17 April 2013

Thoughts on Community Season 4, Episodes 5-9

Community Season 4 Cast Photo via Hulu

After the first third of Community's 13-episode fourth season aired back in February, I shared my thoughts on how the season has been progressing since the firing of creator and head writer Dan Harmon. We're now a little over two-thirds into the season, or at the end of the "second act" if we divide this season into a three-act structure, so I thought I'd share my feelings on the middle portion of Season 4.

The fifth episode of season four, Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations, was one of my least favorite episodes so far. I know that a lot of fans were moved by Jeff's revelation that he once deliberately harmed himself as a child, but it felt out of character to me and seemed a little emotionally manipulative on the writers' part. Watching an episode of Community usually leaves me feeling happy and optimistic, but this particular installment just depressed me. Community's emotional stories used to be heartfelt without being heartbreaking, and that's something I'd like to see the show get back to.

Advanced Documentary Filmmaking is the third documentary-style episode that the show has done, and focuses on an ongoing arc about the former Spanish teacher/student/security officer/usurper of Greendale Ben Chang and his "Changnesia." Chang has definitely gotten crazier as the seasons have progressed, and this episode indicates that the writers aren't pulling back from that. Personally, I liked the character best as the self-dubbed "El Tigre Chino" of season 1, who was seriously odd but not constantly plotting nefarious schemes to get into the study group or take down Greendale or whatever it was he was doing on that cellphone at the end of this episode.

Economics of Marine Biology was something of a return to Community's first season, where episodes focused primarily on the community college experience. Here, most of the study group helps the Dean recruit a wealthy, party-loving student to attend Greendale, Troy and Shirley take a class on how to be gym teachers, and Abed forms a fraternity called the Delta Cubes. I really enjoyed the focus on Greendale and the fact that the storylines had relatively realistic premises. It was slightly over-packed, a recurring problem for episodes this season, but other than that pretty good.

Herstory of Dance also focused on Greendale, specifically on the dances the Dean so loves to organize. The episode wasn't bad, but a couple of things bugged me. For one, I'm not a fan of the Jeff/Britta romantic pairing, so the hints that this aspect of their relationship could be revived got on my nerves. I'm also on the fence about Abed's new love interest--I liked the character, but I'm not sure if I like her with Abed. Their budding romance seems a little artificial to me right now, but I'll wait and see how it plays out before making a final judgment.

Finally, Intro to Felt Surrogacy, the much-hyped puppet episode, disappointed me on many levels. Community has used alternative media very effectively before, such as in the stop-motion animated "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas." When I heard that they were going to do puppets I thought that it would have a Muppet vibe, and to a certain extent that was true--the balloon and the campfire seemed to reference elements of The Muppet Movie. But overall the episode was such a hodgepodge of things that I couldn't get a clear impression of what it was parodying or paying homage to. "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" worked so well because the format made sense in context, the plot was clever, and it picked up on a myriad of tiny details that make stop-motion Christmas specials feel the way they do. The puppet therapy frame story made sense in "Intro to Felt Surrogacy," but the plot was kind of lame and the episode overall lacked the attention to detail that normally makes Community's special episodes so great. 

I ended my review of the beginning section of Community's fourth season feeling optimistic, but I admit that I'm getting a little frustrated and disappointed with the show now that the middle section of this season has aired. I'm going into the final four episodes with trepidation--please, Community, prove me wrong and finish this season with a bang!

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