When Dan Harmon is in charge of Community, there’s sometimes so much ambition involved that things don’t completely work. Frankly, that’s not a bad problem to have, as on the times that everything comes together, the show can hit it out of the park, and even in the episodes where they don’t, at least we’re left with something interesting. That was the case with “Basic Intergluteal Numismatics,” which never gelled in any cohesive way yet was still a pretty fascinating 20 minutes of television.
“Numismatics” was the first real gimmick episode of the season, and admittedly it was a letdown to see one so early, but Dan Harmon also knows his fanbase and realizes that for better or worse many people love these episodes. Right off the bat, though, it was a kind of weird, melange parody that tried to riff on so many tropes that it never quite nailed any of them. Was it based on bad CBS procedurals, or Zodiac, or just anything with an investigation in it whatsoever? I couldn’t really tell you, and that meant that while the episode didn’t feel sloppy per se, “Numismatics” had more of a shotgun approach to jokes than the more crafted way Community usually doles things out. There were probably jokes for everyone here, but there were quite a few times when I just sat silently wondering if I was missing something.
Some of the structural problems resulted from the sources Community was parodying, but that didn’t mean the result wasn’t a disjointed mess. Not only were there a pile of guest stars, for the most part they didn’t seem to really matter. Ben Folds was there for a solid 30 seconds before disappearing, never seen again (except in song). Star-burns was back as a not particularly satisfying red herring, while John Oliver returned in an almost equally strange and nearly wasted performance. It felt several times as if there must be a cut of this episode twice the length that gives all these characters enough screentime to matter, but this wasn’t it. That being said, none of the appearances were bad, and moments of strange humor like Star-burns’ cat chariot were inspired in their own ways, it’s just that as a whole I was left scratching my head as to what Community was trying to achieve.
At a certain point it became clear, even before the episode made it overly explicit, that “Numismatics” was about Jeff and Annie’s relationship…but then suddenly it wasn’t. Suddenly Pierce was dead, and everyone forgot about the whole thing. Jeff and Annie never talked about things in a way that didn’t feel very akin to Community, and instead we were left dangling. In a way, it was obvious that the show was puncturing its characters’ insular bubble, pointing out that there’s something that exists beyond its own shenanigans, but dismissing the previous 20 minutes of material as irrelevant is just about the least satisfying thing a television show can do.
Still, while “Numismatics” ended up being a big old mess, at least it was Community, with strange jokes and references and more ideas than it could keep track of, rather than the undead beast that called itself by the same name last season. I can’t say that I was particularly thrilled that the third episode was so sprawling and strange without being particularly funny, especially with the first pair of episodes being incredibly tight masterclasses in sitcom writing, but that’s part of Community’s identity as well. The show kind of fell over itself this time, but damn if it didn’t try to do something clever and unique, even for itself, and for that I have to give it some credit.