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Community Review: “Curriculum Unavailable” (Episode 3.19)

We don’t need a therapist to tell us that Greendale is crazy. One of the reasons we love this show so much is the absolute insanity of the school. The absurd and the ridiculous. The fact that a school could exist where paintball and pillow wars actually happen. I’ve always argued that the best art, is the kind that rekindles or captures the imagination of our childhood. The fantastical elements of Community is what has always separated it from other shows.

“Curriculum Unavailable” was essentially a clips episode 2.0, but instead of just being an episode that reflected an entire semester gone by, this served as the groups reaffirmation how much they loved Greendale. From a writing perspective, it also reaffirmed the shows strengths and why we as an audience love it. But what particularly stood out about this episode, was how well it bridged “Course Listing Unavailable”. It’s been no secret that the writers have tried to serialize Community a lot more this season. They’ve tried to ground the plot a bit more, where plot elements carry over from one episode to the next. Apart of this was in response to the criticisms of Season 2 which was more chaotic. But I also think it was a move by the writers to try and get viewers more engaged and coming back. If before each episode was its own extravagant event, and could thus be watched out of order – then this season you had to watch every episode, as story carried over. Of course, this really wouldn’t apply to most fans, because who the hell skips episodes of Community? Still, it was a perfectly reasonable creative decision that also allowed for the characters to have more growth and personal arcs that are a lot harder to do in the Season 2 format.

But I also think this is where some of the criticisms of this season have come from. Because not every single episode has been some fantastical event. I see this in Drama shows as well in what are called bridge episodes – episodes where the main plot isn’t moved, but instead are a set up for the next big event in the story. I bring this up because, often bridge episodes suffer from the downtime that is a result of a show being aired live. You have the entire weeks wait for the next episode, and you have the commercial breaks. These episodes tend to drag when viewed live, because they are mostly exposition. But they are also much better when you watch them viewing the season front to back. Conversely, I feel that some of the episodes of this season of Community might have gotten a bit of a bad shake in this format. So it will be interesting to see how the entire season feels once it’s over with, and we are able to watch the season front to back without all the breaks. Still, for me “Curriculum Unavailable” has been the best this show has been at serializing a plot. In fact, the run from “Basic Lupine Urology” to “Course Listing Unavailable” to “Curriculum Unavailable” has been the best serialized run of the show to date. And given how well the episodes are flowing together, I can only imagine that the last 3 episodes of the season (which are also apart of this arc) is going to be incredible.

The centerpiece to this entire episode was the asylum scene – where all the greatest moments of the show were re-enacted with the group being crazy. The trampoline episode was really just Jeff and Troy jumping on a mattress. The clips episode was just the group sitting around a table and calling out adventures that never happened. Those magnificent paintball wars in the school were nothing but Britta and Jeff ducking behind medical tables and using their fingers as imaginary guns. The Dean and Garret are scientists in lab coats, that want to see how the group will react when they steal one of their pens from them. The entire scene was nothing short of brilliant. It took all our favorite moments of the show, and spun it as being bat shit crazy. And they are. The meta commentary on how the group seems to always be at the center of everything, therefore being implausible was hilarious. The writers even took a shot at the fact that Pierce has been underused in show – “I wasn’t in most of those”.

My favorite character moments have to go to Troy and the Dean. Having followed Donald Glover since Derrek Comedy, it’s always great to see his odd humor utilized. Whether that was Troy riding a quad into the study room and saying “it’s all terrain dummy”, or the constant camera zoom on his face as he stares in disbelief at what the therapist is saying, Glover was on fire tonight. He enhanced the episode’s sense of lunacy. On the other end, there was the Dean. His moments were extremely sweet, and were used to highlight the groups great memories of Greendale. It was the revelation that the Dean was really at the center of most of their fond memories of the place. This also worked extremely well, as it set the stakes for the final three episodes. The group now has a goal to achieve, and that is to have the Dean’s back since he’s always had theirs. And hell, the Dean’s flashbacks were just so epic. I loved that the Dean would tell the group before anyone else that the school is on fire. Or what about that paintball fight that we never got to see, where the Dean is dressed up like a flapper in the gangsta 1920s paintball match. Dean Pelton has always been a fan favorite, so it was nice to see the group actually step back and realize all the great things he does for them.

Every single criticism I’ve had with this season were all addressed in this episode. The flashbacks allowed us to see the various classes, and subsequently faculty. It reminded us the absurdity of the teaching at Greendale that has been sorely missed since season 1. Chang’s insanity was much better executed here as well, I mean who could not laugh at him snorting Dorritos like cocaine. And like “Paradigms of Human Memory”, it allowed us to explore a lot of the crazy adventures of the group. But it wouldn’t be Community if the writers didn’t try to top themselves. And what really made “Curriculum Unavailable” stand out from the rest, is how well this really worked within the serialized arc of this season. It really tied everything together, and felt like some needed weight to the plot. This really was one of the best episodes of the series to date, and is a reminder that we should wait for the entire picture before judging. When episodes are dished out broken up (especially with the hiatus), it’s easy to forget that the writers have an overall vision for this season. And tonight’s episode reaffirmed for me that season three is something be viewed differently than the past seasons. As much as I’m sad the season is coming to an end, I can’t wait to dive back into season three when we have the entire thing where I can view it more from an overall story point of view vs broken up pieces.

Grade: A+

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