TV Recap: Community “Curriculum Unavailable”

(Image © NBC Universal)

(Image © NBC Universal)

"My hunger is fireman suspenders.”

So, hey, 30 Rock got picked up for a 13-episode final season. Pretty exciting, right? Oh, Liz Lemon, maybe you can finally have it all next year. I mean, I assume that’s why you’re reading this Community recap, right? What do you mean, other news? Hmm, let me check my Twitter feed…

HOLY SHIT!

Yes, Community has been renewed for another season, for 13 episodes rather than 20. No word yet on the other two seasons, or that movie. Of course, if any of the shit-tastic-looking new sitcoms NBC has picked for next season flop, maybe they’ll have to order another 9 to fill out the back half of the year (though I can’t imagine the hysterics that Dan Harmon would go into having to completely re-plot an entire season arc). Though, frankly, I think 13 episodes is a good number to work with. It allows Harmon and the writers to plot a tight final season, wrap up character arcs, and cut down on filler episodes. I mean, really, would you have missed the episode where Britta falls in love with a war-criminal? Did you even remember, before reading that sentence, that such an episode existed? If only some sage individual would expound for, oh I don’t know, about 1,500 words on why a shorter episode order can be a good thing for a television show.

Whatever. We get more Community, Harmon gets to satisfy his story structure model (thereby avoiding an Abedian breakdown), NBC doesn’t have its headquarters descended upon Braveheart-style by the entire internet, and Chevy Chase gets to be relevant for another year — if he so chooses. Everybody’s happy.

And, certainly, most Community fans should be happy with tonight’s episode, which returns to the “fake clip-show” premise of last season’s “Paradigms of Human Memory”, an undisputed highlight of the series. This time around we enter into the collective recollections of the study group as the group deals with Abed’s rapid descent into madness following his expulsion from Greendale. The group is so worried that they all go along to Abed’s therapy session, led by Dr. Heidi (played by American treasure John Hodgman)– a psychiatrist who threatens to send Abed, in Troy’s words, to “crazy person jail”.

What the group doesn’t know, that we know, that Abed knows, that they really should suspect, is that the Dean Pelton who referred them to Doctor Heidi is an imposter placed there by Chang. Thankfully, this episode doesn’t rely on its plot, because the doctor’s true role in the episode is immediately apparent. But since this episode is a rapid-fire gag delivery system, and also because Hodgman is so much fun, we forgive it.

Dr. Heidi is able to briefly convince them that Greendale never existed, a plan that falls apart quickly because, among other things, Annie happens to be wearing a Greendale Community College backpack. The fake doctor escapes, leaving Chang to scramble for a new scheme (screaming “Pitches! Pitches!” and accepting a drink from an off-screen “Megan”, a pretty clear depiction of Dan Harmon). To be concluded but, thankfully, not for good.

So really this episode comes down to a series of quick gags, briskly paced by director Adam Davidson, who previously directed many of the first season’s great episodes, among them “Comparative Religion”, the episode that announced that Community already was–not one day would be–a great show. Maybe his presence is part of the reason this episode feels like a return to the tone of the first season, a welcome change that strips away the sentimentality of recent episodes. I love these characters, but it’s nice to have an evening with them that doesn’t end with tinkling music and meaningful glances.

Among the best gags of the night: Annie playing her own round of Troy and Abed and Annie in the morning, substituting teddy bears for her co-hosts, and Troy’s infuriated line: “What are all these cameras doing here?”. Abed narrating Pierce’s sandwich. Britta’s peyote hair. Garrett in the kiddie pool as Chang’s”pre-cog”. Chang’s self-inflicted tasering. Abed’s reaction to Shirley referring to Brett Ratner as the new Spielberg (“You are a bad person”). Troy’s maniacal karate chop of the study table(and subsequent wincing as first Britta, then Abed grab his hand).

And then there’s the mental hospital scene, which works as a clip show in its own right, as Jeff and Troy leap on a filthy mattress and proclaim it a magical trampoline (really the only way the explain that episode’s ludicrous plot), Troy, Abed, and Pierce singling a sad, off-key “Baby Boomer Santa”, and a startlingly deep-voiced Dr. Garrett who wants to see what happens to the group when they confiscate one of their pens. It’s a smart, meta, and very funny sequence–definitely the best moment in this episode, and one I’m sure will go down as one of the defining moments of the series as a whole.

If this episode doesn’t feel quite as fresh as “Paradigms”, it’s only because part of the thrill of that episode was the rush of seeing something that had never been done before. This time we’re expecting the cut-aways as a possibility before they even begin. But even if the novelty is gone, this episode does prove that the reason we wanted to save Community in the first place was because when it really doubles down it can be the funniest show on television.

Community, Episode 3:19 “Curriculum Unavailable”: A-