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Community Recap: Advanced Breath Holding

COMMUNITY -- "Curriculum Unavailable" Episode 319 -- Pictured: (l-r) Danny Pudi as Abed, Gillian Jacobs as Britta -- (Photo by: Lewis Jacobs/NBC)

Up until last night, I wasn’t able to see past the elephant in the study room: At no point had anyone in the group acknowledged that Abed might need professional help. In fact, they’d spent a lot of time enabling him and his delusions. In the Claymation Christmas episode, they went along with him hoping he’d come out the other side unscathed. The My Dinner With Andre episode was about how Abed needed to create an elaborate scenario in order to have a genuine conversation with another human — something he can’t do under normal circumstances and likely beats himself up about — and it was certainly sweet.

But then we saw something similar in “Virtual Systems Analysis,” an episode that bothered me the more I thought about it because it trod the same Abed’s-problem-can-be-exploited-to-hilarious-effect ground. Abed had always taken comfort in routine, and disruption of any kind was likely to set him off. And when that happened, because the show wouldn’t acknowledge that he had a problem worthy of serious psychological healing, his Dreamatorium adventure with Annie felt like bullying.

There will likely never be a bigger disruption to Abed’s little self-encapsulated world than the study group’s eviction from Greendale in last week’s episode. No longer could he call that place home, nor could he have his over-the-top pop-culture-fueled fantasies enabled. And as we saw in the opening segment of “Curriculum Unavailable,” Abed wasn’t taking the news lightly. Arrested by the police, he was returned to his apartment — where the group was gathered lamenting their two months away from school — wearing his Inspector Spacetime uniform and babbling on to Reggie. (Troy looked like he was in pain having to play along.) Finally ready to trust the opinion of a professional and not Britta, the group agreed to send Abed to a counselor, though they all joined him in the session.

Enter Doctor Heidi, played by the unflappable John Hodgman. He asked the group what was wrong, and they explained that Abed used to resemble Mork — weird but lovable — but recently has been acting scary, like the modern-day Robin Williams. When asked to elaborate, the group flashed back to various moments that set Abed off: daylight saving time, a discussion about Brett Ratner, those sorts of things. Yes, this was to be a fake clip show along the lines of “Paradigms of Human Memory,” and I was totally onboard. Elephant in the room: addressed. Now I could relax and enjoy the fun. And “Curriculum Unavailable” was ready and willing to deliver on that front, in spades.

Plus, it took the whole “Abed is certifiably crazy” to a whole new level. Heidi asked the group about whether or not Abed was the only one showing any signs of being nuts, and we were treated to flashbacks of Britta post-peyote and Annie doing her own version of “Troy & Abed in the Morning” with stuffed animals, not to mention Jeff’s OCD moment with his jacket. Heidi suggested that perhaps Greendale itself was to blame, which queued up a series of flashbacks involving human chess, Pierce winning the award for 10,000th toilet flush, and the class “Advanced Breath Holding” — which I would have totally taken, especially given my intense fear of swimming as a kid.

Then (and here comes my favorite part of the episode), “Curriculum Unavailable” took the crazy conceit further than anyone was expecting. Abed was nuts, it posited; the group was nuts, too. So crazy that they fabricated the entirety of Greendale and were in fact locked in a mental asylum living out the fantasy that they attended community college. Community not only addressed the elephant in the room, they turned the entire room into an elephant, which is a sentence normally reserved for a Roald Dahl novel.

And they did so with aplomb. The next series of flashbacks took place in the Greendale Asylum — an alternate reality where the events of previous seasons unfolded around white padded walls and a militant Dean running the show (as opposed to singing over the loud speaker about how wonderful everyone in the study group was). Jeff and Troy bounced on their bed like it was a secret trampoline. Jeff and Britta pretended to fire paintballs as Annie and Abed kissed awkwardly in the background. Abed talked at length about bottle episodes, and Pierce admitted to having sex with Eartha Kitt. Garrett spoke with a very manly voice and promised to confiscate one of their pens. It was a series of amazing callbacks — itself a callback to the previous clip show when they were in the asylum — that was so compelling, for a brief second I totally bought it. I mean, there’s no way they could have kept it up, but still.

Totally taken aback by this news, Jeff returned to Heidi’s office to find him sneaking away, talking to someone on the phone. It turned out Heidi wasn’t a real psychologist, just some guy Chang hired to keep the group at bay while he gallivanted around the now-Dean-less school. “Curriculum Unavailable” was the relative calm before next week's storm, when three Community episodes in a row will take the saga of Ben Chang to its inevitable conclusion. But for now, the show celebrated how far it’s come and addressed my growing Abed concerns — pulling more weight than any clip show ever could.

Photo: Lewis Jacobs/NBC