01 March 2013

Thoughts on Community Season 4, Episodes 1-4

Community Season 4 Cast Photo via Hulu

I'm a huge fan of the show Community, even though it's not a show that's particularly easy to be a fan of. It gets a lot of critical praise but doesn't get great ratings, and for the latter reason it's been put on two lengthy hiatuses and is in constant danger of being cancelled. Community also suffered a major shakeup of its behind-the-scenes staff after its third season, as creator and head writer Dan Harmon was replaced by new showrunners David Guarascio and Moses Port.

Since Community returned for its fourth season February 7, fans and critics have been quick to voice their opinions on whether or not the show has retained its spark. I decided to wait until a few episodes into the new season before making my own judgment, as Community typically gains momentum as each season progresses. Now, approximately one-third of the way through this season's 13 episodes, I feel like enough episodes have aired for me to get a sense of what this season is like.
Admittedly, season 4 got off to a bit of a rocky start. The premiere, "History 101" tried to pack too many stories into too short a space, as writer Andy Bobrow admitted. The main plot was a Hunger Games homage of sorts, but unlike Community's previous homage episodes this one didn't encompass all of the main characters. Because of this, only about 1/4 of the show's 21 minutes could be devoted to the plot, giving it no room to really develop. I also felt that this episode had a lower joke rate than is standard for Community, which normally sets a pretty fast pace with its humor.

"Paranormal Parentage", a Halloween episode that aired on Valentine's Day due to the aforementioned hiatus, was an improvement. There were more jokes, and most of them were pretty funny, although I thought that Jeff and Annie's costume mix-up didn't pass the fridge logic test. I also think that it was Community's weakest Halloween episode, especially compared to standouts like "Epidemiology" and "Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps."

"Conventions of Space and Time" was where I really began to have hope for this season. Not only was this the best episode of season 4 so far, it's actually one of my favorite episodes that the show has ever done. Critical reviews were tepid to negative, but I honestly can't see why. It was full of very clever Doctor Who references, featured a great commentary not only on the Americanization of British shows but also the value of shows like Community in a schedule full of dumbed-down programs, and featured the kind of rapid-fire wit that the series is known for. As a fan of the Jeff and Annie pairing, I appreciated the real development we got to see in their relationship. Matt Lucas was also terrific guest-starring as Inspector Spacetime superfan Toby.

The fourth episode of the season, "Alternative History of the German Invasion", serves as this season's introduction to the study group's mutual class. This one was more of a mixed bag for me than any other episode, as it had some things I really liked and some things I really disliked. I loved Malcolm McDowell as the ex-Oxford professor teaching European History, and I enjoyed seeing the group fix up Greendale's terrible study rooms after they were forced out of their usual spot. On the negative side, I'm really not sure about this whole Changnesia arc and I could have done without some of the more ridiculous sight gags like Pierce getting electrocuted and some of the Oktoberfest shenanigans.

Overall, I'm optimistic about this season. Some of the spoilers that have come in from the actors and the writers in the past couple of days have been getting me down, but I'm trying to wait and judge each episode as it airs rather than worry about possible interpretations of vague comments. Although this first "act" has been uneven, the good parts are good enough to keep me tuning in for now.

I'll probably write up a similar post about Community after the eight or ninth episode airs, and then again after the finale, so check back if you're interested in more of my thoughts on the show!

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