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Community: Return of the Clip Show

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Community S03E19: "Curriculum Unavailable"

How's this for an opening number: Community got renewed yesterday! Hooray, yay, yippee. But Community didn't use the good news as an excuse to take the night off, airing its final episode before next week's 90-minute triple-dose finale blowout. Last night's "Curriculum Unavailable" continued the saga of the study group's expulsion from Greendale Community College, and it was crazy town banana pants. Fortunately, anything to do with bananas, towns, craziness, and pants is pretty damned funny.

It was impossible to watch "Curriculum Unavailable" without having bizarre cutaway memories to one of my favorite Community episodes, "Paradigms of Human Memory"—the Season 2 clip-show-that-wasn't-a-clip-show bonanza that also aired three episodes before a season finale. Whereas that rode a wave of novelty toward hilarity, "Curriculum Unavailable" had an air of "let's do a clip show again," making it inferior to its spiritual predecessor.

"Paradigms" itself was a parody of the clip show format, done in the Community style we all know and love. Chang discovered a treasure trove of junk in the vents that'd been collected by Annie's Boobs, sparking memories of events that happened while Greendale was off-camera and eventually turning the group into a bickering mess before adorably bringing everything back home to friendship. "Curriculum Unavailable" was more tied to the ongoing Rise of Chang storyline, but the gags, while still mostly fantastic, came off as more forced. They just didn't have the organic feeling of "Paradigms." Plus, the study group wasn't running around the backlot of Universal Studios taking advantage of its bizarre sets. Instead, the clips were mostly confined to the Greendale campus. And it's impossible not to compare the two episodes... the show asked for it.

But enough comparing! Be here now! "Curriculum Unavailable" did have moments of brilliance. The whole "you're all crazy!" scenario with the gang in the Greendale Asylum was fantastic, and a great way of adding a new layer to Community's famous callback jokes. And meta got redefined when the episode actually referred to "Paradigms of Human Memory" (and the trampoline episode, and the paintball episodes, and Annie kissing Abed, and the Christmas episode) nearly collapsing the universe on itself. Baritone Garrett saying, "I want to see what happens when I steal one of their pens" nearly split my pants. It's not enough for Community to get a laugh out of callbacks to old episodes anymore, and in this way the show found a way to do it that felt fresh.

"Curriculum Unavailable" was a parade of great gags, but should we be worried about Community repeating itself? What if there's another paintball episode? What if there's another clip show? Each successive iteration will probably be overshadowed by the original. Abed knows sequels are rarely better than first chapters, and this applies to Community as well.

Last night's episode fed into the continuation of the whole Chang Rises storyline, which I'm trying not to dislike. And the study group has to somehow rescue the Dean from being dean-napped. These are very unusual storylines for a sitcom and they're being told in a very unusual way, but Community is anything but a usual comedy.

Study Group Notes

– John Hodgman, the PC guy and a The Daily Show guy, was a natural fit for Community and perfect for the part.

– Nice way to address the whole "how long can these people stay in community college" question.

– Why was Britta the only one hungover? And what happened to that? Did she get out-drank by Annie? For shame, Britta!

– "Uhhhh guys, while we were remembering Chang is crazy the fake doctor sneaked away."

– How delicious does a casserole of Bagel Bites with a Hot Pocket reduction and Doritos glaze sound?

– Minor gripes: The Britta psych major joke on its own has run its course. Please update! Also, I'm also not a big fan of Abed's banshee wailing anymore.

– I just found out that I have something in common with Abed! We both like to sneak into Allison Brie's room and film her while she's sleeping!

– Multiple paintball episodes, multiple clip shows. Do you approve of this pattern of repeating ideas? I don't think that I do.

Clips of Clips

Follow writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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