One of the benefits of cultivating a strong ensemble cast is the opportunity to play mix-and-match with different pairings, discovering success in unexpected flavor combinations. “The Psychology of Letting Go” marginalized Abed — and much of his zippety-doo-dah reference humor — and roped the remaining dudes into an out-there-but-still-kinda-affecting story line about Pierce, his dead mother, and a lava lamp. But the strongest plot brought Community’s four stealth power players together into one sexy oil bath of hilarity: Britta, Annie, and, of course, the show’s season-two MVPs, Annie’s Boobs. (Note: not the monkey of the same name.)
So, this week begins with Troy discovering that for every awesome thing there is about living with Pierce (casual racism = mega-Twitter hits!) there is also a not-awesome thing like seeing the graying corpse of Mother Pierce. While Troy shrieks and carries on, Pierce sails in like nothing happened: “Who died?” he asks glibly. You see, despite his mother’s “using up” of her “organic body,” Pierce is unfazed: Like him, his mother is a “level five laser lotus” in the church of “Neo-Reform Buddhism.” She’ll be back to life before you know it! This sets off a rather predictable, if amusing, series of events wherein Shirley frets that all major religions have services for the deceased including “Eskimos, witch doctors, [and] Jewish people,” and everyone in the study group basically thinks it’s their responsibility to step in and force Pierce to deal with his loss, especially once he starts wearing a Star Trek uniform, converting Troy with the promise of eventually being able to “eat ghosts,” and carrying around his mother’s collected energy in a test tube that, per Jeff, looks like it was harvested at “the foot of Mount Skymall in the Sharper Image Valley.” Jeff, at first, lectures everyone to be “cool” like him, but when Patton Oswalt — in a cameo as a male nurse named Jackie (“these paps aren’t gonna smear themselves!”) — warns Jeff about high cholesterol Jeff is inspired to tear down Pierce’s “temple of doom,” too. (Jeff also starts eating only the whites of hard-boiled eggs, which we found strangely hilarious.)
And then there was Annie, Britta, their arching backs, and their oil-spill diorama. This was a fruitful comic pairing, mostly because Alison Brie and Gillian Jacobs are kind of great at being mean to each other! Britta, especially, can be a one-note character when left alone — but partnering her with the blood-boiling personification of giggly, girly, “oops, I think I dropped something” princesshood brings out the best in her. By which we mean the worst: The only thing better than their dumb-blonde-off in the cafeteria (“Saving the planet makes my back hurt!” “I get up an hour early to ever so slightly curl my hair!”) was their pre-wrestling who-can-outdrab-the-other-a-thon. (And the writers were generous enough to give Shirley, also on the sidelines for much of the episode, the best line: “Yeah, you’re both so different. Skinny bitches.”)
Yep, this was a pretty great one, gang. Even including the compact disc–ex machina and the ice-cream ending. Better, it speaks to the show’s long(er)-term potential that all of this was achieved without paintball, a John Hughes montage, or a reference to another sitcom or Betty White. (Okay, Betty White was at the end, but we don’t count that as canon.) And we haven’t even mentioned John Oliver, who is absolutely excellent as the usually drunk, force field–abusing, anthropology-ignorant, anesthesiology-curious Professor Ian Duncan. Here’s hoping his dry delivery can restraining-order the increasingly unwelcome Chang right off campus. But in the meantime, let’s let the man enjoy his cell-phone photo of himself making devil horns with “the two oily co-eds.” It’s why he came to America, after all. And who can blame him?