Seeing Greendale depicted in its “normal” state for the first two episodes of this season was comforting. Coming off of the multitude of parody misfires from Season 4, it was nice to see the show take a few steps back to just plain be a good sitcom again. So when this episode clearly signified at its outset that it would be diving headlong into parody by way of a highly stylized cold open and a dramatic credits sequence, I was a bit worried.
Furthermore, there was the question of whether the premise could be sustained for the entire episode. See, it’s a crime procedural about Annie and Jeff trying to catch someone lurking around campus known as the “Ass Crack Bandit”. It’s a guy (or girl) who waits for a person to bend over and then drops a quarter down their buttcrack. The golden age of television, fellow viewers!
It’s lucky I’m easily amused by jokes about the buttocks because quite a lot of this episode rides on them. For people unlike me, I could see this episode being a completely alienating experience—Community finally managing to too heavily indulge in its immature side. But to you I say: have you no heart? Or at least no place in your heart for butts?
There were just so many stupid lines that made me cackle, like Troy’s plea to approve the Dean’s new security measure because “A camera in the bathroom is better than a quarter in your butt.” Speaking of which, it’s a little odd, considering our limited time with him, that we aren’t seeing more of Donald Glover for these episodes. But, though sparingly used, the times he did show up were truly fantastic.
And that’s decently representative of why this episode, even more than the butt jokes, truly worked for me. The focus was on Annie and Jeff, but the rest of the study group all got to have their moments. Lending a little bit of light to her character’s situation, Shirley reopens her Shirley’s Sandwiches campus shop and takes advantage of “Ass Crack Bandit”-fever to sell overpriced sandwiches when all loose change is banned from campus. Britta gets some of the best moments with Gillian Jacobs delivering deadpan monologues on the current progress of the case: “We know that he hates money or loves it or doesn’t care about money and hates butts. Or loves them.” Abed gets to provide commentary on the recent trend of crime procedurals featuring semi-autistic prodigies. Buzz Hickey, woven pretty seamlessly into things, gets a few great moments too.
The Dean is also in top form and I’m glad to see him scaled back from just being a guy who’s in love with Jeff and wants to hang out with the study group to someone who recognizes he has some authority that he can actually make use of. Rounding things out further are the other bit players all getting a bit of screen time: Chang, Vicki, Leonard, and a whole lotta Garrett. We’re also blessed with the triumphant return of Star-Burns, not to mention John Oliver as Ian Duncan, who was nice to see though it’s weird his character has been so streamlined into perving on Britta and mentioning how things are done differently in England.
Admittedly, premise-wise, “Basic Intergluteal Numismatics” feels a bit like worn territory for Community. There was already that Law & Order episode after all, which also featured Jeff and Annie teaming up (and the Jeff and Annie tension here may be getting old for some, but strikes me as fairly realistic and also wasn’t pushed so hard that it dominated the narrative). However, this episode seems to be more of a parody of dark crime dramas in general. The autistic detective TV shows Abed references are clearly being sent up, but other influences are less clear. The discovery of Star-Burns and the bit with the botany professor (played by Ben Folds of all people) almost felt Twin Peaks–ian. And, truly, I didn’t mind that this was another procedural parody partially just because of how pretty it was. That final shot of Annie and Jeff in the rain seriously looked just awesome.
Also, the show is definitely familiar with its past. Astute viewers may have noticed that the season premiere, “Repilot”, was almost structurally identical to Community’s original pilot and even contained a few lines lifted directly from it. Similarly, this procedural episode, like the Law & Order one, focuses on a really dumb premise and then hits you with a shot of stark reality right at the end. In fact, it was that previous procedural parody in which Star-Burns was “killed,” so it makes for some interesting cyclicality that he returns right as another character is offed (though it was definitely better handled in that previous episode and felt sort of abrupt here).
It may be deliberate, but “Basic Intergluteal Numismatics” ends unresolved. It also goes for lowbrow far more than either of the first two episodes of the season or arguably even the entire series. And while I’m conscious of these issues, well, I laughed a lot. But even more important is how this felt solidly like a caper set in the world of Greendale. It just felt really good.