After last week’s brilliant Law & Order-inspired episode, Community has taken a much more somber turn this week with “Course Listing Unavailable.” Near the end of “Basic Lupine Urology,” we found out that Starburns (or “Alex” as he liked to be called) died when his mobile meth lab exploded. This week, we find the students of Greendale dealing with (or not dealing with) Starburns’ passing.
As it turns out, Starburns made a video of himself before he died in which he bequeaths his belongings. Troy, Abed and Annie are gathered in their apartment watching the video which is slightly disturbing for many reasons. First of all, he left his ashes (and those of his iguana) to Abed. This makes Troy incredibly uncomfortable. He also expects Abed to make a video commemorating his life, even going so far as to give Abed some good B-roll to get him started.
Gathered at the library, the group struggles with their emotions. Britta, always eager to showcase her complete lack of knowledge about psychological issues, says that they must confront their emotions head on, even going so far as to slap a couple of stars on each side of her face so the group can imagine that she is Starburns. (It’s unclear how exactly this is supposed to be helpful.)
In his office, Dean Pelton is composing a little workday tune when Chang arrives, requesting additional authority in order to keep peace on Greendale’s campus. He presents the dean with a colorful, hand-written (in crayon) directive which will allow him, among other things, to enforce martial law, sentence students to indefinite detention and do away with soft serve ice cream. The dean will not stand for such tyranny, so he refuses to sign. Chang warns the dean that he will regret it.
Back in the library, the study group is discussing plans to hold a memorial for Starburns. Dean Pelton comes in, wearing one of his more ostentatious costumes to date, and informs that group that after Starburns’ death, Professor Kane has resigned and the class will receive a grade of “Incomplete” for the Biology class. Good news: they can re-take the course in the summer. Jeff, who has been rather blasé about Starburns, is devastated about the loss of his summer and breaks down in tears.
Later in the cafeteria, a small memorial is held for Starburns, but before Dean Pelton knows what is happening, Jeff is making a speech about how awful Greendale is and how it has ruined their lives. Annie jumps on stage and echoes Jeff’s sentiment. At this point, there are more than a few nodding heads in the crowd. Hoping for some Christian inspiration, the dean asks Shirley to come up and speak, but instead of delivering a positive message, she launches into an attack on the dean about how her dream of running a sandwich shop in the cafeteria was sold to Subway. When the crowd is already on the edge of action, Pierce shouts “Let’s burn this mother down!” And then all Hell breaks loose.
The dean pleads for Chang’s help and agrees to sign his contract. Chang retrieves his minions (again, all of them between the ages of 12 and 14) and storms the cafeteria, his mini-Army wearing full riot gear. With the help of some powerful pepper spray, Chang and his team are able to establish order, though some students are sent to the student health center.
While the study group is getting medical attention, the dean tells them that he will have no choice but to blame them (the newly anointed “Greendale Seven”) for the riot. Instead, the group suggests blaming Chang since, you know, he’s crazy. When Chang gets wind of the plan, he visits the dean to investigate. When Dean Pelton says he has no choice but to blame him, Chang knocks him out and brings in a replacement dean.
In front of the school board, the study group pleads its case against Chang, but he’s way ahead of them. He begins schmoozing with the board, supplies them with a very nice basket of goodies and even has the “dean” come by to vouch for how good of job he is doing. With no one else to blame, the board decides that the Greendale Seven will be expelled.
Back at Troy, Abed and Annie’s apartment, the group is quiet. When the doorbell rings, Abed says it’s the pizza. Jeff suggests rolling a dye to see who has to go get it. Suddenly, we’re back in “Remedial Chaos Theory,” the alternate time line episode from earlier this season. Abed wonders out loud what would have happened if he wouldn’t have let Jeff roll the dye that night. Are they, in fact, in the darkest time line? Even though things haven’t worked out the way they would have wanted, this couldn’t be the darkest time line since they’re all together and somehow it feels like everything will be okay.
While this was one of the most serious episodes Communityhas ever done, it is still quite clever. Bringing the “darkest time line” back into play was brilliant since “Remedial Chaos Theory” happened so long ago (way before the show’s hiatus). So what will happen to the group now? If they aren’t students at Greendale, what will the show be about? Is this signaling the end of Community? The future is anyone’s guess, but based on this episode alone, it is clear that whatever time line plays out, it won’t be the darkest.
Matthew Newlin lives in St. Louis, Missouri and has been a film critic for over six years. He has written for numerous online media outlets, including “Playback:STL” and “The Weissman Report.” He holds a Master’s of Education in Higher Education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and is an Assistant Director of Financial Aid. A lifelong student of cinema, his passion for film was inherited from his father who never said “No, you can’t watch that.”