The long-awaited Law & Order episode is finally here—Smooshed yams! Michael Ironside! Spider-Man ties! And a shocking death! Really, what more could you ask for?
Janitors discover a smooshed yam, the study group’s final project, in the Biology lab. Annie, angry that someone possibly sabotaged their project, calls the group and Professor Kane to the scene. Kane says they’d have to find proof to convince him it was sabotaged, which Annie takes as meaning they can get the A they deserve if they uncover who did it. Shirley takes charge of the case, to be investigated by not-cop duo Troy and Abed, while Annie and Jeff gather information to prosecute the potential suspect.
Troy and Abed first interrogate Pierce since he was slated to water the yam, but he says got there late and the doors were locked. He suggests Todd (the Iraq veteran from “Competitive Ecology”) did it. Troy and Abed talk to Todd, noting a cut on his hand he claims to have gotten from Home Ec class, and he gives them a picture from when he watered his own yam to show their yam was fine when he left. With the photo, they figure out the time was after 8:00pm when the culprit smashed the yam, after the door was locked—meaning they’d have to check out a key, and would therefore be recorded in a log. Troy and Abed visit Fat Neil, who’s in charge of the log in the office, and see that the key was checked out by Magnitude. However, Magnitude’s backpack with the key in it was stolen from the library. They set up a trap to catch the backpack stealer, which turns out to be Starburns. They apprehend him, but he refuses to talk on account of them not actually being cops. They go to the lab to figure out how the yam met its masher; the doctor determines someone had to step on it with a boot to smoosh it. Even further, the yam was about to bloom—they would have gotten an A.
Jeff convinces Troy and Abed to break into Starburns’s locker, even if it goes against their ethics. A bunch of stolen lab materials fall out, causing Starburns to run. When he’s caught, he admits it was for his meth lab, but he did see someone drop their yam when he left after stealing them. They pinkie swear with him that they won’t turn in Starburns for his meth lab if he tells him who dropped it—and he reveals it was Todd, and it looked like he cut himself. Troy and Abed “arrest” Todd, and bring him to Professor Kane. Jeff and Annie show they have evidence to prosecute, but before they can, Todd’s uncle Lieutenant Colonel Archwood (Michael Ironside), a licensed attorney, arrives. They bring the case to Dean Pelton, but Dean and Archwood agree that the study group should divulge what Starburns was doing in the classroom, or their group will take an F. Kane cuts in, upholding the pinkie swear, and says the two sides can plead their case in the Biology class. Archwood threatens to bring the real cops in against Starburns, and he goes on the run—meaning the study group loses their witness.
In the “courtroom,” Annie notes that Todd’s yam wasn’t blooming, and rides him until he blurts out it was an accident. He reveals he just wanted to look at their yam to see why it was doing well, and it burnt him and he dropped it. Jeff sees Todd crying and calls a sidebar in Kane’s office, demanding the group and Todd both get Cs. Annie is shocked by Jeff’s decision, but Jeff tells her doesn’t think people “half-confess” to crimes; Todd didn’t confess to smooshing the yam, just dropping it. Since there’s more to the story, it would be unfair to give an innocent man an F. Back in the court, Jeff has a closing argument, questioning why it was so hard for them all to grow a yam. He then drops all of the yams—and all of them seem to smoosh immediately after dropping. The reason: they were already dead and boiled, and thus smooshed without being stepped on. He deduces that someone dumped boiling water into the yams at night—and the only one that wasn’t boiled was Vicki’s. Neil confesses to sabotaging the other projects; Vicki’s wasn’t sprouting, so he messed up the grading curve so she wouldn’t fail, wouldn’t have to go to summer school, and they could have sex in his parent’s cabin. Neil agrees to retake Biology over the summer, and his status as keymaster is revoked. After the case is over, Dean’s office gets a phonecall—Starburns was rear-ended and the meth lab in his trunk exploded, and he’s dead.
Like “Pillows and Blankets”, this was a theme episode we’ve been anticipating since it was announced. Also like that episode, it delivered the concept thanks to incredible attention to detail and appreciation of what it was parodying. But since I’m really starting to run out of ways to say “Community was really, really good” after this last batch of strong episodes, let’s do something a little different and start off with what didn’t work about it.
The thing the episode is missing that the best episodes this season have had is heart. A huge reason why “Pillows and Blankets” and “Virtual Systems Analysis” were so successful wasn’t just because of their detail and creativity, but because we got genuine insight into the characters and were part of a more important journey. Our Law & Order parody here was just that: a Law & Order parody. It was a very, very funny and perfectly executed parody, no one can deny that. What it didn’t live up to was the high standards we’ve come to expect from this season. The closest we got was a season 2-esque “I’m actually a good person deep down” epiphany from Jeff, followed by one of his standard speeches. It was a mildly interesting switcheroo to have Jeff be Annie’s moral center, but it still felt like a development Jeff had gotten numerous times before. Perhaps if this episode had fallen in season 2 or earlier in season 3, it would have felt stronger, but when put amongst the cavalcade of impossibly strong episodes that utilized the concept for the characters, this one just doesn’t quite work as well for the show.
But what did work? Well, pretty much everything else. The obvious stuff was nailed down, of course—the awesome opening, the use of objection/sustained/withdrawn to the most ridiculous of levels, and the shaky handheld cameras. The mystery was very fun, with plenty of twists and turns and an adorable reveal. Even more subtle things, like the fade-to-black between commercial breaks, and re-creations of typical Law & Order scenes like the “lawyers walking across the city street in coats on and hands in their pockets” ones. Best of all, this wasn’t a mean-spirited parody in the least. In fact, it was quite affectionate; the episode was essentially a shot-for-shot remake of a typical Law & Order episode, but with our characters exaggerating how they’d see the characters they’re representing. So, while a downside of the episode is its lack of heart, it works because its characters are well-represented and clearly there. We aren’t seeing Community the show doing a Law & Order bit so much as we’re seeing a Law & Order episode as if it took place at Greendale with our Community characters. Megan Ganz wrote some of the strongest episodes (“Cooperative Calligraphy” and both Documentary episodes) so it’s no surprise the script was solid. However, this appears to be Rob Schrab’s first time directing an episode of Community—he’s written elsewhere with Dan Harmon and directed episodes of other sitcoms, but if this episode is any indication, he’s a welcome addition to the Community staff.
The acting all-around was incredibly strong. We got to see tons of background Greendale characters in all kinds of capacities (Garrett sells hot dogs!) and it was loads of fun. The guest actors were strong, too; Michael K. Williams’s stern seriousness was great throughout, and an improvement over his previous appearances. Fan-favorite actor Michael Ironside was essentially parodying his own resume of hardened army officers, but he was certainly perfect for the role. And then there’s the main cast; Donald Glover’s little “almost throwing up” after hearing about the yam, Gillian Jacobs’s super awkward typing, and Jim Rash unsurprisingly has perfect reactions to Jeff saying “uniform” and Kane answering the phone for him. Also, remember back in “Pillows and Blankets” when I said Yvette Nichole Brown was basically a revelation and deserved to do more? She knocks it out the park here again, sort of the unsung hero in these concept episodes.
Oh, and let’s not forget we ended with the extremely shocking reveal of Starburns’s death. Okay, cast and crew had been teasing this since the hiatus, but it was still a big gasp moment. And if there’s any episode to kill off a major character, it makes odd sense to do it in one using “murder of a plant” as a joke, and is the kind of development you’d expect from big Law & Order episode. There isn’t really much to comment on—the following episode is slated to deal with this development, so we’ll have to wait and see how this all turns out before fairly judging it. For what it’s worth, if this is the last episode for Starburns, it was a nice swan song. He had plenty of funny moments and the most screentime he’s had in a while—“Kiss me, I’ll explain later!” Kudos to Dino Stamatopoulos for such a fun “Holocaust-denying 9/11 pedophile” character.
“Basic Lupine Urology” is in line with one Community’s earlier parody episodes, “Basic Rocket Science”—not really a whole lot of substance, but it makes up for it by being absolutely brilliant in its execution and having incredibly smart writing. So don’t get the wrong impression: I loved the episode and laughed a whole bunch, so it’s a success. It just wasn’t quite up to par with what season 3 of the show had been giving us, just missing that one Community Ingredient H (heart, if you hadn’t been paying attention.) But grading it strictly on the success of being a Law & Order parody? The same A+ the group’s yam deserved.
Some stray tidbits
- Tag: Troy and Abed are sleeping in their bunk beds, having a bunk bed conversation. Turns out their bed is in the study room (they moved it there while their apartment was fumigated.) Shirley watches as Dean Pelton sings them a…very creepy song.
- In case you hadn’t already caught on to the title—compare “Basic Lupine Urology” to the name Dick Wolf, creator of Law & Order. Got it? Good.
- Starburns’s death brings me back to the moment I and my friends really fell in love with Community. We’ve watched Chang’s first declaration of “Comprende, Staaaaarburns?!” from back in “Spanish 101” at least 100 times over, and still laugh every time.
- The costumes in this episode were great. Abed’s scarf and pin, Troy’s leather coat, the nice business attire and military garb, and that Spider-Man tie! Although, that weirdly-fitting peacoat Jeff was wearing outside? Doesn’t work for him.
- Until my second viewing, I completely forgot Chang was in this episode for his tiny cameo in the teaser.
- Troy and Abed’s zingers and arguments were hilarious—from the blueberry vs. raisin muffin, to the “Why do they always run?” gag. And lest we forget Troy’s explosion about ordering ketchup.
- Todd should cry in all of his future appearances.
- Other fun moments: Pierce having an old person gambling ring, Dean hula-hooping, Kane watching Mama’s Family, Abed being “gifted in other ways.” Also, Chevy Chase used Britta’s “duh-doy!” and it was glorious.
- Freeze frame moment: Starburns’s reaction when Troy and Abed catch him stealing.
- “Greendale Community College is represented by two separate but equally important types of people. The goofballs that run around stirring up trouble, and the eggheads who make a big deal out of it.”
- “A ‘C’?! Why don’t I just get pregnant at a bus station!”
- “I’d say our hands are tied but we basically have no hands.”
- “Holy crap, we are definitely dissecting pine cones next year.”