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Community Recap: Butt Crack Bandit!

COMMUNITY -- "Basic Intergluteal Numismatics"

Good morning. I’m your new Community recapper. Great to meet you all. I’m a fan of Dan Harmon’s Community. I was sad to hear he had been fired after the third season of the show, even though I felt the third season itself was a tad shaky. I liked the characters and what had been built enough to try the fourth season out. And though I watched it all, I found it pretty wretched. It was like watching the Pet Sematary–esque corpse of something I once loved prance around … not soulless, exactly, but certainly not with its own soul. 

Then, something that never happens happened: The powers that be restored Harmon to what many — myself included — considered his rightful place as showrunner, and after last week’s double header, things were looking up. "Repilot" was dark, and not all that funny, but necessary in terms of reframing the show as patently Harmon’s, all without dumping too heavily on Port and Guarascio’s work on the show (yeah, yeah, “gas leak,” I know). The following episode, "Introduction to Teaching," felt like classic, not-too-meta, slightly upbeat with an ascerbic undercurrent Community, all while still being true to the feel and the characters of the show we all came to love in earlier seasons.

I was hoping we’d ride that particular wave a teensy bit longer until some of the inevitable high-concept episodes arrived, not necessarily because I dislike them as a rule — in fact, I count some of the show’s more conceptual episodes ("Basic Lupine Urology" and "Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas" come to mind, specifically) among the show’s best — but because I wanted just a little more time to bask in the warm, glowing, warming glow of what passes for normalcy in the Community universe — Communiverse? — a little longer.

To be honest, I really didn’t know what to make of "Basic Intergluteal Numismatics," and I still don’t. I appreciated the effort, I suppose, but I couldn’t help feeling like everything was a bit too winky; self-satisfied, but not self-aware, if that makes sense. The homage to and send-up of David Fincher was crystal clear, and certainly not poorly done, at least visually; the creeping, crotch-level dolly shots were spot-on, as were the bilious green duo-tone color corrections. But overall the episode felt too proud of itself, and it yielded very few laughs. Abruptly, at the end of the episode, after some Fincher-esque false peaks, a fog chase, and, of course, a Ben Folds cameo (which … what the what? Is he going to be back?) we get an “Oh, bee tee dubs, Pierce croaked.” It’s no secret that Harmon and Chase weren’t exactly cuddling up making s'mores every night, but really? That’s how you send the character off? That’s cold, right there. Pierce was abrasive, at best mildly racist, and overall not my favorite, but he was an important character at the very least because he was so often a common enemy against whom the remaining characters could bond. He deserved better, and by that I really mean that I don’t understand why it wasn’t sufficient to leave Pierce a disgraced ex-student. I’ve heard that next week’s episode deals with Pierce’s death more thoroughly, so maybe I’m speaking too soon, but it felt like an afterthought in an already uneven and strangely paced episode. Who knows, maybe Chase and Harmon will have a beer together sometime and Pierce can make a Starburns-like reappearance. It’s not like they’re going to show a body.

Am I being too harsh? Maybe. Okay, there were a few gems tonight. Garrett screaming “ASS … CRACK … BANDIIIIIIIIIITTTTTTT,” for one. Because I’m 7. And I love Garrett; I have a ringtone of him screaming “Crisis Alert!” that still cracks me up. I did like the whole Greendale Mirror-splitting-from-the-Greendale Gazette thing; of course Greendale would have two rival papers (and a third, solamente en Español) in service of a harried press conference scene that Jim Rash handled with his usual awesomeness. The cop running off screen to barf after seeing Troy’s offending quarter? Nothing new, but still a decent yuck.

But other than that, I didn’t really laugh much tonight. I cracked some knowing smiles, but it wasn’t haha funny, more I-see-what-they-did-there funny. Harmon & Co. are capable of tickling my funny bone somethin’ awful, even — sometimes especially — in the more stylized and conceptual episodes, and that’s why I watch the show. This, though?  Never quite got me there.

Another thing: Harmon can’t really think it’s a good idea to go back to the Jeff and Annie sexual tension well so early, can he? Sure, he had the good sense to go meta in an otherwise not-so-meta episode and have Dean Pelton basically call out the show itself: “I think you two like to partner up on cutesy capers so you can hold hands in the dark and address your urges in semi-acceptable scenarios.” But that’s not enough, especially in an episode that is fixating, yet again, on Jeff and Annie’s weird flirtatious relationship right after an episode that showed us exactly how awesome their relationship can be when it’s kept platonic.

Or maybe that is enough? I don’t know. My brain starts to hurt when I think of how Harmon could potentially just be messing with us. He’s capable of deep sincerity, but also deep irony with layers like an onion, and where in earlier seasons he was able to weave in and out of each pretty seamlessly, it seems there are some cracks forming in the facade (or maybe just some rust). Maybe the constant returns to Jeff and Annie as an unrequited crush situation are intended as sincere, or somewhat realistic; we’ve all been in the position of like-liking someone when the circumstances surrounding us — friend circles, age gaps — are less than ideal, and sure, crushes can last years, decades, lifetimes. But if that’s what he’s going for, Harmon needs to put a finer point on it and either shit or get off the pot, because this has been going on since first season episode “Debate 109” and enough is enough already.

Okay, one more gem: “Up next on the dial is Dr. Farts. BWEEEEE.” 

Photo: Charles Christopher/NBC