Community was going to be in a lose-lose situation no matter which way you look at it.
On the one hand, it could try and be the same show we’ve all fallen in love with for the past three year (though, not really – more on that in a bit). If it would try to do that, it would undoubtedly receive flak for trying to ape a stylistic approach that simply cannot be duplicated without Dan Harmon’s unique and twisted mind. The alternative, then, is to try something radically different – at which point it would be criticised for not being “Community”. For the most part, new showrunners David Guarascio and Moses Port chose to go with the former approach. They have received the appropriate “unreplicate-able” flak, too. Not all of it, though, deserved.
Community fans are a difficult lot, you see. I’m not talking about the casual “catch an episode when its on” crowd, but rather the obsessive, goatee wearing, six-seasons-and-a-movie hashtagging lot. They (or, rather, we) love this show. Probably too much. It doesn’t help that the show is treated as the whipping boy of network sitcoms. In its three seasons it has gone on two undefined hiatuses and been threatened with cancellation after every single. It lost its showrunner and creator in a big, dramatic kerfuffle, and there’s been lots of buzz around the Harmon-Chase feud. The show’s fans love to feel victimized (and just read the headline of any article dealing with the show) by this constant mistreatment. This also leads to a lot of doom-and-gloom attitude towards it. People are all but certain that this season will be the last. This may or may not be true. I’m inclined to believe it will be the last, but I don’t share the sentiments of dark existential dread I’ve read online.
What I’m trying to get at is – the season premiere was good. I laughed. Which, when all is said and done, is the point. Sure, the episode didn’t crack the high echelon of the best Community has to offer (namely – “Remedial Chaos Theory” and “Modern Warfare”). That is not to say that it scraped the bottom of the Greendale barrel. Naturally, with new people taking over, an adjustment period is in order. The majority of the first season wasn’t anything like the show is now. For me, personally, it was only around “Contemporary American Poultry” that everything clicked. That’s only five episodes from the end of the season. There were a few good ones before that episode, but that one showed me just how good the show can get. Unfortunately – the fourth season doesn’t have that much time to get there. We’ve only got 12 more episodes to determine the fate of the show. All the talk of change and senior year and endings in the premiere seem to indicate the folks holding the pens are well aware of this fact. Hey, we already know the last episode is called “Introduction to Finality”. So why bother? Maybe the nay-sayers are right, and the show is doomed.
I say bother. Bother very much. If anything – it means we get 12 more episodes of Community to enjoy (or not, depending on how things shake out). It could very well be that with every episode the show becomes more and more a husk of its former self, throwing out random meta and pop-culture jokes just for the sake of making them. Much more likely, however, is 13 episodes on a varied scale of entertainment value. Some better, some worse – that’s what a TV season is. And to be perfectly honest – Community at its worst (first half of season 1 notwithstanding), is still leaps and bounds better than most of the current crop of sitcoms.
As for the episode at hand – like I mentioned before, I liked it. I do think it tried to cram a bit too much into it, and had it been more focused it could have used its elements to a greater effect. By my count we had Hunger Games, Inception, general 3-camera sitcom tropes, “turn the cast into baby” cartoon (Muppet Babies being the obvious nod) and a college-hijinks movie. That’s a bit much for a 20-minute episode. I feel the element that worked best is the 3-camera sitcom angle. It touched on all the classic tropes of the genre including my personal favorite – the random, unexplained, never-mentioned recast of a main character. The fact that the supposedly always cheery sitcom turned just as dark as the real world (a theme that Scrubs also played on) is just Community doing what it does best – teaching us to accept the darkness. The Hunger Games elements were the ones I feel like could have best been served for an episode dedicated to them. There’s a lot to play with here, and I feel the show could have done a lot more with it. As it stands, it was pretty much background element and it didn’t really land as well as it should have. The tango scene was golden (mostly thanks to Jim Rash), but didn’t really feel earned as it would have been after a whole episode more dedicated to Jeff’s lack of emotional commitment. The Annie-Shirley plot line is the one I believe hurts the episode the most. It mostly covers ground we’ve already covered in two way. First – the college antics plot was done way back in season 1, with Abed & Troy’s “college experience bucket list”. Secondly, Annie has issues letting go and being loose, we know. This didn’t really further anything on that count and the plot didn’t really resolve anywhere. It just sort of ended.
All said and done with, I look forward to this season. Hopefully, with experience and time, the show will hit its groove sooner rather than later. Sure, the harbingers have called for the show’s premature death. They have gazed upon the premiere and pointed their thumbs downwards. But I have faith. Or maybe I just like liking things.