The world’s weirdest and certainly wackiest community college hit its stride early on in the series, but by season 3 it was sprinting with a manic grin on its face. You really never know what you’re going to get with any given episode, as Dan Harmon would graft different pop culture formats each week while ripping them away the next. From a Civil War-style documentary on an epic pillow fight to an anime foosball showdown, the unusual is what’s usual here.
Despite being a serious underdog in the ratings, Community certainly didn’t sell out to try to become more palpable to the masses in its third season. The “Greendale Seven” — a study group-slash-surrogate family — is just as messed-up as they enroll together in biology. Their shared class actually takes much more of a backseat to the group’s adventures than in the previous two seasons, and multi-episode story arcs are brought to bear.
“Do you know how long someone who is as sarcastic as I am would last in prison? Suuuuuuch a long time.”
Things start to move fast at Greendale Community College. Despite leaving the group in the season 2 finale, Pierce is back (probably because he has nowhere else to go). Annie decides to move in with Troy and Abed, an area so ripe for comedic exploitation that the show almost doesn’t know what to do with it first. A sinister threat rises inside the college as the Air Conditioning Repair Annex starts making overt power plays and lures Troy into its program. Shirley attempts to start her own sandwhich business, but even that isn’t as simple as it should be. And Chang becomes a security guard who has aspirations of dictatorship that has dire consequences on them all.
It’s a busy season.
“You’re VH1, Robocop 2 and Back to the Future 3. You’re the center slice of a square cheese pizza. Actually, that sounds delicious. I’m the center slice of a square cheese pizza. You’re Jim Belushi.”
The most brilliant episode of season 3 comes early on in “Remedial Chaos Theory,” probably the second-most talked about episode of the entire series other than “Modern Warfare.” During a small party at Troy and Abed’s apartment, Jeff rolls a dice to see who will go get the pizza. The episode then fractures into six different timelines exploring what would happen with each character — and it’s just awesome. There are common jokes and various revelations and — most importantly — the rise of the Darkest Timeline.
I felt that season three was far more solid in terms of quality than season two, as there’s hardly a weak episode in the bunch. Even with all of the meta jokes and pop culture references, the core of the show — the dynamics of this ragtag family — is held to and explored from multiple angles. Britta’s insistance on psycho-analysing everyone continually backfires, the group does an awesome parody of Glee (with an Invasion of the Body Snatchers theme), and the crew does a Law & Order investigation into a botched science experiment. Plus, must we overlook the fact that one episode takes place almost entirely inside a video game?
“Aviators. Final boarding call, Beefcake Airways.”
Probably my biggest criticism is that the biology class peters out early on, with the show setting the teacher up with a darker past but ultimately giving him little to do. But even that’s not a major loss, because there’s so much to see here.
The end of the season feels like a twin finale, one with Chang’s dynasty and one with a court case wrapping up several other storylines. As is well-known, Dan Harmon was fired after this season and the show underwent a major creative shift (not to mention that, to date, this is the final full-length season of Community). For some, the end of season 3 was the end of the show as they knew it, but not for me. Next week we’ll look at the controversial season 4 and see how Community continued to endure.