At the re-opening of Shirley’s Sandwiches, the Ass Crack Bandit–who sticks quarters in people’s buttcracks–reappears after a long absence. Dean Pelton asks the group to investigate, with the help of a newly returned Professor Duncan, and Jeff and Annie attempt to track down the culprit after Troy is attacked. During their investigation, they determine that the ACB must be a fan of Dave Matthews Band, due to the constant use of his lyrics in the ACB’s notes. After a terrorizing phone call, they trace it to the Greendale stables–where the find Starburns, alive and well and building a “cat car.” He confesses to faking his death and returning as the ACB, but Jeff doesn’t buy it when Starburns isn’t a fan of Dave Matthews. Annie, however, realizes that Professor Duncan is, but when they attempt to apprehend him, he’s struck by the ACB. They try to chase down the real culprit, but are stopped by Shirley, who announces that Pierce has died. After receiving that sobering news, Jeff and Annie concede that they might never catch the real bandit, who could be anyone.
If you have not seen this episode yet and don’t wish to be spoiled, don’t continue reading.
It seems weird to jump into a high concept episode so soon after re-establishing the new show’s status quo. That’s unfortunate, really, as this episode is a competent pastiche of the overly-gritty serial killer dramas. There’s lots borrowed from the likes of Se7en, Zodiac, The Killing, the Hannibal franchise, and generally any show or film based around the workings of a serial killer. We even get some jabs at standard procedurals thrown in, particularly with Abed’s breakdown of the “mentally unstable detectives” a la Monk, Psych, Elementary, etc.
Now, it’s not the best concept episode the show has done just because we’ve seen the characters act out many of these detective tropes back in “Basic Lupine Urology” in a way. But there’s lots of effort put in to how it all looks, with a washed-out filter and lots of awkward angles and distortions to make it all feel disorienting. The cinematography is definitely lifted from David Fincher’s book, and it works perfectly for the style of the episode. The acting is also so monumentally serious in the ridiculous situations, something Community has always done, but the heightened cynicism and somberness is amped to the extreme. Like the best concept episodes, there’s a ton of thought put into this and clear reverence to the source. There really aren’t many direct parodies to the serial killer thriller genre, outside of Abed’s pretty aggressive aforementioned jab. As a result, it’s easy to get invested in this profoundly stupid mystery. As you can expect with fans of this show, the internet is already exploding with theories on who the ACB actually is, and that kind of mystery is exactly what makes this show so much fun to watch and overanalyze.
The music in this episode is also phenomenal, with Shirley’s children’s…er…creepy rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep” setting the tone at the beginning, and a delightfully well-done and moody song (by Ben Folds, presumably) about the ACB to end. Why Shirley’s children were signing a Radiohead song at her sandwich shop’s reopening is up in the air, but it’s all so inspired that it’s easy to see why this season feels so fresh. There’s also the Dave Matthews–or, sorry, Dave–backdrop, which is both completely random but also hearkens back to the ABBA’s unexpected use in season 2’s “Epidemiology”.
This episode also functions as sort of a spiritual sequel to season 3’s Law & Order episode, albeit in unexpected ways. The obvious element, other than the characters playing detective, is that both episodes feature the death and “resurrection” of Starburns. First of all: woohoo! And second of all, it’s fitting to bring him full circle in such ridiculous ways. And as good as the Starburns farewell video was back in season 3, the cat car crowdsourcing video at the end of this one is glorious.
But like the completely unexpected dramatic gut-punch of Starburns’ death in season 3, the announcement of Pierce’s death comes completely out of nowhere. To be honest, it’s hard to say if this really works or not, especially considering the follow-up will happen in next week’s episode. As it stands, it’s out-of-place on the surface, but so much so that it must have been done on purpose. Shirley arrives with the news right as Jeff and Annie are in hot pursuit of the real bandit, at the highest dramatic point of the story, only to be brick-walled by news of real, actual life drama. It can’t be a coincidence that that an episode so purposefully dark and somber features one of the darkest and most somber developments in series history. It’s either meant to soften the blow by placing it in a ridiculous context, or perhaps sharpen it even more. It succeeds at the latter by adding a major shock factor, even despite Pierce’s imminent death essentially being a forgone conclusion. It’s all so surreal that it doesn’t register in the moment, but when the characters stare at his empty seat, it’s more touching than it might have been otherwise. That said, it doesn’t work as well on the back end; the rest of the episode suddenly feels a bit empty and rushed. Pierce’s death was surely meant to provide perspective, but it throws the pacing off a bit too much to let the ending be terribly satisfying.
A bigger point of contention is the Jeff/Annie material, which finds itself at the center once again but without any sort of resolution. It’s particularly noticeable here, since even the characters are pointing out the ridiculousness of their pairing and the obvious sexual tension. While that’s noted, nothing really happens to the characters that drive them to change. Despite all the talks they’ve had about why or why not in the past few years, they still remain in their awkward flirty crush stage. There just isn’t much different about Jeff and Annie working together that we didn’t see way back in season 2’s “Conspiracy Theories and Design”, for example. And as much as Joel McHale and Alison Brie share chemistry, it doesn’t make for entertaining television anymore. For such a daring show, it’s disappointing to see two primary characters so unable to get past a key trait, even as both of them individually have grown substantially. We were able to get past Jeff and Britta, and they became one of the best platonic pairings in the show, so it’s odd that there seems to be such trouble deciding where to take Jeff and Annie.
As a result, “Basic Intergluteal Numismatics” succeeds because of the execution of the concept and the little jokes rather than the larger overarching character material. The best concept episodes tie flawlessly into either a character arc or character dissection (see “Critical Film Studies” or “Pillows and Blankets”). This one doesn’t quite achieve that level of perfection, but it certainly honors the genre with highly detailed and highly entertaining confidence. The slew of great guest stars helps, too; in addition to Dino Stamatopoulos returning as Starburns, John Oliver steals the show with his return of Professor Duncan and gets some of the best laughs. Not the best episode of the show by a long shot, but “Basic Intergluteal Numismatics” continues last week’s return to form, not to mention makes lots of mileage out of butt jokes.
Odds & Ends
- It’s not made apparent in the episode, but Annie mentioned the Ass Crack Bandit back in season 2’s “Intro to Political Science” as a gag in her political platform.
- This episode is directed by Tristram Shapeero, who has consistently directed some of the best concept episodes of the past few years. Just giving credit where credit is due.
- Since the episodes were shot out of order, this was Donald Glover’s last episode as Troy. Fitting, considering this entire episode is about butt stuff.
- In addition to the aforementioned guest stars, we get lots of great material for Erik Charles Nielson as Garrett and Charley Koontz as Neil, the latter of which delivers a surprisingly heartfelt message about Pierce: “You were one hell of a D&D player.”
- Also, Chang in the fake butt suit with the churro? Insanely funny.
- The Dean snapping at Rhonda to trace the call is also insanely funny. She’s a great foil for the Dean.
- Britta almost typing “Ass Crack Britta” is easily the best bit in the final montage.
- Apparently Community snuck in a post of Amy Poehler’s stock photo modeling days in the background of an episode back in season 2. That photo returned in tonight’s episode, coincidentally on the same night as Parks & Rec‘s 100th episode.
- “If you want to make trouble, go work for Parker Brothers!”
- “What are you going to do, not have butts?”
- “Oh, you mean an American high five.”
- “Excuse me for being alive in the ’90s and having two ears connected to a heart.”
- “We have stables?!”
- “My shoes are untied by British standards!”