Friday, May 4, 2012

Community continues to shock and awe

NBC's Community raises the stakes in "Course Listing Unavailable." Upset by the death of Star-Burns (Dino Stamatopoulos), which leads to a professor quitting and the study group, among others, forced into attending summer school, the students of Greendale rebel. Chang (Ken Jeong) takes the opportunity to seize power, initiating martial law and liberally using pepper spray. The school board is furious. Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) and the study group, now known as The Greendale 7, intend to make Chang the fall guy, but before they can, Chang replaces the Dean with a double (J.P. Manoux, Aaron Stone, ER), who gets The Greendale 7 expelled.

Community is having a hell of a spring run. Two weeks ago, the show blows many a mind when Annie (Alison Brie) breaks Abed's (Danny Pudi) brain and has to fix it in the Dreamatorium. Last week's installment is a full-fledged tribute to Law & Order, complete with a play on the theme song and the iconic noises, as well as some really good jokes. And now, "Course Listing Unavailable" starts a wild ride, surely a multi-episode arc, where the students must fight for their very right to attend class!

At heart of the story of Community, no matter how far out on a limb the series goes, is that it is a show about students attending community college. Now that The Greendale 7 are expelled, what will they do? Hopefully, it will take more than one week to expose Chang's scheme and resume their rightful place in the halls of Greendale. If they can overthrow the tiny dictator, though, it seems likely the real Dean will be so grateful that he will give them the credits needed to make up for this expulsion. Thus, their summer school problem will be solved, after using much more effort than going to classes would have taken.

Chang is a weird character, and he is not everyone's favorite. This is all right, because he is often in the background, and goes weeks without having any real story. However, the plot of "Course Listing Unavailable" plays perfectly to his strengths. Chang gets to be crazy and actually cause serious trouble, rather than just being an annoyance. His army of children is fantastic, because they have the same emotional maturity, and they are the only group of people that would willingly serve such an insane ruler. This is using Chang in the absolute best possible way.

Jim Rash continues to delight as the Dean. Now with an Oscar under his belt for a screenplay he wrote, Rash still proves he has the sitcom comedy chops to act ridiculous. In "Course Listing Unavailable," viewers see him select an outfit from his closet in order to break bad news to the study group in the form of a pun. It's something one may long assume the Dean does, but it's fun to get this glimpse of the process. And it's moments like these that make Rash (and his equal parts lovable and creepy character) invaluable to Community. Rescue the Dean! The show can't afford to lose him!

With everything else going on, the death of Star-Burns is a bit overshadowed. While never a key player in Community, Star-Burns is one of the B-cast, which is essential to give the school its charm, and to fill out the universe. It's funny how his death affects the characters. Jeff (Joel McHale) may just be trying to cause a riot to avoid summer school, but Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) and Britta (Gillian Jacobs) have some feelings about his passing. After all, Britta once made out with him! Though, Troy (Donald Glover) likely cares more about Star-Burns' lizard, and Abed and Pierce (Chevy Chase) are probably just jumping on the band wagon, in the differing ways that they usually do so.

There is no series like Community on television. It's a brilliant piece of writing, with an awesome cast. The stories take wonderful chances and go in unexpected directions. For instance, who could predict that the end of "Course Listing Unavailable" would reference back to a fall episode about the roll of a dice, already a series classic? (Is this a hint that most of the season has happened in an alternate universe? Hopefully not!) Or that Subway, a major sponsor, would allow their restaurant to be trashed as part of the riot? Or that the students would, years later, criticize the anus-like school symbol they helped create?

Community deserves the chance to keep doing what it's doing, and the television landscape would certainly be worse off without it. So NBC, please renew Community for at least another season! Give the characters a chance to graduate! Community airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

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