‘Community’ – ‘Curriculum Unavailable’: Crazy town banana pants

Senior Television Writer
05.10.12 80 Comments


A review of tonight’s “Community” – which, in case you hadn’t heard, will be coming back next season – coming up just as soon as I extol the virtues of Brett Ratner (aka the new Spielberg)…

Of the many high-concept episodes “Community” has done over the years, the season 2 fake clip show “Paradigms of Human Memory” wasn’t one I ever expected a sequel to. But darnit if that’s not what “Curriculum Unknown” turned out to be. It’s a slightly different beast from the original, in that it exists as part of a genuine, ongoing, very dark(*) arc about the study group being expelled while Chang stages a violent coup of Greendale, and in that it’s inserted inside another familiar trope where an unconventional character is put into therapy(**), but it’s essentially “Clip Show 2: The Clippening.”

(*) How dark? Dean Pelton has been Chang’s prisoner for two months. The show tried to make light of it with the joke about him trying to cobble together a sexy Patty Hearst outfit, but still. That’s not as permanent as Star-burns dying in a meth explosion, but almost as messed-up a place for a comedy (even one this strange) to go.   

(**) I briefly wondered if I’d rather just see a straight-forward “In Treatment”-style look at Abed, but the show has done so much head-shrinking of him since it returned from hiatus that it would have felt redundant.

As a sequel, “Curriculum Unknown” lacked the audacity of the original, and as a part of this strange arc, it didn’t have the elegant design of “Paradigms,” which I rewatched in advance of writing this review. That episode managed to tell a bunch of miniature stories (Jeff and Britta as sex buddies, Abed’s obsession with “The Cape,” the ghost town trip, etc.) within the clip show structure. “Curriculum” had its series of montages (Abed has a difficult personality, Greendale has ridiculous classes like “Can I Fry It?,” Dean Pelton loves the study group, etc.), but it felt on the whole more like the writers threw a bunch of ideas at the wall to see what stuck.

Fortunately, most of these were very funny ideas, and if “Curriculum” wasn’t as novel or clever or emotional as “Paradigms,” it was a successful half-hour of comedy. It allowed the show to do a third paintball story (this time as an homage to hard-boiled black and white movies of the 30s and 40s) without having to devote an entire episode to what everyone feared would be diminishing returns, and it gave us another glimpse of Abed’s excellent Don Draper impression. It spoofed twist-ending movies that reveal the hero was crazy the entire time, and while even that montage was a sequel to the original “Paradigms” (which also had the study group in straightjackets), I enjoyed watching how stories like the secret trampoline or paintball would look if all the participants were mental patients. (The mental patient version of the original clip show may be the most quintessentially “Community” moment ever.)

Like John Oliver(***) before him, John Hodgman fit perfectly into the warped world of Greendale. Hodgman’s acting style always seems simultaneously deadpan and completely insane; he could be the voice of authority, or he could be an impostor, and you never know how much to believe him. An excellent choice for this gig. 

(***) Whom I just realized has yet to appear this season. Don’t know if it was an availability issue or the show devoting time to other faculty (Professor Kane, Vice-Dean Laybourne, and even Pelton getting more to do now that Jim Rash is a cast regular), but I hope we see Duncan again before the season’s out. 

A rehash, but an effective one. I haven’t loved the Chang takeover itself so far, and we’ll see how that plays out in one of of next week’s three episodes (more on that below), but this one was mainly using that story as a device to look at the study group again, which is where the show works best.

Some other thoughts:

* Strangely, my biggest laugh of the night had almost nothing to do with the therapy or clip show formats: it was Troy’s delayed reaction to Hodgman’s claim that Greendale doesn’t exist, fixating first on parking meters before realizing what was just said.

* Yeah, at this point Abed shrieking has become just as comically reliable as Troy crying.

* We’re getting an awful lot of jokes lately not just about Pierce growing senile, but the study group being very aware of that. (Annie: “What Piece was saying before he started sundowning…”)

* That was Abraham Benrubi (Kubiak from “Parker Lewis Can’t Lose” and Jerry the desk clerk on “ER”) as one of the orderlies at the mental hospital. Also loved that the mental hospital version of Garrett had a much deeper voice.

* “This is Purgatory, and I’m the Devil!”

* As happened in the first season, there’s been some confusion about whether the final three episodes are airing in the intended order, but once again, they are. Dan Harmon explained on Twitter last week that they were produced out of order because one of them involves a lot of animation. The last of the three episodes (which will air at 8, 9 & 9:30 p.m.) was always meant to be the season – but definitely NOT series – finale.

What did everybody else think?

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