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Monday, January 13, 2014

COMMUNITY Investigates Another Crime

Article first published as COMMUNITY Investigates Another Crime on TheTVKing.

The latest installment of NBC's Community is called "Basic Intergluteal Numismatics." Like the previous Law & Order spoof, this episode, including the lighting, tone, and opening credits, is done in a style different than the typical week. Here, we have the cable version of the genre represented, a higher quality, more ambiguous focus on the characters and how the crime relates to them, rather than the dastardly act itself.

The case at the center of "Basic Intergluteal Numismatics" is simple enough: the butt crack bandit is back, dropping coins down the exposed backsides of the folks at Greendale. Annie (Alison Brie) becomes obsessed with uncovering the culprit as the population goes into a panic. Jeff (Joel McHale) reluctantly agrees to help, as long as Annie doesn't tell anyone he's doing so.

The suspects are numerous. Could it be Professor Duncan (John Oliver), who has recently returned from a sabbatical spent caring for his ailing mother (she's not dead, he's just wasted enough time on her)? How about Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown), whose re-opened sandwich shop is profiting from the ban on change? Or Britta (Gillian Jacobs), hoping to make a name for herself by studying the psychology of the bandit? Or Starburns (Dino Stamatopoulos), who is found to have faked his death and has been hiding in the college stables? Or even creepy Professor Bublitz (musician Ben Folds)?

Well, one can make a strong case for any of the above at first, and while a couple of them are ruled out throughout the course of the half hour, there is no clear answer by the end. Instead, we're left to think the identity of the criminal isn't that important, and perhaps the search for them will make up another episode some time in the future.

It's a bit disappointing that Community chooses not to expose the bandit. After all, viewers want the answers to their questions, and it's unsettling to not be given such. We are fine making our own guesses, but we want to know if we're right or not, especially when the field of suspects is so deep and the clues are so numerous and clogged with red herrings.

However, that's not the point, and it's true to the style of what the episode imitates to not have the mystery solved so easily. Instead, the main plot is what goes on between Jeff and Annie. The Dean (Jim Rash) accuses them of getting into the antics of the investigation just to spend time together and steal a few embraces. He may very well be right. They've never worked as a couple, but there is definitely still strong attraction there, and these circumstances allow them to be brought out.

Could there ever be a future for Jeff and Annie on Community? I do think so, though probably only as a series endgame. A large theme of the show is finding oneself, and it's difficult to do that in a relationship. That's likely why none of the couples on the show have worked out, and it makes sense. I still enjoy their dancing around one another, which is shown sparingly enough to not have grown stale, and by addressing the issue head on, it seems like there is movement, even if it's miniscule.

Despite the dark and serious nature of "Basic Intergluteal Numismatics" it is still very funny. Troy's (Donald Glover) turn as the traumatized victim is hilarious, it's good to have weird Starburns, who has now designed a cat-powered vehicle, back, and Duncan is amusingly creepy. Chang's (Ken Jeong) backwards costume is ridiculous in the best of manners. Scenes make use of many of the minor recurring players, from Garrett (Erik Charles Nielsen) screaming in panic, to Leonard (Richard Erdman) almost kissing Jeff to illustrate a point. Even with an uneasy conclusion, it's a very satisfying installment.

There's also a moment of major sadness when Shirley reveals that Pierce (Chevy Chase) has died. This not only reinforced the more depressing mood this season, but also leads us in to next week's "bubble" episode, set just after the funeral, and pretty much halts all action on the A story for this week. I love that the characters are affected by the passing of one of their own, even if they seemed annoyed with him during his life, and it neatly solves why we can't have Pierce back, while leaving the door open for more hologram cameos from him down the road.

It's worth noting that in the previous crime-themed episode, Starburns is said to have died at the end, only to turn out to be a ruse. Might the same be said for Pierce if the messy issues between Chase and the studio can be sorted out? Plus, Pierce's father faked his own death, so all signs point to an easy come back, should the opportunity arise. Perhaps the fabled movie after seasons six? #sixseasonsandamovie

Community airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

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