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TV Recap: Community “Course Listing Unavailable”

(Image © NBC Universal)

(Image © NBC Universal)

“Thirteen years of college down the drain.”

This episode begins and ends in the same confused state, hovering between sentiment and broad humor. As it opens, the group remembers the dearly departed — I’m sorry, did I say departed? I meant exploded — Starburns, who has apparently entrusted Abed with his video tribute and his earthly remains, an urn of ashes that he would like cremated, though he may not be clear on how that works. As the episode ends the group is gathered around the table of Troy, Abed, and Annie’s apartment reflecting on their expulsion from Greendale, a scene filled with goofy call-backs that ends with a somber camera pull-back/fade out.

But though the episode can’t quite decide what it wants to convey, it’s still pretty funny. Starburns always struck me as the most hapless of the Greendale background characters. All the man ever wanted was a little acknowledgement, and yet he was overshadowed by his ever-escalating affectations. So it’s appropriate that his memorial is overshadowed by a riot.

Annie and Britta try to make the study group (of really, just Jeff) face their feelings over the death of their classmate, and, let’s never forget, that classmate’s lizard, with Britta using her expertise as an (un) licensed therapist (just don’t force her to name any of the Kubler-Ross stages of grief beyond “Denial”) to promote healing. Jeff doesn’t crack, but melts down once he learns that Professor Kane has resigned, forcing Dean Pelton to cancel the Biology class, meaning they will have to make up the grade in summer school. That rage spills over into Starburns’s memorial which, led by fiery speeches from the embittered study group, devolves into chaos. The memorial scenes are the highlight of the episode, from Garrett’s high and glorious “Ave Maria” to Pierce’s battle-cry of “let’s burn this mother down!”

The riot is broken up the the Changlorious Basterds, who have morphed into a neat little paramilitary unit, like something out of the last act of Fight Club. The riot allows Chang to gain control of the school, forcing Dean Pelton to sign the psychotic security team’s crayon manifesto. Then Chang kidnaps the dean (utilizing the Moby impersonator from “Contemporary Impressionsts”) and snows the review board with gift baskets. Just like that, the Dean is gone, the study group (now “The Greendale Seven”) is gone, and Chang has both control of Greendale and revenge on the people who rejected him.

That’s some pretty nifty structuring, but also pretty obviously what we’ve been building to. There’s some good stuff with the miniature psychopaths, both the kids and Chang himself, and it is a nice full arc to the season, and for Chang’s character. Ken Jeong has found a proper balance with Chang this season. He veered too often into camp for my taste in Season Two, but this is a Chang that hums with insanity under the surface. However, I still worry that we’ll get the return of spazzy Chang in the three-part finale.

The end of the episode recalls the early season’s brilliant multiple-reality farce “Remedial Chaos Theory”, with the group ordering pizza and reflecting on how their lives can change (Or rather, Chang. Listen, I’m not proud of that either, but get ready for a lot of that over the next three episodes.) so suddenly. It puts a nice thematic bow on the season and clears the table for the final episodes, but it feels empty, and makes you wish for the craziness and daring of that episode.

The next few episodes seem like a writer’s dream, but maybe a critic’s nightmare (Certainly a recapper’s nightmare. Guess I’m taking the next day off work, huh, NBC?). Community does story and comedy together better than most shows do, but a serialized narrative over three episodes, even when we get them all in one night, may be a little too much story focus for a show that should, primarily, be making us laugh. This episode the scales fell, more often than not, to the side of funny, but if the balance goes the other way in any of the three episodes that NBC is daring to call a “three-part season finale”, the 17th could be a very long night.

Community, Episode 3:18 “Course Listing Unavailable”: B