community s03 episode five pierce annie jeff sadness

It’s unclear how the Ass-Crack Bandit of  “Basic Intergluteal Numismatics” is actually a bandit. He’s putting stuff into butts, not trying to steal from them. Even if that premise isn’t silly enough for you, Community jumps into the deep end of genre and reminds us why it’s one of the most creative celebrations of pop culture.

The Players:

  • Director: Tristram Shapeero
  • Writer: Erik Sommers
  • Cast: Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alison Bree, Ken Jeong, Jim Rash, Jonathan Banks, Donald Glover, John Oliver

Episode Title: “Basic Intergluteal Numismatics”

Greendale’s gloomy weather fuels fear as the Ass-Crack Bandit returns. While the Dean does damage control, the study group is on the case. Annie is the go-getter detective, committed to catching the bandit by any means necessary. She suspects a teacher. Jeff is dubious, but after Troy falls victim to the attacks, he agrees to help. The notes the bandit leaves behind, after he strikes, contain Dave Matthews lyrics, so the pair target faculty who love ‘Dave.’ The first professor bolts, but for the wrong reasons. The Dean tries to shut down Annie and Jeff’s investigation, citing it as a twisted expression of their romantic feelings for one another. Then a phone call from the bandit leads to the stables where Starburns has been hiding out, perfecting a cat car (a little red wagon with feline harnesses). The Dean seizes Starburns as a chance to close the case. Annie remains skeptical, and when she visits psychology professor Duncan’s office, she has reason to suspect he might be the actual bandit. He loves Dave Matthews, but on an older, British version of Facebook called Mugscroll. Yet at the school-wide party to celebrate the capture, the bandit strikes again, and strikes Duncan. Annie and Jeff chase him through the hallways, but are stopped by Shirley. She tells them that Pierce has died. The case halts there and then, and the study group comforts each other.

The Good:

  • The Red Credits: The extra care taken to shoot this episode like a gritty cable drama immediately throws you into this heightened, crime-mystery. The credit sequence itself is a masterwork of elegant montage and how funny the word butt looks when you see it. Annie’s scrapbooked evidence file does wonders to set the tone. But all of the technical aspects – the lighting, the costume choices, the razor editing of Alison Brie as she boils over in squee all meet the standards of the shows Community wants to savage.
  • Introduction to Tertiary Fictional Entities: What a neat cameo. If Ben Folds was a professor, he totally would teach horticulture. In addition to looking squirrely and growing a “very mild” kind of pot that’s perfect for playing guitar, he also provided the end number. It sounded like something out of Damages. Even the words “Ass-Crack Bandit” sneak up in the lyrics. In fact, although not everyone gets much to do, the entire supporting cast is well used. Hickey’s looks of sculpted disdain, Professor Duncan’s British standards for tying shoes, Starburns’ cat car, etc. This episode has a texture that has nothing to do with the technical polish. Greendale is what’s highlighted.
  • Level Up: So here we are. Pierce Hawthorn is dead, and Chevy Chase can rest in peace. Oddly enough, a concept episode like “Intergluteal Numismatics” is a perfect place to break the news, allowing the show’s emotional reality to puncture the momentum of the parody. Obviously the first thing you want when you hear something bad is for Shirley and/or Yvette Nicole Brown to give you a hug. The use of Neil’s radio show was also a poignant way to eulogize the oldest, most racist member of the group. Pierce was indeed “banned from the campus, but not from our hearts.”

The So-So:

  • What Is This?: The real mystery is why Community returns, again and again, to the same Jeff/Annie teasing it’s been doing since Season 2. The age thing has never bothered us, but the move always hurts the logic of Brie’s character. This episode is acting on heightened logic that Jeff’s platonic shoulder-holding wasn’t an issue for us until the show called itself out. It then failed to do anything with the idea or develop our understanding of it. Usually, concept parody episodes are more effective because they bring out a real emotional facet of the characters. But damned if we know what the show’s trying to say about these two’s urges to couple.
  • Real Fans Call Him Dave: It’s a stroke of genius to score a cafeteria rave to Dave Matthews. Nor are the examples of these party/chase scenes often shot for clarity. But the look of the endless smoky hallways through which Annie and Jeff try to chase the bandit punctured the fun of the episode a little. It felt too static and too staged.

The Bad:

  • The Spectrum: The one beat that didn’t ring true was using Abed to illustrate shows where someone ‘special’ or ‘sensitive’ can channel crime vibes to solve a case. As he himself admits, Abed’s social disorders are a device in service of any given episode of Community. But it’s not exactly a procedural device, nor is he able to reveal anything but Harmon’s disdain for bad cable writing. So the moment is muddled and doesn’t quite land.

Overall:

Although it’s odd to get something this stylized this early in the season, concept episodes are what Community does well. It looks great, and is all the better because the episode isn’t too strongly parodying one particular property. Whether you’ve seen The Closer or a David Fincher film, you’ll get something out of “Intergluteal Numismatics.”

Rating: 8/10

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

Was it obviously the lunch lady? Let us know whodunit in the comments.