The first parody of Community‘s fifth season has landed. “Basic Intergluteal Numismatics”, the season’s third episode, feels a little like a redux of “Basic Lupine Urology”, Community’s pitch perfect Law and Order spoof. Both see Annie (Alison Brie) and Jeff (Joel McHale) investigating what counts for a crime on Greendale’s campus. Both episodes end with the news of a shocking death. Instead of Law and Order, however, this episode sees the cast homaging David Fincher’s film, Zodiac.
Fincher, of Se7en and Fight Club fame, directed a fabulous movie about the hunt for the Zodiac killer. It’s considered by some to be Fincher’s best film, but it was also one of his least successful films. It’s a pretty weird choice, reminiscent of Community’s equally specific Ken Burns parody. Of course, Greendale is hardly hosting a murderer (not that it hasn’t). Taking the place of an actual murderer is a mysterious figure who drops coins down exposed but cracks. “I am the bringer of change, the filler of cracks.”
The school is desperate to catch the perpetrator. It was hardly unexpected, but Jeff’s assurance that this case wasn’t actually important was hilarious. Among the precautions attempted are Troy’s Law: “because a camera in the bathroom is better than a coin in the butt”; the three Bs: “belts, briefs, and buddies”; and the Lovecraftian monstrosity that is backwards Chang: “this extra-long churro tastes good in my real mouth.” Professor Ian Duncan (John Oliver) returns to the show and teams up with Britta (Gillian Jacobs) in a pretty funny scene where they try to create a profile of the killer. He also mistakes Johnathan Banks (Professor Hickey on the show) for Chevy Chase (Pierce from seasons past) sans hairpiece, which was pretty great. The Dean also calls on Abed, wondering if Abed’s special mind will allow him to stand at the crime scene and see the act. Abed’s attempt is not just phenomenally funny; it’s very reminiscent of pre-season four’s shoehorned Glee and celebrity digs: “I see a man… using a social disorder as a procedural device. Wait, wait, wait, I see another man. Mildly autistic super-detectives everywhere… basic cable, broadcast networks… pain, painful writing. It hurts.”
Annie thinks the culprit has access to the teacher’s lounge, and after the Bandit makes references to Dave Matthews (“real fans call him Dave”), the list gets narrowed down to a few suspects. The first has an alibi (“he was chaperoning the science dance, the student that attended can vouch for him”), the second turns out to have died and never been struck from the faculty lists, and the third runs, but turns out to be innocent. That’s when the first unexpected reveal of this episode happens. When investigating Greendale’s stables (not even the Dean knew they existed), they discover a mysterious figure. It turns out to be Starburns (Dino Stamatopoulos). Starburns’s death was announced at the end of the Law and Order episode. It was revealed that he was alive at the end of season three. The school celebrates the capture of the Ass-Crack Bandit with a dance. Starburns gets put in a cage, and the school throws quarters at him while Dave Matthews plays. This discovery doesn’t sit right with Annie and Jeff; Starburns wouldn’t have had access to the teacher’s lounge. Jeff becomes sure Starburns is innocent when Starburns fails to recognize that “Dave” is playing. Starburns cops to his deal with the Dean; he’ll take a fall for the Bandit’s crime, and in exchange, his actual crimes will be ignored.
In a seen ripped straight from Zodiac, Annie meets with Ian Duncan and slowly becomes terrified as she realizes he must be the killer: he’s a Dave Matthews fan, he has a role of quarters in his room, and he desperately wants her to bend over and pick up her keys. She flees and announces her discovery to Jeff, when Duncan suddenly gets “cracked”. They chase the Bandit towards a dead-end hall, when they are suddenly intercepted by Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) who has bad news: Pierce has died.
And so the hunt for the Bandit ends. There’s a wonderful montage of potential culprits and a text blurb about the “official stance” on the Bandit. This is all wonderfully on point, as far as a parody goes, but it feels weird that there’s anything after the shocking revelation about Pierce. Part of what made the reveal about Starburns so effective at the end of the Law and Order episode was that it came at the end. It was the last scene. The denouement, while true the genre they’re aping, is kind of rendered inconsequential here by the news about Pierce. There was some good stuff in there, though, especially Fat Neil’s send-off to Pierce.
All told, it was a pretty damn funny episode, but it didn’t quite live up to Community‘s past spoof episodes. It felt like it could’ve used another draft of the script. That being said, I enjoyed it substantially more the second time around. I noticed multiple jokes I’d missed the first time around. It strikes me that the episode might continue to grow on me. I’m a fan of Community, and I loved Zodiac, so it seems natural.
I’m also very excited for the next episode. The aftermath of Pierce’s death is bringing a bottle episode http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bottle_episode, seemingly a redux of the season two episode “Cooperative Calligraphy”. The episode is going to involve a lie detector and a cameo from the incredibly awesome Walton Goggins.
Hopefully this season will improve and settle into a more comfortable flow. It still feels rather tentative right now, like it’s missing some of its confidence. It’s still a vast improvement over the previous season and still one of my favourite shows on TV. I just hope this season can eventually go toe to toe with Community at its best.