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Community Recap: Return to Normalcy

In case you didn't get enough of Joel McHale singing and dancing in colorful clothing at Sunday’s Emmys, Community has what’s been ailing you for the last four days (also: seek help) in the form of a song-and-dance number to open its third season. And in the spirit of self-referential pageantry —Community’s bread, butter, and chicken tenders — ;it was a little ditty about how this season was going to be calm, normal, and potentially Jeff-and-Annie-sex-filled. “We’re gonna have more fun and be less weird than the first two years combined,” sang everybody but Pierce.

Why not Pierce? It’s 99 percent likely Chevy Chase read the script and was like, “I’m not doing this crap — I was the voice of Cho Cho in The Karate Dog!” Or maybe it’s that the entire musical sequence happened in Jeff’s fantasy world, where Pierce has been kicked out of the group.

Back in reality, and not Jeff's musical dream world, Pierce has actually been kicked out of the group. The remaining members have gathered around the study table to mourn his loss, sort of. Abed and Troy share that they’re going to be living together this year, and the Dean enters, masculine as ever with “facial hair” and “not wearing lady’s things,” to announce that Greendale is going to be whipped into shape. No more paintball, no more spaceships, no more trampolines … maybe this year actually will be more normal?

Probably not. Because quicker than the dean can say “National Lampoon-ery,” Pierce is back, to explain he has spent some time on “intensive soul rezoning at the Laser Lotus Celebrity Center” and wondering what class they're all taking together. But Jeff successfully ices him out, and the study group heads to biology to meet their new teacher, Dr. Marshall King, a.k.a. Michael K. Williams, a.k.a. Omar from The Wire. He says “Ya feel me?” and I kind of lost my shit every time. References are a powerful thing.

So, too, it turns out, is the study table. After Jeff’s cell phone goes off in class, Dr. King — not up for any tomfoolery after his 25 years in prison — boots Jeff from the class. (If only he’d taken Starburns’ advice of “learn to blend” and scored his own top hat and permanent lizard friend.) Jeff tries to persuade the rest of the group to find a new science class with him, but they quickly call him out. Earlier, noticing a way to remove Pierce once and for all, he posited that the group had evolved past having to take the same class together to remain friends. Now that he’s the one out, though, he’s refusing to believe in evolution, like so many tea party-ers before him. But evolution is a scientific fact, so Jeff is out, Pierce is in, and the dean can die a “happy pansexual imp.” Ya feel me?

Speaking of the dean (and speaking of HBO shows about cities with oppressed minority populations), John Goodman guests as the vice-dean of Greendale’s Air Conditioning Repair School Annex — a quaint little spot off the beaten path, where the money flows like hot air-conditioner fumes and the calls of “Homey don’t dean this” are met with deaf ears. The dean wants to rein in the Annex's spending, but that's a plan contingent on, you know, having power: It turns out that not only does the Air Conditioning Repair School Annex bring in all the dough, its administration is hesitant to share and thinks it should be allowed to spend willy-nilly on cappuccino machines. After the dean's ill-advised intervention, the vice-dean decides to renegotiate the Annex's financial arrangement with Greendale, and not in Greendale's favor, while also administering the dean, a.k.a. “a white Lou Gossett Jr.,” with a mandatory shave

The dean finds out too late, though, because even though he can’t afford to pay the monkey-removal team (led by the late Running Wilde’s Migo), they enact their plan nonetheless. Annie's Boobs, Greendale's resident monkey (named after, as Troy says, Annie's boobs), seems to have been running around the vents. Actually, it's Chang, who has taken to living there, but the Dean and his crew don't know that and come up with a strategy: seal off the vents and pump noxious gas inside. Unfortunately, Jeff has discovered a way back into the group — photographic proof that Pierce and Dr. King were chums — and when Chang steals the photo, Jeff first dodges the ham Chang throws, then follows Chang into the vents. He passes out when the monkey gas comes, and the second Community dream sequence of the season begins, resembling, let’s say, The Cell. (If I’m missing something besides “the human being under it all,” feel free to call it out in the comments.)

Jeff awakens, realizes the study table, as Pierce and his newly lasered soul observed early on, has a magical hold on everyone — it's an important component of their group friendship besides “magically keeping our books from falling on the floor,” — and seeks to destroy it with that spare ax every good community college has lying around. Jeff realizes that being on the outside sucks, Pierce lies to help Jeff save face, and the gang plus Dr. King welcome him back to bio, despite his blatant racism. (That man in the photo with Pierce? Not Dr. King.) As Pierce says, it’s hard for Winger to be the bad guy, and it’s hard to not give Joel McHale mad props for the ridiculous lengths he went through in “Biology 101” — singing, dancing, axing, cell-phone-eating, etc.

His performance isn’t the only standout one. Jim Rash is part of the opening credits now, and given “Biology 101,” it’s easy to see why. The dean showcases every conceivable emotion in this episode — everything from “repressed” to “extremely repressed.” It’s to Rash’s credit that he can start by dialing it back, let his dean-isms slowly creep back in when discussing how to handle the Annie’s Boobs–in-the-vent problem (be it his highly detailed plan for a monkey hotel or his insistence on having an “idea shower—spray your solutions all over me”), flip out during Goodman’s power trip, then repress it right back in to tell the group, “This year’s not gonna be that different, with the notable exception that we have no money.”

Thankfully, what little money they had left over from the opening number and the lizard rental, they spent on producing tiny segments of Cougarton Abbey and Inspector Spacetime. It was kind of odd that Abed’s Cougar Town withdrawal took the form of blank stares and high-pitched squealing (there’s something seriously wrong with this guy), but his frustration that Cougarton Abbey ends after six episodes — and subsequent embrace of Inspector Spacetime — mirrors my exact TV-watching behavior over the last few months. Come back, Downton Abbey! I need to know more about the cousin-marrying!

Photo: Colleen Hayes/NBC