The best episodes of "Community," despite their half-hour length, feel like fully formed universes. Less successful episodes tend to feel more like "Best Of" reels, rehashing the same self-referential jokes and character gags that recur throughout the rest of the show.
The first episode of season three, "Biology 101," unfortunately fell into the latter category, though with a few zany highlights that remind us why we love the show. After the end of season two left the group sans Pierce, the beginning of season three wrapped up that conflict, introduced a new adversary, and re-established that everyone in the study group is still their crazy old self.
Jeff is flying through the sky grinning manically. Then he's in the halls of Greendale, with Shirley, Britta, Abed, Annie, Troy, Chang and the Dean, singing and dancing to an after-school special sort of colorful fantasia. Shirley wears a low cut, floor length, sequin-covered gown. So does the Dean,
"We're gonna get more calm and normal," they sing. "We're gonna finally be fine."
This is all a dream. Jeff breaks from his reverie to find the group staring at him. Abed and Troy announce they have big news: They're going to live together (finally).
"We registered at Linens and Things," Troy tells them.
Dean Pelton arrives, not in drag or dressed as an animal, but even more disturbingly in a three piece mud-colored suit and a goatee. There's a monkey in the vents, he says, and they're going to get rid of it, because this is the year things change at Greendale.
This year, the group's taking Biology. Everyone wonders what Pierce is up to.
"We have parted ways with our closest, oldest, craziest, most racist, oldest elderly friend," Jeff says.
Pierce arrives, only to be informed by Jeff that Biology 202 is out of space, and he won't be able to be in the study group.
Meanwhile, Abed begins to emit a high-pitched noise -- "Cougartown" has been moved to midseason.
"Notcoolnotcoolnotcool," he says, rocking back and forth like the animatronic robot he becomes in these situations.
Biology class has started. Their professor is Dr. Marshall King, PhD (Michael K. Williams, from "The Wire") who earned his degree while serving a sentence of 25-to-life and watching a crack in his cell for years, before it sprouted a single blade of grass.
This lovely monologue is interrupted three times by Jeff's phone ringing, buzzing, and being turned off. King ejects him from the class. Guess who takes his place? Pierce.
"We've evolved, right, Jeff?" the group asks. But as he leaves, and his hand departs the magic table, it's clear that doom is in store.
Dean Pelton is still trying to get the monkey out of the vent, but he gets sidetracked when Vice-Dean Laybourne (John Goodman!), who runs the air conditioning repair school annex, enters. Dean Pelton tries to take him to task for buying an espresso machine, to which Laybourne responds:
"You bring your head down to my appendage tomorrow and I'll show you wazzup." The two have a cackle-off.
When Pelton goes down to the AC school, it turns out that it's the reason all of Greendale is afloat, providing 80 percent of the school's budget.
"You could have lived in ignorance and died a happy pansexual imp," Laybourne says.
Jeff, meanwhile, is having trouble staying away from the group, eavesdropping on their conversations about movie titles that sound like the name of poops and feeling generally resentful. He tries to reason with the professor, who tells him he'll have to give up his phone. But then he sees a photo of what he thinks is Pierce with the professor -- bingo. He runs into Chang in the hall, who throws a honey ham at him in the attempt to win the photo and the two scrabble through the vents. Then the vents are filled with monkey gas.
Jeff has another dream. He's in heaven's version of the study room (filled with white smoke), sitting at a table eating his phone with a fork and knife. Pierce is dying in a bed. Back in the study room, Abed is a vegetable and Troy continues to berate Britta for ruining everything. Then Abed's exposed to "Inspector Spacetime," and everything's okay.
Jeff screams, wakes, and emerges, covered in white powder, crazed. After making a Pierce-level racist comment about how all black people are not in prison, he takes up an axe and goes after the table. The group goes to tell Jeff -- clean, but still shell-shocked -- that he's gone insane. If he weren't already not in the group, he'd have to be kicked out, but instead, Annie says he's no longer her friend. Pierce admits to the group that he paid the professor $10,000 to kick Jeff out.
Jeff doesn't buy it and confronts Pierce about making the bribery up. Pierce tells Jeff that Jeff is way worse at being the bad guy than he is. And, "the table IS magic." Jeff gets back into Biology by sending the professor a cracked cell phone with some grass growing through it.
In the middle of Jeff's axe-happy session, Pelton walks by to tell them nothing will change at Greendale except that, "We really won't have any money this year." Later, he can't pay the security guards, except in class vouchers. Solution? Make Chang a security guard. As everyone says later, "So this is the year we all die."
Jeff gets in trouble for being a pompous, Blackberry-addicted asshole, Jeff delivers a meaningful speech, Britta and Troy squabble, Abed has a meta-lowbrow pop culture breakdown, Dean Pelton appears in drag, Chang is a lunatic: These are well-tread tropes on a show that takes huge pleasure in exploding well-tread tropes. The only thing that's notable here is that Pierce, instead of being the bad guy, steps in to protect Jeff -- a welcome change after last season, where Pierce was a force of unmitigated evil, without much reason. Despite the slightly anti-climactic feel of the episode, there are few shows as original on television. And we now have security guard Chang, maniacal Laybourne and wise-ex-con Dr. Black to look forward to -- and a whole lot more metajokes.