Community goes back to the well this week to strike gold with another fake clip show episode. Repeating premises hasn’t done Community well in the past (paintball follow up), but this may be the first time they’ve surpassed the original. The benefit of this format is the chance to pack in as many surreal jokes and obscurity as possible, the writers achieve this with a decent plot that culminates in a fantastic sequence in the third act which sees the study group in a mental institution, and this time it’s not because of Mercury poisoning.
We pick up the episode two months after the study groups expulsion and they’re still hanging out together thankfully. Leaving Greendale has made them all a bit on edge, particularly Abed, who is brought home by the only policeman in Greendale dressed as Inspector Spacetime after going through dumpsters on campus, believing the Dean to be an impostor. Abed is recommended a fake psychiatrist (guest star John Hodgman) by the fake Dean which kicks off the fake clip show fun. Troy steals the scene when finding out a brick they use to prop open the door is an antique worth sixty bucks, ‘$60?! Hello, rich people, Troy is joining you, yes I’ll hold.’
All the study group go with Abed to the shrink, Dr. Heidi, for support, with Britta doing her best to ‘help out’ as a psych student. They begin by exploring some of Abed’s more eccentric moments from the past year, once Dr. Heidi discovers he hasn’t just been crazy weird since leaving Greendale. Abed not being able to comprehend ‘spring forward – fall back’ was great, but the highlight has to go to Abed calling Shirley a terrible person after hearing her call Brett Ratner the next Spielberg, I felt his rage power through me. Tower Heist also sucked. Dr. Heidi tries to give Abed an early diagnosis but not before Jeff jumps to defend him and that they’ve all been a little ‘crazy town banana pants’ this year. We’re then treated to a montage of the rest of the study group joining in the crazy. It’s a great episode for Donald Glover, who gets some great lines that he nails perfectly, like when Annie tells him he can’t drive a quad-bike into the study room; ‘Yes I can, it’s all terrain, dummy’. As well as the callback to his hand hurting after trying to karate chop a table in half because Shirley gave him her son’s trophy, which he thought would instantly endow him with powers.
Dr. Heidi then rather rashly suggests that Abed’s obsession with Greendale means he should be institutionalised. Troy’s freak-out at the prospect losing Abed was, like all his freak-outs, superb. The rest of the study group attempt to pin the blame on how weird Greendale is, leading to some of the funniest cutaway gags in the episode. This included the Dean playing human chess to decide on parking allocation, a celebration for Pierce who was the 10,000th person to flush a toilet, and some of Greendale’s baffling classes, the funniest being ‘Ladders’, and the accompanying cheer of the students.
We’re then treated to a whole heap of Dean goodness in the next segment when the group reminisce of good times at Greendale, which was largely down to the Dean’s involvement and love of the study group. The funniest being Pelton sending a girl home angrily for wearing the same outfit as Annie, and giving them free pizza whilst dressed up as a homeless man. Abed reveals his theory that the real Dean wouldn’t have possibly expelled them because he loved them too much. The group all decide that something isn’t right with Greendale and that they need to go back, but not before Dr. Heidi stops them in the tracks to tell them that Greendale doesn’t exist and that they’ve been in a mental institution, cue Dutch tilts and lightning strikes.
The institution sequence in the third act was the episode highlight, with dozens of references to past episodes (often fan favourites) and even a homage of the original ‘Paradigms of Human Memory’, which itself was filled with fake clips, confusing when you think about it, more layers than Inception. It was a joy to see another rendition of ‘Baby Boomer Santa’ from the Christmas episode, as well as a callback to the trampoline episode and Pierce banging Eartha Kitt. Leonard got to make his customary appearance too, which must be every episode now. Fantastic gag with Garrett’s real voice too. This whole sequence is a great pay off to die-hard fans who actively watch the show, as it would be lost on casual viewers, now it really has been shoved up it’s own ass as far as it can be.
It doesn’t take the study group long to realise the doctors been lying, and he eventually breaks down and reveals that Chang has kidnapped the real Dean and replaced him with a double. The group remember Chang being crazy, but never to that extent. Whilst they daydream about Chang being crazy Dr. Heidi escapes, but it was worth it to see Chang trying to predict crime with Garrett as his pre-cog in a cold pool. Not to mention inexplicably tazing his junk. The episode ends with Chang learning of the study groups plan to return to Greendale. A big finale is brewing! The closing tag was good too, but not great, surprising as it was another ‘Troy & Abed in the morning’ segment, which are consistently awesome, but this one felt a little lazy and last minute.
Overall a true return to form for the show, felt like an instant classic. It was a much needed feel good episode after last weeks bleakness, reminding us that Community is as funny as ever. The fake clip show format lends itself well to the pacing of the writing, filled wall to wall with jokes, and treats fans into glimpses of scenarios that are much more outlandish than what they usually get themselves into to. ‘Paradigms of Human Memory’ was much more self-aware in the sense that it was parodying clip show episodes (which are tedious and lazy sitcom writing), whereas this episode felt like a Greendale sketch show that had a much stronger structure. We may see this scenario’s again in the future, such as the throwaway gag in the last clip show about the glee club dying was the backstory of ‘Regional Holiday Music.’ Not to mention a fourth season, albeit 13 episodes long, was announced last night! Joy! Until then, the study group need to take down Chang and his army, we’ll find out next week as NBC are burning off the rest of the season in one glorious night where we’ll be treated to three episodes.
Community returns to NBC next Thursday with ‘Digital Estate Planning’, ‘The First Chang Dynasty’ and ‘Introduction to Finality’.