Seven. The entire episode even has a vaguely green tint to it, ala Fight Club.

That style lends itself well to the end-of-episode reveal, as Shirley interrupts Jeff and Annie’s detective work to tell them that Pierce Hawthorne, expert faker of heart attacks, has died. For real. It’s something we might have guessed was coming, though I did begin to doubt after last week’s hologram cameo. The announcement stops the episode in its tracks, as death does when it comes so unexpectedly. That’s a wise touch, though it does stop the momentum of a fun plot. Again, I do understand that that is exactly the effect the moment is intended to have—it still weakens the episode overall.

“Basic Intergluteal Numismatics” tries for a lot–maybe too much by the time it’s over. In paying tribute to Fincher’s Zodiac, the episode undercuts the central plot by leaving the identity of the Ass-Crack Bandit unresolved. But even that deliberate lack of clarity remains unclear—is the final montage meant to say that there were several ass-crack bandits all along, or that anyone of the people shown could have been the bandit? Or that it doesn’t fucking matter anyway? It’s muddled, and coming after the “stop the presses” Pierce reveal, ends the episode on an unsteady tone.

Luckily, that doesn’t cancel out all the remarkable fun of the episode itself. Donald Glover in particular is fantastic—especially his spot-on parody of the typical scene where the victim confronts their perpetrator with courageous, wounded defiance. There will be more to say about this when he leaves the show for good, but we’re losing a lot when he goes. Troy’s playfulness and naiveté helped define what Community should be. The tone on the page is credit to Harmon—the tone on the screen, arguably, comes from the others actors following in Glover’s footsteps. Either way, through cast members, expert heart-attack fakers, show-runners, and coin-slot perverts, Greendale will roll on.