Community, “Paradigms of Human Memory”

Note: I’m at a conference and running on a bit of wonky sleep schedule, so I’m going to cut this one a bit short. I could just write, “IT’S AMAZINGLY FUNNY.” and move on, but I’m a professional. I mean amateur. You get it.

I spend a lot of time in my Community reviews talking about the series’ ability to mix big parody episodes and popular culture references with some legitimate heart, and I still believe that is something the series can do. Without the emotional center, the series could look like mostly all structure and framework, which is off-putting to some and I can see why. But in the case of an episode like “Paradigms of Human Memory,” I’m not sure it matters if there’s any heartfelt moments at the center. In fact, I think I’d be willing to argue that this episode works best because it makes fun of the fact that the series is sometimes too-reliant on the patented Winger speech to pull in the obvious emotional bows. Because of that and so many other things, “Paradigms of Human Memory” is most certainly the most overtly hilarious episode of Community. There might be technically “better” episodes, episodes with some real heart and complicated character development somewhere in the middle, but this one is just flat-out, balls-to-the-wall funny. I watched this one with a group of people, feel like I missed a few small bits and still cannot stop thinking about it.

There’s really no reason for me to explain the gritty details of this episode. Chances are that if you’re reading this post, you’ve seen the episode. But in general, “Human Memory” is the much-anticipated “parody” of another one of television’s classic staples: the clip show. But instead of lazily showing us capital-H Hilarious moments from past episodes and seasons as a way to reflect, remember or whatever it was that The Office was trying to do last season with its clip show, Community went out and shot brand-new sequences and scenes, both from episodes/stories we’ve already seen and things we had never, ever heard about previously. So if you thought the study group being part of a legitimate zombie outbreak on Halloween was crazy, you’re not going to believe that they have done the following in their second year together at Greendale:

  • Been to a ghost town where they met racist cowboys
  • Stayed the night in a haunted house
  • Taken part in some sort of steam engine festivities
  • Partaken in Free Caesar Salad Day in the cafeteria
  • Talked Pierce off library bookshelves
  • Gone camping
  • Been on a raft during St. Patrick’s Day
  • Watched the Dean continuously wear one ridiculous costume after another
  • Replaced the recently killed Glee club and won a trophy
  • Taken a class on cutting men’s hair (at least Troy and Jeff)
  • Been institutionalized

Throw in some glorious nods and commentary about the Jeff/Annie shippers (complete with a dueling Abed/Pierce shipping video montage), the realization that Jeff and Britta have sleeping with one another since at least Halloween and Troy has been abstaining from self-pleasure for the good of the group, and you have one amazing sequence after another about this group’s insanely wild year. But it gets better. Instead of trying to tie everything together with an uplifting Winger speech about how the group will always come back together in the end, this episode does exactly that, only inter-cuts it with 15 other uplifting Winger speeches that have ultimately changed nothing, thus pointing out how futile and temporary all of his speeches are.

We of course know that these people won’t suddenly hate one another and never talk again because of this series’ framework, but it is nice to see this sharper version of the series where things aren’t okay, but everyone’s just sort of fine with it because they have no other real options. These people do some really horrible things to one another and just because Jeff slept next to Pierce in the hospital in “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking” or Shirley forgave Abed for turning the entire school into psycho religious zealots to point out the stupidity of religion doesn’t mean the initial actions weren’t misguided at best, very, very terrible at worst. I love the series’ heart and the Winger speeches as much as anyone, but sometimes it does ring a little false. Just be reminded that the series can do an episode like this, with such creativity and zeal, puts the biggest smile on my face.

And again, this episode IS HILARIOUS. I could spend tons of words and time writing out all of my favorite lines and bits, but it’s just not worth your time or mine. This episode is so good it must be experienced, not explained, in any detail. Fantastic.

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