Starting with the below recap of season 5, episode 3 of NBC’s Community, Anthony Hoffman will be bringing you episode reviews every Friday from here on in.
If the first two episodes of Dan Harmon’s return as showrunner wasn’t enough of an indicator Community has returned to its high concept, pop culture-referencing, silly, brilliantly juvenile roots, then Thursday’s episode, which took us on a David Fincher-inspired investigation around the Greendale campus in search of the cunning “Ass Crack Bandit,” should be a shiny coin in your slot.
Community has had episodes where a crime is investigated by members of the study group (Shirley and Annie as campus security in season 1 and the Law and Order homage from season 3, namely). This one was the funniest (and certainly the silliest) of those. Plus the links between the L&O episode and this one (the arrest, “death” and return of Starburns) was a good way to resurrect a little-used but funny character from the the Harmon era. With Dino Stamatopoulos and John Oliver (plus the dweeby Garrett) returning, it really feels like our Community again.
The Jeff and Annie potential relationship getting revisited here was the episode’s only drag, with some characters rightly noticing how creepy it is. The show has already explored and established that there’s nothing there romantically, aside from type A Annie’s occasional judgment and disapproval of some of the vain Jeff’s decision making that steers him in the right direction (last week’s second episode being the most recent example). It was actually pretty interesting when she and the more age-appropriate Troy were briefly a potential couple, way back in early season one.
Nobody knows these characters more than Harmon, and his use of Shirley (her cafeteria sandwich is back with funding, somehow), Troy (great as a recovering ass crack victim), Britta and Abed was well divided. Last season, if an episode like this were attempted by previous showrunners David Guarascio and Moses Port, it would’ve probably been filled with a lot of Abed on hyperdrive (a season 4 staple). Here, each is playing to their strengths.
The reveal of Pierce being dead was a bit of a surprise. Not so much in the knowledge the character (and actor Chevy Chase) would be written out of the show, but how it’d be explained. It was a brief respite from the silliness of an episode involving anal assault (a topic I’m sure Pierce, not Chevy Chase, would approve of). In the end, Pierce’s departure is good for the show. It was clearly a strain to find Pierce’s relevance in the group, other than to make gay/racist/sexist jokes. And the fli- flopping on whether he was villainous or an actual friend was wildly inconsistent. Mike from Breaking Bad is funnier without ever trying hard, and I doubt Jonathan Banks will ever raise a stink about poor writing or engage in questionable behavior on the set. It was still a little strange that there wasn’t a huge show of emotion after the news of Pierce’s demise, considering all they’ve been through. The only concern with Pierce gone is we might not have a chance to see Banks and another Breaking Bad vet, Giancarlo Esposito (Pierce’s half brother), onscreen together. Not a big deal, if it means a better focused show.