Community Recap: Pam the Yam

Photo: Justin Lubin/NBC

Sometimes Community is really deep and inspires conversation about its many layers of Inception–style tomfoolery. And sometimes it’s just a hell of a lot of fun, boldly going to pop-culture-skewing places few network sitcoms dare go. “Basic Lupine Urology” was in the latter category, a Law & Order parody with panache. Every little detail of L&O was satirized, beginning with a special version of the opening credits that repurposed Community’s theme song like it was meant to be heard in true L&O style: while sick. Or vacuuming.

Though the vibe of the episode was clear from the get-go, the subject matter lent itself to the full-on procedural treatment. The study group’s final project for Professor Kane’s biology class, a yam sitting in a jar of water, had been destroyed. Kane agreed to cut the group some slack and award them a decent grade, but Annie, who’s really had her time in the spotlight over the last few episodes, wasn’t content with receiving a C. She made Kane agree to give the group an A if they could find the real culprit. Well, she never got him to officially say that, but she figured as much. And in what I’m now calling the Community conceit given how often it happens, the group agreed to go along for the ride if it proved to be (a) entertaining, and (b) FRIENDSHIP!

The show is good about passing the buck around the study group episode-by-episode, letting different characters drive the action so it doesn’t feel too repetitive. (Well, Pierce usually gets the short shrift, but maybe Chevy Chase should learn a thing or two about voice mail. Related, but when will these jokes get old?) In the parlance of The Wire, Shirley was up; and thanks to her extensive knowledge of crime shows, she made “Basic Lupine Urology” her bitch. She sent Abed and Troy out to question witnesses, has a grossly underqualified Britta man the computer, and allowed Jeff/Annie to handle the courtroom proceedings, if you call Kane’s class a courtroom. To echo what Dean Pelton said in an earlier episode, “Does anyone even go to class anymore?”

A good L&O satire has to check off certain boxes. There’s the rigorous pacing of the dialogue, the way the courtroom scenes devolve into name-calling and shouting matches and the way the cops bust each other’s chops and sling one-liners around as if they’re the most normal things ever. “Basic Lupine Urology” got them all right. When Abed and Troy hit up Todd for answers, he didn’t stop unloading the library cart full of books while answering questions. (Even five years ago, John Mulaney got that part of L&O very, very right.) The lines in “Basic Lupine Urology” ricocheted across the screen; when it was revealed that Abed couldn’t tell time and he posited, “I’m gifted in other ways,” the line was almost an afterthought. The same thing happened when Troy and Abed concluded that Todd was to blame and they went in to “arrest” him. Troy launched into what had the cadence of Miranda Rights, but none of the same words. I had to rewind the scene a few times to catch him saying things like, “You have the right to say whatever you want.”

What I liked most about “Basic Lupine Urology” was that it used the confines of a Law & Order episode to make fun of Law & Order, rather than mocking it from afar. Too often Community readies its audience for meta-commentary, usually with a quip from Abed, rather than letting the episode stand on its own. “Basic Lupine Urology” demonstrated extreme faith in its sound concept, though. The scenes with Star-Burns, for example, saw him dodge an arrest by asking a pretty girl to make out with him, as if that would be enough to hide his face from the police. (“I’ll explain later,” he said, to which she countered, “The explanation isn’t the issue.”) When Shirley pulled Abed and Troy behind the fish tank, Star-Burns shouted, “I can see you and hear everything you said.” When Todd’s former military commander — played by Total Recall vet Michael Ironside — questioned Todd on the witness stand, he threw around horrible statements (quickly withdrawn) just to have them said out loud. Then when Annie did the same thing, but worse (“Holocaust–denying”), no one gave any indication she was taking it too far. Nor did anyone seem to have a problem with Annie getting all “Santa Baby” on Todd like she did in “Regional Holiday Music.” The more the episode spoke for itself, the more complete the parody seemed.

Even the conclusion followed a Law & Order–style trajectory. Just before Dick Wolf’s name appeared in the closing credits, Kane received the tragic news that Star-Burns, and his car trunk meth lab, were no more. (Bummer there won’t be any more Dino Stamatopoulos to take creepiness to a whole new level — it was almost an art.) The central mystery also enjoyed an eleventh-hour reveal; everyone was surprised to learn the perpetrator had been in our midst the entire time. Not only that, but Jeff was able to prove the potato-killer’s identity using science — a fact that warmed Kane’s cold, prison-hardened heart. They may not go to class, but the characters on Community learn something every once in a while.

Community Recap: Pam the Yam