"Glendale Community College is represented by two separate, yet equally important types of people: the goofballs that run around stirring up trouble and the eggheads that make a big deal out of it. These are their stories.”
When an episode has me laughing from the moment its title is announced – just in case you don’t get it, it’s a wicked play on Dick Wolf, the creator of Law and Order, which the episode satirizes – that’s a pretty good sign that I’ll be down for all of it. Add Troy and Abed playing dress-up, and you’ve got me another step along the way. Throw in the return of Magnitude and we might as well slap an “A” on this thing and call it a day so I can get to bed before midnight.
But this episode is getting an “A” because it deserves it. Community does parody more precisely than any show on television. And if there’s any series (and, very importantly, any NBC Universal property) that is ripe for parody, it’s Law & Order, the long running franchise in which the “ripped from the headlines” plots will never be as bizarre as the acting choices of Ice-T or Richard Belzer. They even get a guest appearance from Leslie Hendrix, who’s played the role of medical examiner Elizabeth Rodgers on both Law & Order and the Criminal Intent flavor (just like the original recipe, but with added D’Onofrio), to perform an autopsy on the study group’s murdered yam.
Rob Schrab, Dan Harmon’s former writing partner, directed this episode. Primarily a writer, Schrab has also directed episodes of The Sarah Silverman Program and the brilliant Adult Swim series Children’s Hospital (another series whose fluid reality allows for forays into genre parody). Schrab nails the drab grey and black aesthetic of the Law & Order franchise as surely as writer Megan Ganz captures the shows’s rapid fire dialogue and plot formula. How can you tell that Fat Neil is the culprit? Because during his interview he is curious about the yam – a Law & Order trope so common that Abed really should have recognized it.
Ganz is also very good at giving each of the cast members something to do, as she did earlier this season in the excellent “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux”. Annie throws herself into the lawyer role because she’s desperate for an “A” rather than just a passing grade (“Like a C? Why don’t I just get pregnant at a bus station?”). Shirley plays the role of stern captain to Abed and Troy (who keep switching good cop/bad cop roles) – a role she knows so well because she watches cop shows when she gets bored, and it’s been a long fifteen years. All those TNT marathons paid off, though she may want to seek out a two-way mirror that’s more than just a dimly-lit aquarium. Britta is (wisely) ignored, in spite of her vast knowledge of computer photo effects (she’s only in two scenes in this episode, but they’re both really funny. Good on you, Gillian Jacobs), and Jeff saves the day and solves the case because, well, Jeff is actually a pretty good lawyer.
The episode also marks the return of Michael Kenneth Williams as Professor Kane, and for the first time all season he really gelled with the rest of the cast. It’s hard to say exactly what was off about his previous appearances, but he just never fit in with the tone of the show. Yes, Kane is supposed to be off-tone, harsher than everyone around him, but it just never worked before tonight. Maybe the more “dramatic” approach demanded by the genre made Williams feel more comfortable? Whatever the reason, he was great here, and finally felt like a true part of the world of Greendale rather than a nod to fans of The Wire.
And Jim Rash, Season Three MVP, continues to bring the most to every little moment he has in each episode. His building arousal at the sight of men in uniform, the thought of prisoners in uniform, and finally his orgasmic release at the mere word “uniform” was genius, and much more subtly played than his on-the-floor reaction to Jeff’s aviator shades a few weeks ago (which, yeah, was still pretty funny). Rash continues to find the right tone in every scene, and that song he sings to Abed and Troy in the capper? I just…there are no words. Here – here it is in all its fucking glory:
But before that, of course, we get a downer capper – like any proper episode of Law & Order, informing us that our dear Starburns has passed to that great meth-lab in the sky. Now Joel McHale will never get to pronounce the word Star-burns in that weird, oddly specific way that only he does and I have no idea if it’s an acting choice or what but it weird me out every time I hear it, and Dino Stamatopoulos can go create another show that matches the hilarious with the harrowingly bleak in equal measure (if you’ve not seen Moral Orel, I highly recommend it, but you may want to hide the knives first). Just remember, friends: we knew him as Starburns, but his name was Alex. His name was Alex.
Community, Episode 3:17 “Basic Lupine Urology”: A