Community's third season is wrapping up on a rather apocalyptic arc: Señor Chang (Ken Jeong), former Spanish teacher and now head of security, has engineered a coup, installing himself as the despotic head of Greendale Community College, with an army of junior-high-age minions to do his bidding. He has replaced the spectacularly quirky dean (Jim Rash) with a doppleganger and, to eliminate any challenge to his hegemony, has expelled the study group. "Curriculum Unavailable" begins two months after their expulsion: Abed (Danny Pudi) has been picked up by the police for dumpster-diving (for evidence) at Greendale, and has been compelled to visit a shrink. Being a sitcom, all seven study group members attend the therapy session, with John Hodgman guest-starring as the psychiatrist.
|The Study Group, in Greendale Asylum,|
imagining themselves as community college students.
This idea-- that the premise of an entire fictitious universe may be the construct of a character in the same universe-- has been trotted out over and over again, especially in movies: Shutter Island, Inception, Total Recall, etc.
Easy to do in a movie-- but not so much in TV: that's because commercial TV series, due to the needs of breaking up story flow for advertising breaks, are dominated by structure and precedent and genre. A sitcom, for example, has a very specific structure: one-camera, three-camera, serial or episodic, every comedy consists of unique elements built upon a solid framework of familiarity. If the "acts" (the spaces between commercials) don't end on satisfying climaxes, the viewer will change the channel: this requires even more structure. It all results in a strange interpretation of reality, where for the sake of storytelling everything revolves around the leads, there are four important revelations per episode, and everything returns to status quo by the tag.
So when an "all this is a dream" idea is put into a TV series, the novelty of it and the structural requirements of serial TV grind against each other, and things get really memorable (and from this point on it's non-stop ••• spoilers••• if you ain't watched too much TV):
|Jack, in his final moments.|
|They even got the bedspread right.|
• Let's not forget the season 8 cliffhanger of "Dallas" in 1986, where Bobby Ewing turns up in a shower and the entire preceding season was revealed to be the dream of another character. But this was not an organic part of the show: rather, a way to paper over some cast changes. The general reaction was either annoyance or amazement at the show's audacity.
|Buffy Summers, awake and "lucid" and wanting|
nothing more than being able to leave Sunnydale.
|The perfectly cast John Hodgman.|
Which is how we like it.