“Basic Intergluteal Numismatics” is a stirring paean to the everlasting humor of the word “butts.” It is an episode where almost everything I laughed at had the word “butt” in it somewhere, because I am a child, and there is nothing funnier to me than farts and poop and butts. Seriously, though, Community has always been so particular about its word choices, and it just knows that “butts” is a funnier word than any other reference for that part of the anatomy, probably because it’s the word we first really become acquainted with for the anus when we’re kids. Yeah, it’s used “anus” and “ass” and whatever other words it can come up with, but there’s nothing funnier than “butts,” and there never will be. So many consonants! And that schwa sound in the middle! It’s a perfect comedy word, and I dare not hear otherwise.
As far as the rest of the episode, I was impressed with a lot of it while never quite embracing it as fully as I might have. It’s weird, but after the one-two punch of the one-hour premiere (and after seeing next week’s episode), a little part of me was momentarily irritated by seeing a concept episode, particularly when such a thing used to be one of my favorite reasons to watch the show. The episode quickly won it over—again, it said “butts” a lot—but I found myself kind of wanting more “normal Greendale” adventures going in, and that may have affected my opinion a bit in the early going.
Yet at the same time, this show can do the concept episode stuff so well when it wants to, and I appreciated that “Intergluteal” was less a specific parody than a freewheeling mélange of David Fincher films, CBS procedurals, and any movie where any detective has ever gotten in way too deep trying to solve a case. (Also, butts.) The show’s elasticity allows it to have a whacked-out rave scene set in the lunchroom and scored by Nine Inch Nails and Dave Matthews Band (true fans would call him “Dave”) right up against a genuinely touching scene where Shirley tells Jeff and Annie that Pierce has died. And if I ever thought I would find a moment like that “genuinely touching” last season, I would have been very surprised. But here we are. Pierce has passed on, and Jeff has lost whatever he had that passed for a mentor. It’s a great closing beat for the episode, letting us see just how quickly real life can intrude on even Greendale.
My biggest problem with the episode is that it dusts off the Jeff and Annie thing yet again, simply to have it there. The concept episodes work best when the concept isn’t just there to be a thing the show is doing but, rather, as a thing that props up a story about the characters, and I’m not sure “Jeff and Annie are still flirting a lot” works as well in that regard as some of the other character stories previous concept episodes have come up with, particularly when “Introduction To Teaching” offered up a really solid story about the two characters that didn’t rely on the potential romantic connection between them but, rather, a place where the two of them would naturally come into conflict, given their differing goals and drives.
Here’s the thing: I’m a longtime Jeff and Annie skeptic, mostly because I think it tanks the Annie character too often, but I’d be willing to go along with it if the show would just commit in one direction or another for enough episodes to tell a proper storyline about it. Instead, it pops up, seemingly at random, then recedes into the background for even longer periods of time. On the one hand, it’s probably more realistic than a lot of more conventional TV romances, but on the other hand, a little conventionality might let the story evolve past the endless circling the characters have been carrying out since early in season two. In general, Community isn’t great at the romance side of things, but it is pretty good about using that as one spice that sometimes pops up in a humorous fashion (witness Duncan’s interest in Britta). What’s more problematic is when Jeff and Annie keep repeating the same first beat of the same story time and again, only to have it later be resolved, seemingly for good, then pop up again a few episodes later. So much of storytelling is momentum, and this one has been stuck in the same gear for so long.
At the same time, isn’t that true to life? If you’ve got a crush on someone you keep getting thrown into close proximity with, that crush often never completely goes away. Instead, it warps and twists itself into something different, something weirder or more muted. Community expresses this via Jeff and Annie’s little cutesy games, as the Dean would have it, rather than just going out and having sex, like many people really would. I like that aspect of the story, but I also don’t buy that the two wouldn’t have just had sex by this point. I get that Jeff is much older, and I get that they would probably be a disaster as a couple (just about every potential pairing on this show would), but it’s been five years. That resistance would erode in time, or at least twist itself into something much weirder, which is what I think the series is going for, but it’s not transmitting as well as it might, because it inevitably devolves into puppy dog eyes. (Okay, and butts.)
So much of the rest of the episode is so clever and funny that I can’t really let this get me down. Okay, to be honest, I had hoped that the rumored “Ass-Crack Bandit” would turn out to be something more substantial than a guy who stuck quarters in people’s butts (though who knows how he came to be known as a “bandit”), but the actual mechanics of how the storyline played out were fun. In particular, I liked how the show crammed so many aspects of movies and TV shows like this into one story, from Troy trying like hell to recover from his ass-cracking to Duncan’s seeming guilt that was washed away by some of the final moments. This is an episode that doesn’t slavishly parody one particular thing. It parodies a bunch of things in the same general neighborhood, and that keeps things from getting too obvious or too dull.
It was also nice to see an episode that really reinvested in the idea of Greendale as this place with this wide variety of characters. We got a little bit of that in the second episode, but it really feels like the ensemble—both on the student and faculty side—ends up playing a more vital part in the episode than they did there. In particular, it’s just nice to see Duncan and Hickey integrated into the episode in such an easygoing fashion. Many of the jokes in this episode—at least the ones that don’t involve the word “butts”—come from these characters, and I enjoyed watching the series race around Greendale locations, resurrecting Starburns (who’s building a cat car) in the stables or listening to Neil on the radio station.
“Intergluteal” is far from the show’s most wholly natural episode, and it still has the feeling of everybody involved shaking off the cobwebs. Again: This may be because I’ve seen next week’s episode and loved it so much that I’m anxious for everything to be at that level. Or it might just be because the Jeff and Annie stuff wasn’t the most natural fit for the crime thriller parody stuff. Or maybe the episode was trying to do so much that it over-extended itself. (It wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened on this show.) There are times when it’s just fun to watch the show endlessly riff off of the crazy ideas it keeps coming up with, and there are times when it can get a wee bit exhausting. “Intergluteal” sort of splits the difference between those two things, but no episode that ends with Starburns explaining to us that cats aren’t always hungry, making his initial plans for the cat car moot can be too much of a problem.
- That’s Ben Folds popping up as the botany(?) professor who is a brief suspect for being the Bandit. He apparently also contributed the song that closes out the episode, which has a definite Folds feel to it. I have no idea how my favorite musician from when I was roughly 17-20 ended up on one of my favorite TV shows, but I am glad it happened.
- Something really tickles me about the notion that the Dean would tell people “If you wanna make Trouble, go work for Parker Brothers!” It’s such a goofy reference.
- The crazy-weird flirtation between Duncan and Britta made me keenly hopeful that the show will somehow spinoff a remake of Hart To Hart starring these two.
- One joke that didn’t really work for me: Abed doing his little riff on CBS procedurals about people who are given magical crime-solving powers by being on the spectrum. It was a clever idea, but it mostly just went nowhere. “Painful writing” wasn’t a great punchline.
- This episode appears to have been shot fifth, and I imagine that was to accommodate John Oliver’s schedule or to get things like the rain or the more challenging production elements in place. So this is technically the final episode one cast member shot this season (and possibly for the series).
- I mean, obviously, the lunch lady did it.
- Just tell us what was funny, VanDerWerff, God: Butts.