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Community: "Paradigms Of Human Memory"

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There’s not really a lot to “Paradigms Of Human Memory,” but it might be one of the funniest episodes Community has ever done. The central point of the episode is to make us laugh as much as humanly possible, and that’s never a bad thing. For an episode that spends a lot of time taking the piss out of other things—the Glee parody, in particular, is inspired—the ultimate joke is on the show itself, with a conclusion that is very consciously assembled to be the ultimate conclusion to the show’s usual formula, complete with a ridiculous Winger speech that’s assembled from bits and pieces of other speeches we’ll never get to see. In its best episodes, Community combines its cleverness with a big heart, but in some episodes, it can get away with just being exceedingly clever. This is one of those cases.


Troy happens to spot Annie’s Boobs snatching a paintbrush off the study room table while the group is making their 20th and final anthropology diorama of the year (a nice joke on how making dioramas seemed to be the only thing the group did in regards to this class all season long). He then sees Annie’s Boobs disappear into the vents, which leads the group to recruit Chang to head in after the monkey and find his stash of items stolen throughout the season. The treasure trove of items leads the group to start reminiscing about all of the things they’ve done over the past year, most of which are things we didn’t get to see. And where most shows would suggest that the stuff we don’t get to see is the boring stuff, Community suggests that we missed the group being institutionalized, visiting a Wild West ghost town where a crazy racist shoots at them, staying in a haunted house, taking over for a dead glee club, and a huge variety of other things.

Yes, “Human Memory” is a parody of that TV stalwart: the clip show. Unlike the bottle show episode, the episode doesn’t bother to comment on the fact that this is what it’s doing, trusting us to keep up. All of the footage from the “past” is newly shot, including the drop-ins we get on the Halloween and Christmas episodes. Tellingly, the one mention of an event we actually saw—Annie getting mad about all of her purple pens disappearing—is the one event we don’t get a flashback to. This is all quick cuts and weird, wild gags. In its own way, it’s the most the show has ever felt like an episode of classic Simpsons (and I mean this as a compliment, not as a way to suggest it’s ripping that show off). Hell, it even has an unconnected tag that takes the point of view of the Dean, like that Ned Flanders cartoon where Ned doesn’t realize that it’s Saturday.


I mean, yeah, there’s an attempt to put an emotional storyline on top all of this about how the group is in danger of breaking up because of how they callously treat each other’s feelings. And that IS a storyline the show has been developing all season long. The show also smartly uses the structure of a clip show to enhance some of the emotional points it wants to make, like when it does a series of flashbacks to meaningful glances and moments shared between Jeff and Annie that gets increasingly ridiculous. (My favorite was Jeff saving Annie from a rampaging robot.) This, of course, is followed by a similar montage (also set to Sara Bareilles’ “Gravity,” at least on screener) of meaningful moments between Pierce and Abed. And there’s a quick montage of the group descending into squabbling throughout the year, complete with everything eventually being broken up by Troy screaming, acting almost like the “kicks” in Inception to carry us up through the various layers of flashback.

I mean, the story is basically unimportant here. None of us is stupid enough to think that the group is going to split up and go its separate ways. Even if the show tried a few episodes like that, they’d surely be back together after a couple of weeks. It’s, to use an old TV writer term that 30 Rock has made fun of, schmuck’s bait, an idea that would so change the premise of the show that only a schmuck would believe it. Fortunately, the group members themselves don’t seem to think that they’ll ultimately split up either. They realize how empty that threat is, ultimately, and they’re brought together by another classic Winger speech about how they’re the Traveling Wilburys… of pain.


And if you’re a fan of the Jeff and Britta or Jeff and Annie pairings, there’s quite a bit here to dig into (as well as a nice little jab about how there don’t seem to be many Jeff and Shirley shippers out there for some reason). As it turns out, Jeff and Britta have been hooking up all season long—nice job, those of you in comments who’ve been saying this since at least the Halloween episode—but they’ve been remarkably good at keeping it from the group, though Abed is able to put it together by running memories of the year through his central computer-like brain. The revelation makes sense, and it reminds the group of just how often Jeff and Britta have put themselves ahead of the group all season long. To which Jeff and Britta remind the group of how often they’ve mistreated each other.

One of the reasons some of the emotional resolutions have felt weaker in this season’s less terrific episodes (and there have been a few) has been because the show doesn’t always earn those resolutions. They feel tacked on because the show needs to remind us that, no matter how bad these people can be to each other, they still fundamentally like each other on the most basic level. But at the same time, these people CAN be pretty awful to each other. Pierce, in particular, has done some awful things this season, but the other characters have also been callous with each other’s feelings and hurt each other in almost casual ways. Granted, I don’t want the show to drift TOO far down that road, but I’m glad that it keeps a tally of these things and builds to an episode like this, where it’s able to use the structure of a clip show to get deeper into some of these interpersonal issues.


But, again, the emotional storyline here—though deeper than I initially gave it credit for—is secondary to all of the jokes. The massive, massive wave of jokes. There are visual gags here. There are pop culture gags. There are quick one-liners. There’s a monkey hitting Chang on the head while “Gravity” plays. Basically any type of joke the show does well is here in multiple forms and then some. Even the show’s propensity for filming in different genres and using different editing rhythms becomes a part of the gag. Most of the time, clip shows are done because they save tremendous amounts of money and time for all involved in the production of the show (since so little new material needs to be produced). Community, instead, has decided to put more effort and more money into its fake clip show than just about any episode this season. For that and for the episode’s ridiculously fun structure and barrage of jokes, “Paradigms Of Human Memory” reminded me of just why I’m so happy we’ve had this season of this show.

Stray observations:

  • A few sample reviews of the episodes we see in clips tonight, the reviews you DIDN’T get to see, if you will:
  • “The Old West is a part of our legendary American past. Though we whitewash what was truly done in that time, in our names, we know deep in our guts it wasn’t so. Community is to be commended for bringing to the forefront the fact that most cowboys were racist dicks.”
  • “Regret is a piece of yourself that never quite dies, a thing you can’t ever put behind yourself as you head down the road toward something new and different, the ghosts of the past. It is fitting that Community structured its haunted house episode around Pierce’s regret about never telling his dead mother how much he loved her. However, the Annie and Shirley plot had too much flatulence.”
  • “I told you guys Glee and Community were the same show.”
  • “While I’m glad we got to see the other side of the Christmas episode, I’m not sure it played as well in March as it might have in December, when the cold winds howl and my thoughts turn to memories of long-dead people I will never see again.”
  • “Fuck off. Dean Pelton would never be able to build a robot.”
  • There’s so much in this episode and the process of talking about it would rob it of so much of its funniness that I’m loathe to just break down the episode into moments I really liked (especially because that would easily take up another 1,500 words), but I will say that I was very tickled to see the other side of the Christmas adventure, with the group sitting around the table and trying to engage. Also, did they seriously fly out John Oliver just for that little bit and the voice in the animated scene? Because that’s awesome and a sign of how much the guest actors enjoy being on this show.
  • Now that we’ve had a bottle episode and a clip show, I think it’s probably time for the show to finally do an episode from the point of view of one of the supporting characters who aren’t series regulars. The obvious suggestion is Dean Pelton, but I would LOVE to see a Leonard-centric episode. Make it happen, season three!
  • For a time, the NBC press site had a shot from this episode that featured the gang standing in the middle of a plane crash. I assume there’s LOTS of deleted footage from this one, and I hope it turns up on the DVD.
  • Favorite random Dean outfit: It’s an easy one, but I liked the cat suit for feline cancer awareness week. And the Tina Turner get-up was great.
  • I like that Jeff and Britta no longer want to hook up now that the group knows they’ve been hooking up and is kind of cool with it.
  • And finally, I won’t be covering the show next week, but I will be back for the two-part season finale. Paintball again! Surely there’s no way they’d do it if they didn’t have a great idea, right?
  • "Oh, I miss him so much!"
  • "I know these vents like the back of my Chang."
  • "Is that a new stereotype?"
  • "Oh, Hubba Bubba. Cool."
  • "I'm going back in." "Why?" "Monkey took my spoon."
  • "Every building's a saloon."
  • "That dude was hardcore racist. Like 1800s Disney style."
  • "We got that cool new bus driver!"
  • "A leprechaun took our clothes!"
  • "We are friends with a grown man that clearly believes in leprechauns."
  • "Troy, we never said ourselves." "OK, now I am really mad."
  • "Impressive, Mr. Winger. Someone's going to regionals."
  • “Humanity is premiering, you jags!”
  • "Jeff and Britta, you're free to go because you didn't step forward and are, therefore, innocent."
  • “Feast your ear tongues on these memory pops!”
  • "I'll be a living god!"
  • "It was a particularly small egg. That's why I was asking."
  • "Six seasons and a movie!"
  • "It's called chemistry. I have it with everybody!"
  • "I don't know if it's because you're racist or because I intimidate you sexually."
  • "It's time to Tina Turner the clocks ahead."
  • "We're starting to hurt innocent perverts."
  • "Why do you always have to take whatever happens to us and shove it up its own ass?"
  • "Anybody have any iodine?"
  • "It's a locomotive that runs on US."
  • "Yes, Troy, like the Traveling Wilburys… of pain."
  • "You get justice in your face."
  • "Sometimes, I felt jealous of his interesting outfits."