Sometimes it’s tough to keep up with what Community’s throwing at us. There are references stacked inside references like Russian dolls; winks to moments that flashed by onscreen the first time, let alone the second time, and if you weren’t paying close enough attention six months ago, you’re totally lost. In last night’s episode, Britta pointed out something pretty dumb, to which Jeff replied, “You seemed so much smarter than me when I met you.” Now, it was still a pretty funny thing to say to a person, but knowing how the pilot episode shook out — Jeff was the dense sleazy guy and Britta was on to his tricks from minute one — only served to show how far Community has come. If you’ve been paying attention the whole time. And they say this show isn’t accessible!
But no matter how the show’s chameleonlike tone shakes out on an episode-by-episode basis, there’s always one constant: the study group. They might be flinging paintballs at one another or entertaining their friend’s Claymation delusions, but they’re always ready to lend an ear and a few nuggets of wisdom. And sure, they couldn’t be more different from one another, what with a religious mom and an adorable ex-jock man-child in their midst, but Community is about the triumph of their friendship above all else. Even I, the harshest of critics (and I say this as someone who greatly enjoys the show even though I have some misgivings about it, which according to some commenters makes me on par with Britta at being THE WORST!), cannot deny the appeal of the group’s affable chemistry.
So even though “Course Listing Unavailable” was pretty much a throwaway episode that could have taken care of its business in ten minutes, it ended with the entire group around TrAbAnnie’s coffee table, reminding each other about the time they almost entered an alternate timeline, and thanking God (or whoever) that they didn’t. Because no matter how bad things had gotten, at least they had each other.
Last week, it was discovered that Star-Burns died in a meth lab explosion, and “Course Listing Unavailable” was spent eulogizing the man much like he lived: passionately, if not confusingly. At first, the group tried to go on with business as usual. Annie, Troy and Abed gathered to watch Star-Burns’s video will, dropped off by a mysterious one-armed man. (“How one-armed was he?”) It turned out Star-Burns left footage of himself making various poses in front of a green screen curtain so Abed could later turn his life into a video montage. But more important, he left the care of his ashes in the custody of the study group.
There was this metaphorical elephant in the room, but Jeff encouraged the study group to soldier on as if nothing was the matter. People die, he said, and all you could do was accept that and continue to live your life. Britta, sensing some were more distraught, donned her amateur therapist cap (more of a “therapist pair of felt star-burns”) and tried to have the group open up about feelings, man. Still, Jeff wasn’t buying it until the dean entered. He’d recently learned he had to deliver some bad news to the group and gone into his closet full of costumes to pick out the perfect attire to fit the situation. Turns out, “Professor Kane quit so you all received incompletes in Biology and have to take summer school” was news best delivered by a can-can dancer. It’s probably because that’s the furthest thing from making a Wire reference that you can possibly do.
This set Jeff into a fit of tears; he was so distraught that later, when the dean holds a memorial service (kicked off by a tear-jearking-and-I’m-talking-about-dick-tears of “Ave Maria” by Garrett) in the cafeteria, Jeff got up to say a few words and completely changed the mood. Greendale is the worst, he said, because they force you to give up your free time. Next came Annie, who was none too pleased with the school at the moment, either. Not even Shirley could change the mood — she used the situation as a way to salt old wounds about the dean not letting her open her sandwich shop. Now Greendale was subjected to Subway (eat fresh!), a horror beyond recognition. Pierce sounded the war cry, and the students went about trashing the entire cafeteria. With nowhere to turn, the Dean authorized an order Chang and the Changlorious Basterds had been asking for: the use of force, including pepper spray and full SWAT-team gear.
A few things happened very quickly thereafter. Troy was treated for a pepper-spray injury because he was too embarrassed to admit the force of a child had caused him to cry. The school board was to hold a hearing to determine the fate of the newly christened Greendale Seven, and the dean realized Chang was to blame for this outburst, not his favorite students led by the tall Ryan Seacrest with the amazing abs he can touch casually hoping nobody noticed. Chang, hearing this, recruited his baldest, most glasses-ed friend to take over as “Dean,” putting Dean Pelton out of commission. The board held its meeting, and because Chang had already wooed them with a cookie basket and the real Dean was nowhere to be found, they had no choice but to expel the study group. Just in time for May sweeps!
So we wound up at that table, everyone coming to grips with the real loss of the episode. I mean, not to belittle the death of Star-Burns, but I’m going to belittle the death of Star-Burns. He was a convenient character onto which the show could latch a few quirky lines, like the perpetual lizard on his shoulder, but “Course Listing Unavailable” was more a memorial service for the way things used to be. The study group always had class to attend — to literally study for — and now that’s gone. But in that final moment, they still had each other. And, probably, a scheme or two up their sleeve to get back into school. Star-Burns would have been proud.