Community Recap: ‘Biology 101’

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“Monkey knockout gas? Now that’s the kind of grounded, sensible thinking I want to see this year.”

It’s easy to complain about the state of comedy today, because criticizing something is much easier than praising it. More fun, too. I’m completely guilty of this (see: how Modern Family can get better), which is why I’m beginning the first recap of season three of Community with an appreciation of Thursday nights. Well, not the night itself, although TGIAF, but of the shows that appear every Thursday night…(un)like Urkel! Think about it: not only is there Community (my favorite), but also Parks and Recreation, The Office, 30 Rock (eventually), It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The League, and Archer. (And Louie during the summer.) That’s a multi-network lineup as stellar as any in history on a single night, and not even Whitney can ruin things.

Community kicked off Full Lineup Thursdays (sorry, 30 Rock) last night with a solid episode, one that worked as a table setter for the rest of the season — and involved a table-smashing scene, too.

The gang’s back at Greendale, and Jeff’s daydreaming of a singing-and-dancing year, where everyone’s going to have more fun and act less weird than the first two years combined, and Chang’s going to wear a money suit. He also wants to make sweet love with Annie, but that’s for another episode. When he snaps back to reality, we see he’s at the study group table and being asked his least favorite question: what are we going to do without Pierce this year?

Because he’s Chevy Chase, of course Pierce isn’t going anywhere. But things have changed: the Dean has grown a beard and made an enemy in the vice dean of Greendale’s air conditioning program, played by John Goodman; Chang is living in the vents (like a certain boob-named monkey); Troy and Abed are living together; and the school has a new biology teacher, Professor Kane (Michael K. Williams, of The Wire and Boardwalk Empire fame, who we’re just going to call Omar from now on). Oh, and Starburns has a lizard, too.

Of the two guest stars, Goodman made a more impressive first impact; not only will he be around longer than Omar, he also comes from a comedy background and has played this kind of loud, forceful, monologue-loving character before (O Brother, Where Art Thou? comes to mind, although I hope there’s no frog smashing on Community.) He’s going to be a worthy foe for now-series regular Dean Pelton, who goes from feeling excited about the new year to Gene Wilder needing his security blanket in The Producers in the span of 10 minutes.

Jeff, meanwhile, is going slightly crazy after he’s kicked out of Omar’s class for his phone going off. Pierce takes his spot, and in Jeff’s narcissistic head, that means he’s going to be replaced. Things are rapidly unraveling in his mind, so much so that he has a 2001: A Space Odyssey-aping, Chimpan-ZZZ’s gas-induced (I’m not even going to bother explaining) nightmare, where he realizes that both he and Pierce are not only alike, they’re also both fascinated by Greendale’s monolith: the study group table. If he can’t have it, though, no one can, and he slams an ax through the wood. If the season-long arc for Community this year is Jeff realizing he’s becoming someone he hates, I think that’d be great. Jeff got a little stale last season doing his I’m-better-than-everyone shtick, and this plot development would allow the character to evolve and give Joel McHale more to do.

And he can sleep with Annie.

The episode’s B-story, about Abed finding out Cougar Town is being pushed to midseason, is goofy, but fun. The spoofs — Cougarton Abbey (where everybody dies in the sixth and final episode, although wouldn’t Abed know that already?) and Inspector Spacetime (imagine a world where THAT show was cancelled for good?) — were spot-on, and seeing a Troy-like freak out from Abed was hilarious. Annie, Shirley, and Britta had little to do this episode, although Britta has finally declared a major: psychology.

The thing that I’m equal parts dreading and looking forward to about season three is the push-and-pull that must occur in Dan Harmon’s brain on how “weird” Community should be. Over the summer, I watched a repeat of “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design” with my grandfather, and after the climatic fake-shooting scene, he said to me, “This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen.” I thought it was brilliant. Community isn’t for everyone, and I wonder if Harmon and the writers shouldn’t just say “fuck you” in terms of appealing to everyone. That’s basically what they did last year, when it seemed extremely unlikely the show was going to be, well, not be canceled after season one, and it was an all-time great year. Not everyone is going to like “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons,” but that not everyone is wrong; it was a great, uncompromising episode of a show that I hope never has to negotiate its surreal vision. And for all the talk of Community going normal this year, “Biology 101” was just as brilliant as ever. God, it’s nice being at Greendale again.

Josh Kurp is a pizza burn on the roof of the world’s mouth.