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COMMUNITY’s Curriculum Unavailable – Clip Show Sequel Tops Original
If I had to choose one thing I’ve disliked about this season of Community, I would go with how often it has dipped into the well of previously used material from its second season. Nobody was asking for it, yet we were given more documentaries, more celebrity impersonators, more blanket forts, and now with “Curriculum Unavailable” we get another fake clip show. But it’s important to remember this is a show that heavily borrows from pop culture and classic TV tropes, taking that used material to create something new and wonderful from something well worn and familiar. We shouldn’t be shocked if Community inevitably ends up borrowing from itself. It’s just pop culture referencing coming full circle, and even that is referenced in this episode. Community isn’t redoing clip shows because it’s lazy, but because there was still so much more that could be done with the format. And it’s still so gosh darn funny seeing random moments flash by with zero context.
I was quite pleased with how stealthily the clip show concept was sneaked into the episode. The basic premise has Abed being sent to a psychiatrist by the Fake Dean after Abed is found lurking around Greendale; presumably searching for evidence to prove the real Dean was replaced by an imposter. The study group goes with him to his first session and soon enough they’re all recounting little stories of their times at Greendale. The hilarity begins. There were so many amazing moments to be found in each clip; it would be impossible to list every single one and still have room to talk about everything else in depth. I will say my favorites were Troy riding into the study room on an ATV and saying “it’s all-terrain,” the gangster paintball episode that never was (and just like Abed says, it would’ve felt forced), and the inexplicable class known only as “ladders.”
Last season’s “Paradigms of Human Memory” was an instant favorite for a good many fans. It managed to fill 22 minutes with joke after joke, showing us many misadventures we didn’t know the study group had. For me personally, it was the funniest episode of Community, but it lacked warmth to it. It was mostly a vehicle to tell random jokes and reveal Jeff and Britta’s sexing one another, with the whole “the study group might break up” bit tacked on artificially. It was a great episode, but “Curriculum” did it one better. Not only was it still crazy funny, but also it had that warmth. And it came from the strangest of places: Dean Pelton. Here’s a guy who has been wondering all year if he really is a good dean, and for the most part he hasn’t been one. But for the study group, well, he’s never left their side. He’s always watching out for them, as best he can. It doesn’t matter if he’s letting them know there’s a fire before anyone else, or sneaking them the last six slices of pizza at lunch; he really cares for them. He may not have been a good dean, but he was definitely a good friend, even if nobody noticed until they took the time to look back on everything.
It’s this realization that the Dean truly, truly loved them that causes them to suspect Abed was right. The Dean would never expel them; therefore the man who did it must have been an impostor! And what follows is what could easily be called the most entertaining moment in Community history. By now we should have all figured out the psychiatrist (played by John Hodgman) is all part of Chang’s plot, so in a bit of improvisation he tells the group Greendale never existed, at least as a college. In “reality,” the group has spent the last three years in the Greendale Mental Asylum, living in a shared delusion where they’re all students at a crappy community college where crazy stuff happens and everything revolves around them. If it weren’t obviously a ruse, I’d say it almost makes sense. Surely these people are broken enough to be called insane. In fact,“Horror Stories in Seven Spooky Steps” tried to hint at just that; they’re all crazy.
And just because it can, Community shows us what their lives would’ve looked like if they really were committed to an asylum. This is where the referencing coming full circle is referenced. We see them all in straight jackets acting out various moments in the show’s life. Troy and Jeff gleefully jump on a mattress, calling it their secret trampoline. Britta and Jeff pretend to play paintball (while Leonard sits in the corner looking adorably senile). And the best moment of all; the group sits around the table reenacting a scene from “Paradigms.” Holy crap. And then to cap it all off, Dr. Garrett, now with a pleasantly deep voice, turns to Dr. Pelton and suggests confiscating one of their pens just to see what happens. I’m not going to lie to you. I almost wish this scene had been a full episode. That’s just how great it was. But I know that would be too much. That’s what makes these fake clip shows work. We’re given just enough information to laugh, but if we saw anymore it would all fall apart. It’s like an illusion. We want to know how these situations happened, but it would ruin the joke.
Inevitably, the group realizes the truth and vow to rescue the Dean and return to Greendale. This is where “Curriculum” really stands out when compared to “Paradigms.” While “Paradigms” had almost no story continuity, acting as a stand-alone episode with everything returning to the status quo by the end, “Curriculum” actually looks to move the plot forward and it does so in a very satisfying way. Sure, the flashbacks don’t have any connecting story points like Abed’s The Cape obsession from last season, but at least what’s happening in the present day actually matters. You could even call the ending a cliffhanger if you felt so inclined.
I’m sure everybody out there will have varying opinions of how the second fake clip show worked out, but I’m happy enough with it. It had an entirely different feel to it, much the same way “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux” felt unique despite being a sequel to “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking,” and that’s enough for me to appreciate it at on its own merit. The comparisons are going to come up, but at the end of the day this was a terrific episode. And to make things all the sweeter, Community just received a Season 4 renewal of 13 episodes and next week is the 90-minute finale. I couldn’t be happier to be a Community fan.