Friday, February 8, 2013

COMMUNITY: "History 101" S4E1 (review)

By Ellen Waddell
Last night the fourth season of Community, loved by critics and geeks but not the general populous, arrived under an umbrella of controversy, leaked emails and without its original show runner Dan Harmon.  

Community is, for the lack of a better term, a cult show.

We can call it that because despite consistently low ratings and public spats between cast and crew it inspires hard-core dedication from fans (#sixseasonsandamovie, etc) which leads to it getting renewed.

Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alison Brie, Donald Glover, Jim Rash, Ken Jeong, Chevy Chase

If you missed the soap opera that has been the Community set over the last three seasons, then let me catch you up to speed;

Rumbles began to surface about Chevy Chase, who plays the unlikeable Pierce Hawthorne, and Harmon butting heads over his character. Chase didn’t get “it”. And by “it,” I mean the show. 
It all came to a head when Chase went home instead of shooting a pivotal scene in the third season, angering Harmon who gave a “fuck you” speech at the wrap party to Chase in front of his wife and kids. This lead to a sweary retaliation voicemail from Chase, which was then leaked onto the internet. Possibly by Harmon.
Then Harmon was fired with the head of NBC Bob Greenblatt commenting it was all in aid of “freshening the show,” however he would still be involved somehow. However Harmon contradicted him with a post on his personal tumblr, claiming the option had never been offered to him
NBC then sent the Community cast a list of learned responses to questions from the media. This was meant to  calm the social media hell storm.
The Internet has been a child-like battleground for this television show, with fans baring witness to the inner workings of a dysfunctional studio set, and this first episode comes with a lot of baggage so it had to be spectacular. Anything else would seem like a let down.

And it was okay.

So its senior year at Greendale, and unable to cope with the idea of graduating borderline autistic Abed (Danny Pudi) retreats into a fantasy world of his own creation, borderline narcissistic Jeff (Joel McHale) attempts to win the Hunger Deans, (Hunger Games parody, obvs) and hot new couple Troy (Donald Glover) and Britta (Gillian Jacobs) hold hands. That is about it. 

Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alison Brie, Donald Glover, Jim Rash, Ken Jeong, Chevy Chase

The whole Abed's Dream World schtick has been done to death by Community. How many Dreamatorian interventions do we need to have? This concept seems like a tired, or lazy way to kick off the new season, causing the whole episode to feel like mid season filer. Although watching Jeff complete in a variety of Hunger Dean Games was enjoyable, especially when he and Dean Pelton perform the Tango, it only served to show how consistently excellent Jim Rash is at stealing scenes.

Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alison Brie, Donald Glover, Jim Rash, Ken Jeong, Chevy Chase

Other then that, not much of note happened, and there was a sincere speech by Jeff. Whilst the speech was only imagined by Abed, it was too soon in the season to be heard. They have to do some struggling and bonding, before we have Jeff do a appropriate "lawyer speech."  Even if it's only a imagined one.

Now the problem with public on set squabbles is the continuous search for subtext. Not only is Pierce barely present in his episode, but in Abed's fantasy world, or happy place, he is played by Fred Willard. Is this a sly nod to the audience that the crew aren't a fan of Chase either? Or did he just not film these scenes because he didn't think this section was that funny. 

Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alison Brie, Donald Glover, Jim Rash, Ken Jeong, Chevy Chase

Apparently NBC consistently asked Harmon to broaden the shows appeal, but without it’s quirky off centre humour and consistently imaginative story arcs then what kind of show would it be?

It certainly wouldn’t be up for a fourth series without the support of it’s cult fanbase, the fact people cared so much about the loss of Harmon is testimony to this. I can’t imagine anyone watching this episode is coming to it completely fresh, or without a backward knowledge of every single episode.

But strangely there is no broadening of appeal here, if anything there is a narrowing.

This episode is fine, but it is a whimper not a bang, which shows that on set shake ups should also result in show shake ups. There should be some surprises, changes or controversy in what we are seeing to liven up a show with excellent characters who could do many things and go many places, rather then repeating old ideas in uninteresting ways. I am not disappointed, but neither am I excited.

And that sucks.


  1. Between your review, Ellen, and the NY Times review (which was scathing) I almost didn't watch the fourth season opener, but I did, and I was also...


    I felt the way people must feel in films where a loved one comes back to life without their soul.

    Everything is there but the spark that truly makes a person who they are.

    The new, undead Community may be watchable, it may have some great characters doing occasionally funny things, but it might never be what it once was, the funniest show currently on TV.

  2. As someone who only just recently got into Community (as in I marathoned it over November of last year), I was excited to have a new episode. And maybe because I wasn't involved during the massive cult following... I was not disappointed. The Hunger Dean scenes were great and seeing Jeff with his shirt all ripped, well, I can't complain.
    The only issue is that the baby cartoons were creepy. And Troy/Britta is not a ship I can get behind. And why was Shirley getting involved in Annie's prank? UNANSWERED QUESTIONS.