The parody episodes of “Community” have consistently been among the series’ best because they showcase Dan Harmon and co.’s insanely obsessive eye for detail. The universe of the show is elastic enough to go from the relative realism of season two’s Jay Chandrasekhar-directed “Mixology Certification,” in which everyone goes to a bar and gets messily drunk, to last week’s semi-experimental Dreamatorium journey into the subconscious.
When what’s supposedly a comedy about a study group at a community college has a storyline about a zombie outbreak (as seen in “Epidemiology”), it doesn’t seem like a novelty one-off, just another way to fit the strongly definied characters into familiar genre archetypes — “Community” creating its own in-world version of the “Game of Thrones”-equivalents-of-U.S.-politicians experiment.
Season one’s “Modern Warfare” is still my favorite, with its paintball apocalypse, but there have definitely been some other gems since then, including the lovably bizarre “Critical Film Studies,” which suggested it was going to be a take on “Pulp Fiction,” but actually turned about to be an homage to Louis Malle’s “My Dinner with Andre.” And last night’s “Basic Lupine Urology,” while never reaching the ridiculous heights of the show at its very best, fit its characters into the kind of spot-on “Law & Order” spoof that can only come from people who’ve lost several days to back-to-back procedural marathons.
The case in question is the suitably silly murder of a yam being grown for Professor Marshall Kane’s (Michael K. Williams, still an odd fit as a guest star) biology class. The pleasure of the episode comes from how the “Community” regulars and side characters fall into the typical “Law & Order” parts, ones that are already stock after having been filled by a rotating cast of actors over the years. Troy (Donald Glover) and Abed (Danny Pudi) are the cops, competing to have the last word of the cold open:
“Looks like it’s going to be a late night. How’d we manage to pull the short straw?”
“t’s not a short straw… it’s a hot potato.”
“Yeah, well… looks pretty cold to me.”
“Cold… or dead?”
“We can’t both do the zinger.”
Shirley, of course, falls into the S. Epatha Merkerson stern/maternal lieutenant role, and Jeff (Joel McHale), being already a (disbarred) lawyer, is a prosecutor with Annie (Alison Brie). And side characters Todd, Fat Neil, Magnitude and Star-Burns all become witnesses or possible suspects.
It’s not an episode that does anything in terms of developing the regular characters, but it indulges in the rhythms of a typical “Law & Order” episode with admirably geeky detail, from the outside meeting by the food cart to the “legal” development of insisting a pinky swear be upheld in court to the tried and true televison lawyer technique of offering provocations and then withdrawing them — though in this case, they’re more like “Are you a virgin? WITHDRAWN.”
Are there any shows more ingrained in TV consciousness than “Law & Order,” which ran for 20 seasons and seems to be showing on at least one network somewhere at any hour of the day? The “Community” parody worked so nicely because it was a show built on types — gruff older cop, ambitious young female prosecutor — and Jeff and the rest of the crew fit in just enough to be funny.