COMMUNITY 3.21 ‘The First Chang Dynasty’

"First Chang kidnaps the Dean and now he throws himself a birthday party? It's just like Stalin back in Russia times!"

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

Episode Title: "The First Chang Dynasty"

Writers: Matt Fusfeld & Alex Cuthbertson

Director: Jay Chandrasekhar

For the second of last night's three episodes of "Community," we returned to the mini story arc of Chang's (Ken Jeong) rise to power at Greendale by replacing Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) with a bad Moby impersonator. Even the Greendale 7 have taken to calling the fake Dean a "Deanolganger," despite the ridiculousness of the entire situation.

And when Officer Cackowski (Craig Cackowski) doesn't believe their story, the former study group has no recourse but to save the Dean themselves. And you know what that means… heist movie parody!

While Chang plans an elaborate "25th birthday" for himself, Troy (Donald Glover) reaches out to a contact at Greendale's Air Conditioning Annex, who is willing to help free the Dean if Troy finally gives in and enrolls at the Annex. Naturally, the group won't let Troy sacrifice himself for the Dean, so the plan unfolds with Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) disguised as a cook with Annie (Alison Brie) hidden inside of a giant birthday cake while Troy and Abed (Danny Pudi) do their best plumber impersonations with hilariously fake mustaches.

Which leaves Jeff (Joel McHale) to go undercover as “rock 'n' roll magician” Ricky Nightshade with Britta (Gillian Jacobs) as his sexy Goth assistant. Jeff's Ricky Nightshade persona was one of the funniest parts of the episode and his entire act seems to be based on making his volunteer (Chang) so dizzy that he can't even remember which card he picked from the deck.

Chang's Napoleon complex was brilliantly realized by putting him in a Napoleon costume for most of the episode. Some of the Chang propaganda was pretty inspired too. It seems that under his reign, Greendale has become like North Korea with fake newscasts boasting about the school's successes under his leadership; while in reality he's running it into the ground.

If you've seen any heist movie than you know how the story goes: the plan gets exposed and then seems to fail, only for it to be revealed that the plan failing was part of the plan all along. That's where Pierce (Chevy Chase) comes in with his hilariously stupid Swami act.

Keeping the Dean's infatuation with Jeff alive, he's happy to rescued but disappointed that it was only Britta who released him. Meanwhile, Troy and Abed set up the fake Dean in the restroom by making him believe that he's been doused in plumber's acid.

Naturally, everything appears to be going well… until it's not. Chang and his child army of security officers capture everyone and lock them up with the school records; which are set to be blown up during Chang's awesome keyboard solo. And the only way out is for Troy to silently nod to the security camera and accept his fate at the AC Annex. Chang is foiled and the Doppel-Deaner is exposed when the Greendale board comes across the Dean and the fake Dean slap-fighting in the hallway.

Things get back to a mostly status quo as the real Dean offers to cover up the kidnapping for the sake of  Greendale and the study group is readmitted to the school. The Dean even faints during one of the few times that Jeff has ever willingly touched him. But Troy's fate is sealed and he solemnly says goodbye to his friends before being welcomed to the AC Annex by the Evil Vice Dean Laybourne (John Goodman).

In some ways, "The First Chang Dynasty" suffered from airing on the same night as the previous episode, "Digital Estate Planning." This was a perfectly serviceable episode of "Community," but it definitely felt inferior to the episode that preceded it. Some of the heist humor was a little too predictable and by the numbers. It was still fun, but the writers of this show can do so much better.

I deliberately held back on seeing the next episode, "Introduction to Finality" before writing this review so I could judge "The First Chang Dynasty" on its own merits. And while the Chang storyline was enjoyable, it's hard to picture how the writers will be able to get him back on Greendale in any way that even remotely makes sense. It just feels like they've finally written Chang into a corner that he can't come back from.

On the other hand, Troy's farewell to the study group was well staged, even if there's no way that will stick into the next season. It just hit the right emotional beats to at least let us sympathize with his sacrifice. Now then, on to the finale!