TV Review: COMMUNITY 5.03 “Basic Intergluteal Numismatics”

The team works together to fight against a new horror at Greendale: the Ass Crack Bandit.

"This extra long churro tastes good in my REAL mouth..."

Much like "Repilot" was a remake/sequel of the show's pilot, "Basic Intergluteal Numismatics" often resembles the third season's Law & Order parody, as it once again revolves around a mystery (one Jeff and Annie are tasked with solving) and once again ends with the sudden (off-screen) death of a Greendale student. It's even got a revamped, much more serious opening title sequence as that episode did, and features solid use of the show's stable of supporting students. The main difference is that instead of Dick Wolf's landmark series, the show's writers (and episode director Tristram Shapeero) are aping the style of David Fincher's films, particularly Zodiac and Se7en.

Fear not, there is no Greendale serial killer (the aforementioned death, much like the one in the L&O episode, comes out of nowhere and merely sets up the next episode). It's Greendale (and Community), after all, so the show's idea of a menace is someone who is going around dropping quarters into exposed butt cracks whenever the victim bends down to tie a shoe or pick up something they dropped. Apparently this "psycho" had been around before, but then the attacks stopped for a while. Now he's back, and Annie believes it to be someone on the faculty, so she needs Jeff and his connections as a teacher to help her figure out who he is before he strikes again. Meanwhile, the Dean and Chang have come up with their own solution to catch him in the act: dressing Chang in backwards clothes and outfitted with a fake butt, so that if the "Ass Crack Bandit" attacks him, Chang will actually be FACING him and be able to nab him instantly. This allows for some of the funniest stuff Ken Jeong has gotten to do in ages, and with Chevy gone, positions him as the best source of physical humor - hopefully they can find similar things for him to do down the road (given that Jeff's role as teacher is barely utilized, I can't see the writers devoting much, if any, time to Chang's math class).

Jeff and Annie's investigation yields some revelations that are vintage Greendale - the school apparently has stables for some reason, there's an insane botany professor played by Ben Folds, and a teacher that has been dead for a while is still listed as current faculty. Interestingly, the episode doesn't have much of a "B" story - everything relates to the Ass Crack Bandit. Troy becomes one of his victims and becomes the public face for "Troy's Law" ("A camera in the bathroom is better than a quarter in the butt"), Shirley uses the new-found fear of coins to raise the prices of her sandwiches to an even five dollars, Britta helps Duncan create a psychological profile of the perpetrator...

Wait, Duncan? As in Professor Duncan, the character played by John Oliver that hasn't been seen since the second season? Yup, he's finally back, and will stick around for a few episodes (Hickey also plays a role, as Jonathan Banks appears in all but two of the season's episodes - the "Repilot" and next week's). I'm stoked about this; I've always felt that the show's roster of professors should be seen more often (I still hold out hope that Jon Higgins' humanities professor will return someday), and it's been a bummer to hear "Malcolm McDowell joins the cast as their new teacher!" only for him to appear in a mere two episodes. With Pierce gone and Troy leaving soon, they're not only filling the void, but doing it organically - it's not like some new random student will join them at the table and suddenly become Abed's best friend.

It also features the full return of Star-Burns, who was the student who "died" in Law & Order but was shown alive in the S3 finale. Given Dino Stamatopoulos' close relationship with Harmon, it's not surprising that A) he never appeared in S4 and B) he'd come back now that Harmon is running things again. He's the most likely suspect for the Bandit, and confesses almost instantly, so of course it's not that simple. See, the Bandit is proven to be a fan of the Dave Matthews Band ("real fans call him Dave"), and Star-Burns doesn't recognize "Ants Marching," so Jeff (also a fan, surprisingly) knows it can't be him. This leads to a surprisingly kind of creepy scene with the REAL bandit (or IS it?), a chase and, finally, a complete dropping of the storyline when word breaks about the death of a friend.

If you've read the description for next week's episode you already know who it is, since the episode deals with the reading of his will. I'll save my thoughts on it for next week's episode, but I can assure you that unlike Star-Burns, this one is probably permanent. It's an odd way to wrap up the Bandit storyline (which suggests it might even have been a third party all along), but it's an effective scene (I actually got a bit choked up at a line from Neil) that hammers home the fact that no matter how silly things get at this school, it's never a cartoon. Real things happen, characters grow apart or closer or just plain die, and our heroes have to deal with it like actual people, unlike say Two and a Half Men, which managed to kill off Charlie Sheen's character and replace him in the same episode, and proceed as if nothing ever changed. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the writers knew they had to kill this character off at the end of the episode and reverse engineered a rather ridiculous scenario to get us to that point, in order to let something incredibly devastating send everyone crashing back to reality. If you look at the history of the show, the episodes that seem like the most extraneous (Law & Order, the first flashback episode, a magic trampoline) are the ones that have the longest-lasting impact in the end (respectively: Star-Burns' "death", the reveal that Jeff and Britta had been sleeping together, and Pierce's broken legs), so this follows suit.

By the way, the entire episode seems to be a goofy metaphor about Jeff and Annie's more-than-platonic-but-not-quite-romantic relationship (their scene outside, post-character death reveal, hammers it home as they're pretending to talk about the Bandit but are talking about themselves). I'll let the shippers run with that one; I recently caught a few S1 episodes in syndication and realized that Annie has somehow aged more than the other characters (she used to look way younger than Britta; now they look the same age), so this stuff sort of rubs me the wrong way. Jeff's age has never been explicitly revealed (according to a commentary track, he is definitely NOT as old as the mocked up license - which used McHale's real birthday - led sharp-eyed viewers to believe), but we know he's older enough than her for people to be weirded out by it. So they retcon Annie's age for it to be slightly less creepy? It seems to go against the show's MO of keeping the characters grounded for the sake of satisfying the people who like to make .GIFs and Youtube videos.

Otherwise, a solid episode that makes good use of Greendale's expansive supporting cast and earns lots of laughs from their more random character attributes (Duncan's nonsensical British terms always get me rolling, and I love that Troy is going to go "to the meat store" after discovering Annie has left him and Abed a mere salad for dinner). The gloomy look doesn't quite befit the show (especially after "Repilot", which also painted the set in muted, grayer colors), but as always I'm impressed by the production design team's ability to create new sets week after week, especially knowing that the show never leaves the one Paramount stage that they've used for everything since season 2. And ultimately it might inspire someone to see Fincher's Zodiac (which is his best film but also the lowest grossing), so it's a winner in my book.