An old, familiar feeling crept into the bones of this Community fan during last night’s episode, “Basic Intergluteal Numismatics.” The premise is simple: a spoof of the David Fincher playbook (Seven and Zodiac, specifically), with moody photography, constant rain, bright flashlights, and muted color saturation illustrating the investigation of a serial criminal on the Greendale campus. The twist is that the evil-doer is the “Ass Crack Bandit,” who drops quarters into posteriors. It’s a technically well-executed episode, with the stylistic parody elements on point and the cast going through their familiar paces. But it’s also kind of a Xerox of the third season’s inspired Law & Order spoof, and like most Xeroxes, it’s not as sharp as the original. And that’s when I got that unfortunate shudder: this was like watching season four again.
One of the better episodes, mind you! Like maybe the Halloween one or the season finale! But nonetheless, after the energetic reinvigoration of last week’s one-two “Harmon is back!” punch, “Basic Intergluteal Numismatics” is an oddly flaccid affair—an insular (even for Community) and rather monotonous retelling of the same two jokes. To wit: 1) look at our Fincher send-up, and 2) BUTTS.
It’s not that there aren’t laughs here: Shirley’s swipe at the ACB’s note (“He should be called the run-on sentence bandit”), Troy’s concerns about Annie’s dinner choices (“I hope it’s not salad again… I’d rather just stop at the meat store”), Dean Pelton’s response to the call coming from the stables (“We have stables?”), his description of what Starburns has been up to since faking his death (“living in the stables, eating garbage, and trying to build a cat car”). It’s nice to have John Oliver’s Duncan back, Annie’s suppress-the-squeal dance is priceless, and the disclosure of Jeff’s Dave Matthews Band fandom is gracefully done (“Oh, excuse me for being alive in the ‘90s and having two ears connected to a heart”). And the pokes at Fincher-esque serial crime pictures are reasonably clever; I like the mood-setting rain-soaked ribbon cutting and its “Creep” rendition, the image of the Dean snapping his fingers endlessly during the Bandit’s phone call, and especially the way Troy spends the rest of the episode in that traumatized-victim blanket.
But in general, it all feels half-baked. Jeff and Annie’s sexual tension is revisited, but without any consequence of note. The endless ass crack jokes wear thin. And let’s not even get into the half-assed, out-of-nowhere off-screen death of Pierce, which feels less like a surprise twist than a discarded script note that accidentally got filmed.
Most importantly, while “Basic Intergluteal Numismatics” is a skillful concept episode, the Community concept episodes of note are never just about their gimmicks. The paintball episodes, or Abed’s Claymation Christmas, or the Ken Burns send-up weren’t only about those surface aesthetic choices; they used them to make daring narrative leaps that the show couldn’t pull off within the confines of a regular, sitting-around-the-study-table half-hour. And that’s why season-four attempts to recapture that magic, like the puppet episode, failed—and that’s why this one doesn’t really work either. I’m not ready to take back my “Community has returned to form and the world is right again!” proclamation, not yet. But here’s hoping last week’s shows weren’t just another cruel fake-out.