Last week, I recapped/reviewed the first two episodes of Community‘s fifth season. In summary, the show has poised itself for a return after a subpar fourth season, in no small part because show-runner Dan Harmon has returned and stripped down the show to a more human focus, all while maintaining some prospects for new territory. Jeff has returned to Greendale as a teacher and everyone else—besides Pierce (Chevy Chase)—has re-enrolled as a student.
From here on out, there will be SPOILERS. Recaps are spoilers by nature, although I will work in a review throughout so that those of you who have seen it don’t feel like you’re simply reliving the episode through my text-ified narrative.
This episode opens with intent to parody, attaching a grey, drowned-out filter evocative of horror and homicide stories like Zodiac. As the sounds of a storm trickle in the background, Garrett searches through his locker in an eerie hallway. I will give credit to the people working on this show, especially the director Tristram Shapeero: they know how to nail an atmosphere and reference styles. During this creepy scene, Garrett bends down to pick something up, and a gloved hand with a quarter approaches him. Garrett screams, runs into the cafeteria, and reveals the horror that this villain is committing on unsuspecting students.
Yes, someone is dropping quarters into people’s ass-cracks. The premise is worthy of a few chuckles, although I initially held reservation of the idea of an “it” episode. Seasons three and four were, in my opinion, ruined by an overabundance of episodes that you could point to and say, “It’s a ____ reference!” And honestly, this episode does fit in that line, but after the grounded first two episodes—and maintenance of character here, which wasn’t always true in the other seasons—I was able to allay my fears for the time being. If this keeps happening, I might change that mindset, but as of now, this humor was solid enough to warrant the parody.
Anyway, the Dean enlists the “Save Greendale Alliance,” a.k.a the Group plus Buzz Hickey (Jonathan Banks), to solve this crime. This provides an opportunity to bring back Professor Ian Duncan (John Oliver), who I’ve missed after his departure in the second season.
Annie is, to no one’s surprise, on top of everything, and narrows down the list to people with access to the Faculty Lounge. Jeff is lazing about, and the dynamic between go-getting Annie and no-care Jeff is not exactly new but at the very least in character. Soon after, the Asscrack Bandit gets Troy (Donald Glover), leaving him traumatized. Bless Donald Glover, because he makes any scene that focuses on him solid gold. He’s a phenomenal actor, and brings humor along with plot development.
What follows is a mix of typical procedural business mixed with Community meta-humor. Most notable is when the Dean (Jim Rash) asks Abed (Danny Pudi) to re-envision the crime. The music and camera-work mimic procedurals where someone pictures the crime seemingly out of nothing, and Abed’s monologue about “mildly autistic super-detectives everywhere. … Pain…painful writing.” This is one of the first times I’ve laughed at Abed’s meta-humor in a while, as it’s been way too obvious for way too long. Buzz Hickey also gets some good lines, reminding us that Banks has solid comedic timing and is a unique addition to the cast.
Jeff and Annie follow the Bandit’s terribly-written notes and narrow down the list. After Jeff delivers possibly my favorite line of the episode—”I checked out Mrs. Plimpton. Airtight alibi. She’s dead”—they check out some other professors and destroy a classroom in the process. They get in trouble with the Dean, and the awkward relationship between the two—not quite sexual, yet far from asexual—is highlighted. We’re finally reminded that Jeff is a teacher, and the Dean punishes him by forcing him to coach the water polo team. There are interspersed scenes of a traumatized Troy, which manage to be hilarious in no small part because Glover is possibly the best at physical humor in the entire show.
Eventually, the trio come across the likely culprit: Starburns (Dino Stamatopoulos), who has been living off trash in the halls of Greendale. He’s confessed, but it doesn’t quite add up. What follows is a bit convoluted, as Annie becomes quite positive Duncan is the bandit, but then Duncan gets “cracked.” As Jeff and Annie try to find the new real culprit, Shirley reveals that Pierce is dead. I mean, I love that Pierce finally get a decent sendoff, but the emotional whiplash is too hectic.
Overall, though, the episode maintains its tone and has more laughs than recent episodes. I’m not a fan of the theme episodes, but if this is one of a small handful this season, then I’m welcome to laud it for its successes. I’m glad that Community is funny again, as harsh as that might sound, and I like the use of new regular Buzz Hickey and return of some characters whom I’ve missed, namely Duncan. If the rest of the season can have grounded, character-driven episodes and maintain a solid tone and level of humor, then my enjoyment of the new season can only increase from here on out.