…an episode reminding us all the importance of “platonic shoulder holding.”
When it comes to Community, high-concept parody episodes remain a staple of the (original) Harmon era, with favorites like “Pillows & Blankets” toppling Ken Burns documentaries, “Contemporary American Poultry” satirizing gangster films, and “Basic Lupine Urology” taking on Law and Order. If Harmon means to reestablish his reign, it makes sense for him to dip his toe back in this proverbial pool so early on.
This time around, he set his targets on a genre of film and TV that’s reached a level of mind-boggling oversaturation: the serial-killer thriller. Shows such as The Bridge, The Following, and The Killing, as well as David Fincher films (most notably Seven and Zodiac), provide the bulk of the inspiration. But Greendale wouldn’t find itself pitted against an actual serial killer. That would be preposterous! What’s not preposterous? Devising a ruthless baddie who deposits quarters into the most devastating of slots!
Enter The Ass Crack Bandit.
From the re-imaged credits to the driving rain, I immediately loved the tone here. That Harmon shot the thing through a filter to mimic the aesthetic of the genre made me laugh out loud; the attention to detail truly elevates Harmon’s parodies. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the guy can stretch butt jokes to their breaking point.
The first victim is Garrett, stooped over with his posterior doing an excellent plumber impression. Before long, he’s plucking a quarter out of his Hanes His Ways, and Dean Pelton calls the obligatory press conference. Incessant flashing cameras prompt an incredulous reaction from Pelton (perfect), but the framing of this sequence is even better. We can see the Dean in front of the E. Pluribus Anus sign, with only the latter word showing in the camera’s shot behind him. Nice touch!
Another staple of this genre is the male-female investigative duo and the thinly veiled tension between them, so putting Annie and Jeff front and center as the lead detectives served their characters nicely. I’m glad Community addressed their chemistry again, even if it found Jeff falling into old patterns and continuing to dismiss it. With Professor Hickey and a returned Professor Duncan assisting the study group, they attempt to uncover the ACB’s motive. In a sequence that comments on the vague rationales the killers in such shows adopt, Britta can’t tell if he likes money or hates it, if he wants to challenge Greendale for letting its values slide, or if he hates banks.
Soon after, I’m sorry to say that Troy falls victim to this maniac, duped by an adorable teddy bear he bends over to retrieve**. For the rest of the episode, Donald Glover does an amazing job playing the shell-shocked victim, as Abed continues to cover him with a blanket and push him around in a wheelchair. The Greendale community responds to Troy’s cracking by donning “Not This Crack” t-shirts and attending survivor support meetings in the cafeteria.
**It turns out, the Bandit had inserted a rolled-up note into the bear’s tuckus, which is honestly something I did not see coming. It turns out the Bandit’s notes are cobbled from Dave Matthews lyrics. Or just Dave for the true fan.
Detectives Winger and Edison, meanwhile, prove themselves reckless cops playing by their own set of rules when they destroy a greenhouse and intimidate the wrong suspect. Dean Pelton suspends Annie because that’s what happens in these shows! And Jeff becomes the head coach of the water polo team because Pelton is the assistant coach and wants to see him in a bathing suit! The brass really gets in the way of detectives closing cases, am I right?
A call from the Bandit interrupts the reprimanding. Though Rhonda can’t decipher Pelton’s snapping (it means trace the call, for future reference), the extension number indicates the call coming from the stables (Greendale has stables?). Once there, the three find Starburns, very much alive but completely nuts.***
***His cat car infomercial could have used an assist from Abed Nadir in my opinion.
Dean Pelton sets Starburns to take the fall (someone needs to make a .GIF of Troy standing up from his wheelchair and slapping Starburns across the face because that made my week), but at the “We Took Down the Bandit” after-party, he can’t identify “Ants Marching.” Jeff realizes that Starburns might be three quarters short of a full dollar, but he can’t possibly be the Bandit.
Meanwhile, Annie visits Professor Duncan to thank him for his help, and he hears the same song. To Annie’s dismay, he confesses his love for Dave, as well as his use of the British version of Facebook, called Mug Scroll, which I’m surprised she didn’t find equally disturbing. What’s more, when Annie drops her keys, he asks if she means to pick them up. Allison Brie proved her adeptness with physical comedy as she uses her legs to flick the keys up the wall rather than bend over. Hilarious.
But just when we have this enigmatic puzzle figured out, Duncan himself is cracked in the confusion of the party. Jeff attempts to chase the mystery Bandit down, but Shirley stops to tell him Pierce has died.
*Insert dramatic brake squeal* Huh?
While I don’t have an issue with them killing off Pierce per se, this didn’t feel like the right episode in which to do it. It came out of nowhere and, for me, disrupted the expertly drawn world of parody we immersed ourselves in for the previous twenty minutes. Rather than emerging as an organic development of the narrative, news of Pierce’s death felt like an after-thought, likely a way to affect the episodes to follow. Regardless, rest in peace, Pierce Hawthorne, you kooky curmudgeon you.
Fortunately, the show rebounded with that glorious Homicide: Life on the Street style montage. With Annie having declared that he or she is still out there (of course!), we had the opportunity to check in with our characters: Abed clearing his DVR of his crime shows, Britta settling down to write a report on the Bandit, a lunch lady looking paranoid, Shirley selling “Cracked But Not Broken” t-shirts, and Dean Pelton playing quarters with Rhonda.
Quarters with Rhonda. It’s totally Rhonda!
In the end, despite its awkwardly placed plot development in the final minutes, this episode of Community continued the show’s hot streak. Until next week, be careful out there, and remember the three Bs: Belts, Briefs, and Buddies.
Quotes from the Refurbished Study Room
– Shirley [after listening to a Bandit note]: “He should be called the Run-On Sentence Bandit.”
– Dean Pelton: “This is the biggest PR crisis to hit Greendale since we held that really for the wrong Korea!”
– Dean Pelton: “You wanna make trouble? Go to Parker Brothers!”
– Jeff [on his affinity for Dave]: “Oh, excuse me for being alive during the nineties and having two ears connected to a heart.”