It takes an episode like “Paradigms of Human Memory” to make me realize that I’m too easy of a grader when it comes to Community. Far too often the show skates by on its well-crafted characters, so when the comedic elements are lacking, I tend to overlook them on strength of characterization alone. Tonight’s episode stands with the best the series has ever produced, and managed to package every great element of the show into one cohesive plot.
After only a few minutes it’s obvious that “Paradigms” is another genre send-up, this time a parody of the classic sitcom trope of the clip show, a flashback heavy way for older sitcoms to churn out a new episode without shooting too much new footage. And just in the way the show has used genre forms to send up other shows, this week the clip show format allows Community to comment brilliantly on the show itself and the changes its made during the second season.
This season has featured a mockumentary, a bottle episode, a zombie movie, and a claymation Christmas special, and this clip show template works only because none of the “clips” are from old episodes, they’re new material that adds onto previous episodes to provide new information, and comments on the dark direction the show has taken the characters over the past year. Pierce has dealt with a drug problem, Shirley is having a baby and doesn’t know if Chang or her ex-husband is the father, and Annie has had problems supporting herself, and Abed had somewhat of a mental breakdown in the Christmas episode over his mother.
We haven’t seen much of the anthropology class the study group is taking together, as opposed to last season’s Spanish class with Chang, who’s been reduced to a court jester. As the group builds their twentieth diorama – featuring the group building its nineteenth diorama – they begin to reflect on their time together. This leads to the moment I’ve been waiting for all season: the reveal that Jeff and Britta have been hooking up. Abed handles the flashback duties like a human supercomputer, and we get little interstitial scenes from the Halloween and Christmas episodes of this season, arguably the other best episodes of the season, displaying proof of what I and several other viewers have noticed all along.
Besides the nice pat on the back I can give myself, this revelation actually injects a plot into the clip show, something that genre distinctly lacks. Though Community is not the only show to create a meta-commentary on the practice, I would argue that they are the most deft example in a very long time, perhaps since The Simpsons last employed one of these episodes. When Community blends its penchant for pop-culture gags, zany exploits, comedic characters with depth, and genre commentary, it works like the first two seasons of Family Guy, the episodes that had DVD audiences clamor for more of the show, before those gags got self-indulgent.
The clip show allows Community to comment on the dark direction the year has taken, but also to send it up with flashbacks to more ridiculous scenarios, like a trip to a ghost town, a steam train, a camping trip, painting Shirley’s nursery, which all end in the group fighting and threatening to break up, but we know none of that will happen, the characters (and the writers) won’t let it, but they tie everything up in a great bow that leads to a supremely satisfying conclusion for every way the show has advanced over the course of the season, and complete the subtly overarching plot with Jeff and Britta in a way that surpasses the way the first season ended with their romantic cliffhanger.
The emotional roller coaster this season has taken seems like it was all building to this, and indeed if that claymation scene was done during the production of the Christmas episode last fall, an emotional payoff of this magnitude was expertly planned. Even still, that astute narrative construction doesn’t give enough credit to just how damn funny this episode was, with jokes flying fast and furious all over every scene, no matter how small, from pop culture gags to visual gags, to two great jokes layered on different levels: one in which Troy screams to bring every study group fight to a silent finish, and the other that references Jeff Winger’s constant speeches to rally the group out of whatever sensational situation they find themselves involved in. “Paradigms of Human Memory” showcases a combination of every element that makes a great episode of Community, and with the recent news that the show has been officially renewed for a third season, things are only looking up from here.
Final Grade: A
The only show that mocks Glee the right way is Community. The way they featuring a parody with no real lyrics, Shirley standing in for Mercedes and Pierce for Artie was pure genius.
The numerous sequences with past event layered upon past event worked wonders, but I’m partial to saying the sequence laying out the Dean’s crazy outfits was the best.
Just as I loved seeing little nods to a Jeff/Britta hookup all season, I’m glad it was diffused at the very end in a way that we don’t need to revisit it as a major plot point going forward.
“Is that a new stereotype?”
“Oh, Hubba Bubba. Cool.”
“Every building’s a saloon.”
“That dude was hardcore racist. Like 1800s Disney style.”
“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?”
“It’s a locomotive that runs on US.”
“Sometimes, I felt jealous of his interesting outfits.”