From spaghetti Westerns to Dungeons & Dragons, there is no ground that Community is afraid to strip-mine for gold. For ”Basic Lupine Urology” the NBC comedy trained its sights on one of TV’s most iconic franchises, Law & Order, as Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) and his college classmates tried to bring to justice the criminal who sabotaged the yams in their biology class experiment. ”We wanted to do something different than a spoof… I thought it would be a fun exercise to speed through one of the fastest procedurals,” says series creator Dan Harmon (who, by the way, declined to comment about his recent spat with Chevy Chase). Perhaps it turned out to be even more than that. Declares McHale, ”It is definitely the greatest episode of yam-based television in history.” (Spoiler alert! Don’t read this until you’ve seen the April 26 episode.)
Sony (the studio that co-produces Community) had to make sure the episode would be covered under fair use and parody law. (As a result, a plan to have the end credits begin with Law & Order executive producer Dick Wolf’s name was scrapped.) Community did wind up forking over tens of thousands of dollars to license the ”Chung chung,” the show’s trademark transition sound effect. ”But there is no acceptable replacement for it. I was happy to pay it, because I’ve paid a lot more money for way worse,” says Harmon.
The Crime: Yamicide
The writers toyed with constructing the episode around a homicide, but ”it’s not like our crazy Greendale kids are going to solve a murder,” notes Megan Ganz, the L&O diehard who penned the episode. After discarding a stolen inhaler as low stakes, they settled on a sabotaged class project. While Googling ”elementary school science projects,” Ganz came across flowering yams and potatoes, and ”yam just struck me as really funny.”
Boiling water was a perfect murder weapon because it disappears. Over Christmas break, prop master Rhonda Robinson worked on determining the ideal boiling time so that when Jeff dropped the yam its bottom half would splatter — but also could look like it was stomped on by an angry person.
Director Rob Schrab saw a lunchtime street scene as an opportunity to provide some L&O Big Apple flavor: ”I said, ‘Let’s get a steam vent, construction workers, and everybody has to be dressed like in the fall. I wanted it to have that hustle and bustle, like they just walked out of their law offices and this was the in-between turf of the cops and lawyers.”
Todd (David Neher) — the Iraq-war vet who stood trial for the yamicide — was initially imagined as the culprit. Seeking a sexier twist, the writers considered making it the often-overlooked Vicki (Danielle Kaplowitz), but fell for the idea that Neil (Charley Koontz) did it to throw off the grading curve and save Vicki from failing the class. (Remember, there was a hint of romance between them in season 2.) ”We liked the idea that it wasn’t deep-seated rage issues that Todd had towards the group,” adds Ganz. ”It was just this guy wanting to have sex with his girlfriend over the summer.”
Hey, that botanist looks familiar!
The writers briefly considered Annie for the role of the botanist, modeled after L&O‘s dry medical examiner Dr. Elizabeth Rodgers, but they realized it was too weird to have her play two parts. Chasing a dream, they tried to get the real Rodgers, Leslie Hendrix, to reprise her role. After a rep for Hendrix turned down the request, Harmon sent her the script and penned a hilariously passionate letter, which won her over. She flew from New York to L.A. just to film that 53-second scene.
Dean Pelton hula-hooping
While plotting the Star-Burns chase sequence, Schrab thought it would be funny if the action blasted through the dean’s office. Ganz’s first idea — that we’d see the dean (Jim Rash) sitting there with a plate of spaghetti and a stuffed Dalmatian — was nixed because the joke wouldn’t read in a split second. When she noticed an errant hula hoop sitting on the set, though, a lightbulb went on.
The Military Presence
As L&O often has a greater entity intervene, Ganz saw the chance to play off Todd’s military past and introduce an Army defender. For the role of Colonel Archwood, Schrab suggested Michael Keaton, Michael McKean, and Kurtwood Smith, while casting proposed Michael Ironside, who appealed to Schrab, a Total Recall fan. ”Ironside proved to be perfect,” he notes. ”When you put him in that suit, he had that Few Good Men quality.”
Having the shady Star-Burns (Dino Stamatopoulos, who also writes for the show) steal Magnitude’s key so he could pilfer supplies for his meth lab was, in part, a nod to Star-Burns’ Breaking Bad line in the season premiere, when Professor Kane rejected his offer to go into the drug business with him. ”I love that we have Breaking Bad going on underneath the story of the rest of the year,” jokes Ganz.
Pierce: Local Lowlife
The first draft of the episode featured Troy and Abed shaking down Pierce (Chase) for information while he was stealing a hot dog in the cafeteria. To amp up the energy, the writers changed the action to Pierce running a betting ring around senior-citizen arm wrestling. By the way, when Pierce shouts, ”5 to 1 on the black guy,” the man who responds, ”That’s offensive” is Chase’s stand-in, John Platt.
The Final Twist
In a wink to L&O‘s tendency to include a surprise-twist phone call at the end of an episode, Kane learned that a member of the Greendale community had been killed in an unusual accident. There will be no spoilers here, but to find out why that character was marked for death and what happens next, visit EW.com on April 27.
Playing Cops and Lawyers
Jeff (Joel McHale): The disbarred attorney was a natural to step into the shoes of Executive ADA Jack McCoy. (Though McHale quips, ”I thought, ‘Well, if Jeff is a lawyer he’s probably going to play the hot ADA lady.”’)
Annie (Alison Brie): The grade crusader who initiated the proceedings filled the role of the young, hungry, and, yes, hot ADA.
Troy (Donald Glover): He and Abed fit as L&O detective team Briscoe and Curtis. (Of course, Troy sported a Spider-Man tie.)
Abed (Danny Pudi): Troy’s partner in crime fighting wore an Inspector Spacetime badge on his coat, a running joke this season.
Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown): Greendale’s self-professed mother figure was slotted in as their Lieut. Van Buren-y boss.
Britta (Gillian Jacobs): First cast as an incompetent shrink, after a rewrite she ended up as the semi-competent tech analyst.
Professor Kane (Michael K. Williams): The biology teacher served as judge, agreeing to give the group a good grade if they solved the crime.