Community Season 5, Episode 3 “Basic Intergluteal Numismatics”
Written by Erik Sommers
Directed by Tristram Shapeero
Airs Thursday nights at 8pm ET on NBC
“Basic Intergluteal Numismatics” is a very… weird episode of Community. It’s not quite a traditional concept episode (by this show’s terms, at least), inserting homages to everything from The Profiler to Unsolved Mysteries and 1970’s detective shows into a story about The Ass Crack Bandit of Greendale. And that’s just the first act: by the time “Basic Intergluteal Numismatics” reaches its climatic moments, it’s shoving in the death of Pierce Hawthorne and some completely random Jeff/Annie material like it was season two all over again (not to mention putting every other member of the study group in the background for the entirety of the episode). And yet despite all those oddities, “Numismatics” is clever and charismatic, full of that familiar Community energy missing from season four, as entertaining as it is scatterbrained.
The basic concept of the episode is simple: reprising their roles from “Basic Lupine Urology”, Jeff and Annie try to hunt down a mysterious figure sticking quarters in the butts of Greendale students (most hilariously to Garrett and Troy, as one might expect). It’s really just a good excuse to say the word “butt” a lot, a conceit that can’t carry the entire episode, no matter how many times Chang showed up in his ridiculous forward-facing fake butt and wig defense system. When the butt jokes run out, the only place for the script to turn is to Annie and Jeff, and there really isn’t an attempt to forge any new ground between them, content to simply reset them back to early season two status, where they spent the next two years making googly-eyes and should-we-do-it faces at each other.
It also doesn’t help that the entire episode is a flashback: it’s necessary to frame the episode’s concept, but it glosses over two other major events for the Greendale study group: the opening of Shirley’s Sandwiches (which will eventually fail, and cost Shirley her family), and Pierce’s death, which abruptly occurs in the final minutes of the episode, only to be used in service (in this half hour; see below) of a rainy, melodramatic scene between Jeff and Annie, leading into the closing montage outlining all the possible suspects of the Ass Crack Bandit at large.
(Note: next week’s “Cooperative Polygraphy” focuses on Pierce’s death, and also has a kick-ass Walton Goggins cameo. “Numismatics” was actually the fifth produced episode of the season, which probably explains its abrupt insertion here – but it still doesn’t do itself any favors coming so late in the episode).
That’s not to say “Basic Intergluteal Numismatics” isn’t a funny or enjoyable episode of Community: it works well as a broader, more superficial partner to “Basic Lupine Urology”, and features enough Garrett, Leonard, and Detective Annie to keep me laughing for twenty minutes. There’s just a number of missed opportunities: the biggest of which comes with Troy and Abed, who could’ve turned Abed’s “tragedy” into a hilarious take on the post-traumatic-stress cop leans on his straight-edge partner to get him through a rough period (imagine a scene where Abed busts a depressed Troy in the bathroom during an investigation, snorting a line of raw Fun Dip). I could think of a handful of others (how about more Britta psychologizing the criminal some more?), but there’s so many homages and stories crammed into the final ten minutes, there isn’t enough time for anything to breathe – and ultimately, buries two-thirds of the cast in the background for the entire episode, with nothing to hang its hat on besides its butt jokes and tired Jeff/Annie material.
But the energy is still there: where the story lines fail in “Basic Intergluteal Numismatics” (mostly from the running time; this could’ve made a killer two-parter), the sharp contrast in dialogue and joke quality from these three episodes compared to last season (which is unfair, I know… I promise I won’t do it again) is enormous. Interactions feel organic again, even if most of them are re-treading familiar ground. Again, part of this comes with the trappings of framing an entire episode as a flashback – once Community returns to the present in future episodes, there are still plenty of interesting story lines for the show to pick up on – like Shirley’s entrepreneurial downfall, a story that appears to hold more importance than most of Ms. Bennett’s over the last couple seasons. We’ll see what the future holds: “Numismatics” is definitely Community spinning its wheels for a half hour, but it’s impossible not to enjoy the wit and attention to detail embedded in every scene.
– hey, I’m writing about Community over here now – you can read my reviews of seasons three and four over at Processed Media.
– there’s something to be said about the randomness of life in this episode, be it the Jeff/Annie material springing up out of nowhere, or Pierce’s death occurring in the middle of the most ridiculous investigation in Greendale history (at least we hope). Death can be a very sudden thing: but it comes too late to reflect on it in this particular episode.
– The Ass Crack Bandit sets up Troy with a teddy bear, an insignificant detail I find endlessly hilarious.
– the opening montage that replaced the normal credits was an ingenious little homage.
– Three things never to forget: Belts, Briefs, and Buddies.
– Dean: “All change is bad… [to Buzz] your two cents is change, and it’s banned!”
– “We have stables?”