Dick Wolf's venerable procedural gets the full Greendale treatment, and one student...dies. Dung, dung!

By Christian Blauvelt
April 27, 2012 at 02:23 PM EDT
Justin Lubin/NBC
S3 E17
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Anna Quindlen recently wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “Experience has told me that writing poorly sometimes leads to something better. Not writing at all leads only to reruns of Law & Order.” Well, Community proved last night that writing absolutely brilliantly can lead to a genius Law & Order parody. Following in the footsteps of previous tribute subjects Apollo 13, the “Dollars Trilogy,” Night of the Living Dead, My Dinner With Andre, and Ken Burns’ The Civil War, Dick Wolf’s venerable franchise got the full Greendale treatment.  And I mean full treatment, right down to a new Law & Order-style credits sequence and even an appearance from actress Leslie Hendrix, the franchise’s long-serving medical examiner, Dr. Elizabeth Rodgers. Luckily, EW.com is represented by two separate yet equally important types of people: the live bloggers who provide instant commentary, and the recappers who dive deep into your favorite episodes the next day. And I just happen to be both.

“Basic Lupine Urology” began with a classic Law & Order trope: a cold open that has absolutely nothing to do with anything that follows. In this case, two after-hours janitors opened the biology lab to clean up while one was lamenting his broken relationship with his dental hygienist. He didn’t realize that that could happen when he started hitting on her. (Line of the Night #7: “Hey, she’s the one putting her hands in my mouth.”) It perfectly captured the faux naturalism Law & Order always employed to lull you into thinking it’s perfectly normal to stumble over a murdered corpse at any given time.

And a corpse these janitors found: a yam. But not just any yam. It was the study group’s biology project. So if you ask me that totally justified Annie luring Professor Kane (Michael K. Williams) away from Mama’s Family and sending a misleading midnight text-message to Jeff about “being screwed in the biology lab,” to show them the scene of the crime. Professor Kane decided the group would get a passing grade for their efforts, much to Annie’s horror. (Line of the Night #6: “A “C”? Why don’t I just get pregnant at a bus station?”)  So Kane said that if the study group could prove someone intentionally destroyed their yam, showing that they knew how to research and prove a hypothesis, they could get an A. Shirley immediately stepped up to be the Van Buren-style dispatcher to send Detectives Troy and Abed off to investigate. Off course, they both wanted to have the final, pre-credits zinger, so they kept one-upping each other with strained puns involving “cold cases” and “hot potatoes.” It was kind of perfect. If you think about it, Detectives Briscoe and Logan really did fashion themselves amateur stand-up comics after awhile.

What’s red, blue, black and white all over? A Law & Order credits sequence of course! Early ‘90s Muzak scored stills of the Greendale Criminal Justice System’s finest, along with a few mugshots of Starburns. But if only Dick Wolf had allowed them to use the actual Law & Order theme song! If it can be my cell phone ringtone (no joke), it could have been the theme song of Community this one time. That would have made it complete.

NEXT: The investigation begins. Possible suspects? Pierce. Todd. Magnitude. Starburns.

Troy and Abed questioned first the last person who was supposed to have watered their yam: Pierce, who was running some kind of gambling racket based on very old student Harry Jefferson’s arm-wrestling ability. He told them that he wasn’t able to water it because he got there late. So he suggested they talk to Todd, one person who would have had motive to destroy their yam as an enemy of the study group.

Todd was working in the Greendale Library, where he applied the same military precision he learned in Iraq. But he did have a bandage covering a cut on his right hand. (Line of the Night #5, Courtesy of Abed Nadir: “Cut yourself on an extra sharp Oscar Wilde play?”) Maybe…he got that cut from the smashed glass of their yam’s jar. He said that he got it baking blueberry muffins. But, dammit, why not raisin? He produced a photo he took on his cell phone showing the biology lab upon his last visit there: the study group’s yam was safe and sound. Abed noted that the time on the clock was “Eight Plus Two Times Five.” Hey, he’s gifted in other ways. Britta took the photo for analysis, which basically just involved her making it “Old West” color. So she got cut off quickly with a “Dung, Dung.”

Next stop? Fat Neil, Greendale’s Keymaster, who would have had the authority to check out a bio lab key so somebody could access it after-hours. Sorry to see that Real Neil’s DJ career has come to an end, but he ably fit the bill of the Law & Order archivist who’s slovenly, disorganized and overwhelmed by work. Turns out he gave the key to Magnitude, who said, “Pop! Pop!”  Translation: someone stole his backpack in the library.

So Troy went undercover as a varsity letterman—Gordon McRae must have been an influence on his style here—announced to the library that he was going to the bathroom and left his backpack behind as he walked away with his hands clasped boyishly behind his back. Starburns peered around a bookcase, and grabbed the backpack. Gotcha! Trobed hauled him off for interrogation.

NEXT: Troy and Abed can’t determine which is the “bad cop” and which is the “good cop.”

Troy ably fulfilled the role of “bad cop,” grilling Starburns about how you don’t order ketchup, since it’s a condiment. Sigh, our live chat commenter ipyngo even noted Troy’s particular choice of fashion accessory: “Spider-Man tie! Donald SO should have been the new Spider-Man.” If only, ipyngo. If only.

Of course, Troy and Abed couldn’t hold Starburns because, well, they’re not really cops. (Line of the Night #4, Courtesy of Abed Nadir: “I’d say our hands are tied, but we basically don’t have hands.”) So they went to Greendale’s resident medical examiner for the new details that had emerged from the full autopsy. Commenter miriamun6 first noticed who she was during our live chat: “Is that the autopsy lady from L&O??” Yup, this was Manhattan’s veteran coroner, Dr. Elizabeth Rodgers, who’s appeared in 262 episodes of the franchise. She’s another master of highly-stylized, zinger-based cynicism, delivering lines like “Hey, I just cut ‘em open. If you want motive, talk to a shrink.” And she noted not only that that kind of yam trauma had to have come from a boot—sorry to make you nauseous—but that it had been about to bloom. They would have gotten an A. Damn.

Time to bring in the legal minds. The detectives met with lawyers Jeff and Annie over coffee supplied by Garrett. Lest you think Community misses any detail, commenter chewbaccasmom noted “They even have those NY disposable coffee cups!!” Annie realized that they needed more evidence, prompting a snarky Jack McCoy-style “Oh, so now you’re finding your softness?” from Jeff. At least he really does have a law degree, even if it’s from Colombia.

Troy and Abed had a janitor open up Starburns’ locker on the pretense that a kitten was heard meowing inside. As soon as the door swung open, beakers and beakers tumbled out. Starburns knew he had to run. But an even better cover? Getting some random girl to kiss him. He’d explain later, of course. No dice. (Line of the Night #3, “The explanation isn’t the issue!”) Cornered, Starburns very reasonably explained away the whole situation to the detectives. He was just building a harmless meth lab to sell drugs to the Greendale student body, not actually participating in a major crime like yam smushing. He leveled with them that he saw the “guy with the weird head,” a.k.a. Todd, in the bio lab at the likely time of the crime. I mean, if he didn’t want the mudslinging of that student body presidential race to cast a negative light on his drug dealing, surely he didn’t want people to think he had yam on his hands.

NEXT: Todd is found weaving baskets and lies. This case is ready for trial.

Troy and Abed found Todd in basket weaving class, exactly the kind of course you’d expect him to take. But as he was about to be hauled into the bio lab for trial—after all, an eye-witness pinky-sweared he was on the scene at the time of the crime, not to mention he had motive—his legal counsel showed up: Lt. Col. Archwood, who was sleeping on Todd’s couch for the weekend. He asked the very legitimate question, “Who honors the pinky swear of a degenerate over the word of a decorated soldier?” Shocker, the Dean was inclined to defer to the man in uniform. But he was even more turned on by Professor Kane’s insistence that this trial play out because “A man’s gotta have a code.” You live on, Omar Little. You live on.

The trial began, but now Jeff was worried that they didn’t have enough evidence to present. Their peers in bio class—their makeshift jury—hated their guts, so they’d need an airtight case. Annie was taken aback. “It’s the day of the case, and now you find your softness?” she threw back at Jeff. “When the going gets tough, Winger gets nervous, huh?”

Todd took the stand to defend himself against the accusations levied by Starburns, the “Holocaust-denying, 9/11 pedophile.” When Lt. Col. Archwood objected to the fact that Annie was clearly “ramping up to something,” Prof. Kane countered with Line of the Night #2: “Objection, I hate the both of you.” Annie pointed out that Todd had an absolutely perfect record except for one yam that wouldn’t grow. That must have pissed him right off. Is that why we beats his wife? “Withdrawn.” Is that why he drinks and pops pills? “Withdrawn.” Is he a virgin? “Withdrawn.” Todd, should have reiterated, “Offense taken! Offense taken.” But instead he broke down and said he did drop the yam, but only because the jar burned his hand. Victory! Annie began her own variant on Victor Cruz’ touchdown salsa (which somebody needs to turn into a .Gif, stat). The funny thing about watching Annie deliver her argument here was the realization that if Alison Brie had been acting 20 years ago she would undoubtedly have been hired to play the ADA under Ben Stone or Jack McCoy.

NEXT: Only one thing could interrupt a celebratory Scotch. Yes, death.

But Jeff decided that finding out the truth was more important than merely winning. Men have to have a code, and Annie must surely understand that because women have a female equivalent, right? A codette, if you will? Well, there was an incongruity in Todd’s story. Why had the jar burned him? Jeff himself presented the final bit of testimony: their yams had been boiled to prevent them from growing. And to prove his case, he took Magnitude’s yam out of its jar and dropped it, showing that the mere force of impact caused it to shatter. Who’s saying “Pop! Pop!” now, Magnitude? Who’s saying “Pop! Pop!” now?

The only one that hadn’t been boiled? Vicki’s. But the moment suspicion turned to her, Fat Neil stood up and confessed. He boiled the yams so that Vicki would get an A and she wouldn’t have to retake biology in summer school, and they could finally have sex in his parents’ cabin. He did it for love!

With the study group having earned an A and Fat Neil’s status as “Keymaster” having been revoked, Annie, Jeff, and Prof. Kane were able to have a celebratory Scotch in the Dean’s office. But there was one last twist to be had, which ipyngo totally called during our chat: “The classic phone call during victory Scotch!” Yes, and the news that phone call brought was indeed a tragedy: Starburns’ car was rear-ended, causing the meth lab in his truck to explode. He’s dead.

RIP Alex. In death, we should use your real name.

But as we were nursing our sorrow we were given one last treat, a lullaby from the Dean to send Troy and Abed off to blissful slumber. Line of the Night #1: “Troy and Abed, off to Dreamland/Catching the train to Sleepytown/And when they wake up, the Dean will be here/Staring at you.” It’s so comforting, isn’t it?

Community fans, would you watch a rebooted Schoolhouse Rock sung by Jim Rash? Are you devastated by Starburns’ fiery demise? Where does this homage to Law & Order rank among Community’s greatest parodies? How much more excited would you be about The Amazing Spider-Man if Donald Glover were Peter Parker? And, most importantly: womenfolk, do you have a codette?

EW’s Morning Bite: And the best sound bite from last night is…

Joel McHale and Alison Brie star in this comedy about a college study group—which has received second life on Yahoo.
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