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Community: First Rule of Fincher Club

by Ethan Alter January 10, 2014 10:39 am
<i>Community</i>: First Rule of Fincher Club

Last week's double-episode bonanza brought Dan Harmon back to Community. This week brought back a less-heralded element of his original run: the occasional Dan Harmon misfire. Those were the episodes where Harmon's prodigious comic brain overthought itself, resulting in half-hours that were often immaculately constructed, but so weirdly insular that they stifled viewer laughter. It's no accident that several of those misfires -- like last night's installment, "Basic Intergluteal Numismatics" -- were carefully recreated lampoons of specific movie and/or TV genres, an area where Harmon can either excel ("Contemporary American Poultry" and "Basic Lupine Urology") or fall flat ("Pillows and Blankets" and "Documentary Filmmaking: Redux," although I liked both of those episodes more than most folks did).

In the case of "Numismatics," the specific things being lampooned are David Fincher movies, particularly the director's artsy thrillers Seven (what with the non-stop rain falling outside of Greendale) and Zodiac (what with the running theme of obsession). Fortunately, rather than serial killers, the Greendale student body only has to contend with the Ass Crack Bandit, a fiend who drops quarters into the gaping space between a person's butt and their pants. Catching the guy (or girl) becomes the chief goal of Annie and, to a lesser extent, Jeff, who re-team for one of their not-so-platonic missions where, even when they're squabbling, they always seem two minutes away from making out.

I'll give Harmon a lot of credit: he absolutely nails the look and feel of a Fincher feature, from the chilly cinematography to the grimy production design (I don't think Greendale has ever looked this dilapidated and ugly) to the moody, techno-tinged soundtrack (provided by Ben Folds). But by chasing after such a scene-specific parody, Harmon also -- either accidentally or on purpose -- fell ass-backwards into one of the aspects of Fincher's filmography that doesn't benefit his own sensibility: its humorlessness. With the exception of Fight Club and maybe The Social Network (where he was aided by Aaron Sorkin's typically witty, if at times smugly so, script), Fincher's work leaves little to no room for comic beats and while Harmon tried to honor that by employing mostly deadpan humor, it was hard to escape the feeling that the cast's natural boisterousness was being stifled by the creator's efforts at homage. (Further bringing down the mood was the abrupt off-screen death of Pierce, a bit of business that will prove more rewarding -- comically and emotionally -- on next week's episode.) I think Harmon succeeded in what he set out to do; I'm just not sure it was worth doing. To honor Community's Fincher obsession, here are the characters' Fincher doppelgängers as well as their funniest lines.

Jeff
Fincher Doppelgänger: Tyler Durden (Fight Club)
He's got the hair, the abs and the "Screw authority" attitude. On the other hand, considering he can barely get the study group to follow his lead, he probably shouldn't be but in charge of a crew of thuggish Space Monkeys.
Funniest Line: "Oh, excuse me for being alive in the '90s and having two ears connected to a heart."

Annie
Fincher Doppelgänger: Robert Graysmith (Zodiac)
Much like Graysmith -- who was a political cartoonist before the hunt for the Zodiac Killer consumed his life -- Annie doesn't know when to let go of an investigation, attacking the case with an intensity that borders on scary. Also, Alison Brie and Jake Gyllenhaal could and should play brother and sister in a movie.
Funniest Line: "Taking it easy is how Troy ended up with a quarter of a buck in his crack."

Abed
Fincher Doppelgänger: Mark Zuckerberg (The Social Network)
If only Abed thought to channel his anti-social tendencies into a social networking website, he too could be a reclusive gazillionarie.
Funniest Line: "I see a man… using a social disorder as a procedural device. Wait, I see another man. Mildly autistic super-detectives everywhere. Basic cable, broadcast networks. Pain. Painful writing. Hurts.

Britta
Fincher Doppelgänger: Lisbeth Salander (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
Sure, she may not possess Lisbeth's hacking skills (or, in fact, any aptitude for technology) and copious body art, but she's got the same profound distrust of the male-dominated world and probably could devise a killer revenge plan if given the opportunity.
Funniest Line: "We know that he hates money, or loves it, or doesn't care about money and hates butts, or loves them."

Troy
Fincher Doppelgänger: Tracy Mills (Seven)
The poor, innocent victim who becomes fodder for the psycho so that he can prove a point to the investigators on his tail. Thank goodness that Troy only gets a quarter down his pants instead of his head in a box.
Funniest Line: "What'd Annie get us for dinner? I hope it's not salad again."

Shirley
Fincher Doppelgänger: Meg Altman (Panic Room)
Shirley's got her shortcomings, but being a loving, protective mother isn't one of them. We're assuming that she already locks her kids in a panic room anyway, in order to keep the secular world from creeping in.
Funniest Line: "He should be called the 'Run-On Sentence Bandit.'"

Dean Pelton
Fincher Doppelgänger: John Doe (Seven)
He's already rocking Spacey's cueball look and you just know that he's got a secret room in his apartment with mash notes to Jeff scribbled in countless notebooks and all over the walls.
Funniest Line: "If you want to make trouble, go to Parker Brothers. You're out."

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