A review of tonight's "Community" coming up just as soon as I catch up on "Breaking Bad"...

When we first see the study group in "Competitive Ecology," they are a blissful unit, a well-oiled machine who know when to laugh, when to coo, when to set up each other's jokes (it's at least somewhat implied that Annie knew who Nick Nolte was but was asking for the group's benefit) and couldn't be happier to be in each other's company. And they end the episode in mostly the same mode, again bonding and joking and getting along fabulously.

In the middle, though? The study group kinda sucks. A lot.

Some of that is the intrusion of poor, decent, noble, Iraq veteran Todd, as the body that is the study group reacts poorly to a foreign invader. As eventually happens with any show in a school setting(*), every student who isn't a main character (or an amusing, usually one-note recurring player like Magnitude) becomes completely irrelevant to their existence. As far as the study group is concerned, there are no other students who matter at Greendale, which fits the mold of the show but also makes them seem like massive jerks from an outsider perspective.

(*) Or on most workplace shows; "NewsRadio" initially pretended to pay attention to the WNYX employees who weren't cast regulars, but very quickly turned that small group's disinterest in everyone else there into a running meta gag.

But some of it is that, as we've been reminded over and over, the study group is not this perfect organism that runs on love and running gags about Troy and Abed's bromance and Annie's naivete. These are people who for the most part have very little in common, who aside from the quirk of fate that was Jeff's lie to seduce Britta (and then Abed's random distribution of invitations) would likely have never become friends, and who have two years of history, fights, grudges, jealousy and plain old getting on each other's nerves. It doesn't take much to set them off - one week, it may be a missing pen, another a poor bastard named Todd who dares to want to work with any of them - but they can, and have, and will continue to turn on each other when the circumstances go bad.

And so even though "Competitive Ecology" wasn't one of those high-concept episodes (a different) Todd and I discussed at length last week - it bore a lot of resemblance to last year's similarly-titled "Cooperative Calligraphy," but didn't call as much attention to its bottle show-iness - it was definitely the most satisfying, cohesive episode of the three to air so far in season 3.

And with the Chang hard-boiled gumshoe subplot, it was also extremely funny. What I liked about that story was that even as it showed Ben Chang, once again, to be completely insane, his behavior and the leaps he was making weren't that far off of a lot of the detective stories and films it was spoofing. "The Big Lebowski" is itself a stoner spoof of Raymond Chandler novels, but the actual Marlowe stories aren't any less convoluted than what the Dude and Walter were up to. So no, none of Chang's deductive leaps made any sense, but within the context of the genre, why the hell not?

What did everybody else think?