Television reviews, like book reviews or film reviews, necessarily focus on the plots of their shows because that’s a lot of their content. Last night’s episode of Community, though, was almost completely lacking in anything approaching a traditional story. What it had was a premise, but that’s true in plenty of Community episodes. It’s just that those premises are still story-based whereas here the premise is the meta-idea of a clip show.
But oh, what a clip show. Particularly because other than a couple of real clips to get us into the premise, they’re all fake. They’re faked well, too, such that my girlfriend was asking me midway through if there wasn’t a St. Patrick’s Day episode that we’d missed along the way. All of the fake clips feel like they could have easily been pulled from Community episodes that actually happened, from visiting a mental institute to a western-themed episode. All of the moments that were jumped to were genuine Community moments, even if they’re referencing events we’ve never seen before.
The result of having no story to get in the way meant 22-minutes of straight gags, many of them some of the best the show’s ever done. Sure, there were emotional moments we jumped to as well, but the format makes tiny clips of them innately hilarious. Not only that, but the episode did a great job making fun of clip shows in general. Which isn’t to say that other shows haven’t done so before (I can name five great Simpson clip shows off the top of my head), but importantly it got the specifics right. The way we first see Annie-Jeff glances edited together in a slow motion-montage and then have that compared with Troy-Pierce glances is sublime and the type of material Community is best at.
Like all clip shows, “Paradigms of Human Memory” is also chock full of fan service. From the return of Annie’s Boobs to jokes about whether Chang’s part of the group, it felt like the episode was rewarding close watching. Sure, the Glee parody was funny in and of itself, but if you’re aware of Community’s somewhat one-sided rivalry with Glee then it’s all that much funnier.
The episode as a whole was clever, unique and above all funny. It’s also something that couldn’t have happened if the show’s relationships and ideas weren’t as clear as they are, since jumping in and out of scenarios isn’t confusing when every character is acting the way they normally would. The only real tragedy of this episode is that it leaves us wishing to actually watch a whole episode about painting Shirley’s nursery or building a Habitat for Humanity house. Then again, with another season guaranteed, at least we know there are plenty more episodes to come.
• “A diorama of us making our 19th diorama.”
• “Is that a new stereotype?”
• The greased Chang reminds me of Willie in the vents greased up in The Simpsons. Or is that a common thing I’m just unaware of?
• “I was… remembering around that part.”
• “And apparently Chang is in the group now?”
• Showing what the Xmas episode actually looked like was one of the best jokes of the episode. I wish we could watch the two split-screened side-by-side.
• “It’s not God that hates us, it’s Jeff and Britta.”
• The bulletin board’s caricatures of authors is kind of a weird detail. And seemingly not a joke.
• “This habitat was for humanity.”
• “Six seasons and a movie!” – Hear, hear.
• The robot attack was also a particularly great gag. That’s probably the single “episode” I most wish was real.
• “We were debating how many times a year a man can drop in a study group with a dumb costume and irrelevant news.” – Has anyone been keeping count?
• “We’re starting to hurt innocent perverts.”
• “Yeah, in that time I’ve given a lot of speeches.”
• “Like the Travelling Wilburys of pain.”
• Training the monkey to hit Chang was wonderful. I wonder how long that took to do.