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Although the concept of filler episodes was something that I was aware of, I’d never really come across one that wasn't directly referencing that it was one until this week’s episode of Community. “Paradigms of Human Memory,” in stark contrast to last week’s “Competitive Wine Tasting,” sees just about nothing happening whilst the study group reflects on some previously unseen events from the past year that have led them to where they are today.
We begin with the group making a diorama about making a diorama for their Anthropology class when Troy’s monkey from the season one episode “Contemporary American Poultry” appears and runs away into the ventilation shaft of the study room with a paint brush. This sparks the most unnecessary and random scene that Community has ever aired when Chang enters, dressed only in a Speedo, and chases the monkey into the vent after lubricating himself. Searching the vent, Chang then discovers the horde of items that “Annie’s Boobs” has been collecting over the year and brings them out for the rest of the group to see, leading to a series of “remember when?” moments that constitute most of the episode. As I’m sure any regular viewer of Community would agree, at this point the show had already began its downward spiral, as more often than not the cold open delivers some of the strongest humor that any given episode has to offer. Whilst the sight of Ken Jeong in barely any clothing is something that is possibly desired by few, the masses are unlikely to have been brought to tears in laughter by an out of shape Chinese man crawling into a small hole in the wall.
As aforementioned, the remainder of the episode is essentially the group discussing memories of various events that have occurred throughout this academic year at Greendale. In amongst the various flashbacks we see that the group visited a ghost town before being chased out by a racist prospector with a shotgun; we get the only real humor from the episode when we see the group fill in for the college glee club by singing only the word "sing," and we get to see a human perspective of “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” in which the entire cast was clay-mated. For an episode that otherwise contributed nothing to the overall narrative of Community as a show, this was one of the only beats that I really could get on board with. Seeing the reality take on an episode that we, as the viewer, saw purely as stop-motion animation, was a fairly interesting move, but one that will only have really carried across to those that were familiar with the episode in question.
As the reminiscing brings most of the group to the conclusion that this year at Greendale has been a fairly dark one, Jeff, looking for the positives in the situations, asks Abed if he has any good memories. This brings about the only real plot development point of the episode: the revelation that Jeff and Britta had been hooking up in secret. The group, shocked by the discovery, then proceed to blame Jeff and Britta for the bad year that they have all been having, leading to another series of completely unconnected past events ranging from a mockery of the short lived NBC series The Cape to a scene in which Pierce has a bad reaction to overdosing on flu vaccine.
When it comes down to it, “Paradigms of Human Memory” was just about as bad as Community has ever been. Delivering no memorable humor or character development, and adding nothing to the show at all, the episode served only to fill a half hour of air time. Whether the writers have simply begun to run out of steam towards the end of the season or were intentionally writing a somewhat useless flashback-heavy episode remains to be seen, but I really do hope that this filler episode isn’t a reflection of the rest of the end of the season, or the new season to come. The creative team behind this series has shown on multiple occasions that they are capable of humor that is as intelligent as that delivered in Arrested Development and as funny as anything else in recent memory. Every show is entitled to bad episodes now and then, but fans of Community will have to endure the next few weeks to see if this show has lost its edge heading towards the end of the season, or just hit a one time slump. (It is worth noting that even a bad episode of Community is still a lot better than just about everything else on NBC!)