Initial Thoughts: Community Season 4; One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

dmncap00015Community is one of those shows that aired right around the time I was starting to give up on modern sitcoms. In an era where the laugh-track has overstayed its welcome, it felt as if sitcoms were settling for a safe middleground, treading on jokes and character archetypes that have been repeated time after time without giving any kind of unique spin, or at the least any sign of aiming for more than what the genre has become known for. Enter Community—a show that has essentially reached popularity by capitalizing on and mainstreaming the whole concept of “meta.” From the get-go, Community’s ragtag cast of characters were not only sitcom-status quirky, but were created with a certain amount of talent and grace that not only set them into an archetype (be it “jock,” “over-achiever,” etc.) but simultaneously broke said archetype, showing that their characters (and sitcom characters in general, really) can and should be developed to the point that they cannot be described with mere trope terminology.

And for the first three seasons of the series, that’s how things were.

When it was announced that Dan Harmon, creator and executive producer to the series, wouldn’t be returning as showrunner for the show’s fourth season, Community fans were more than a bit worried, fully aware that Harmon was the source for what made the show, well… the show. Regardless, the series marched forward, with anxious fans awaiting the show’s return on “October 19.”

Season four started off innocently enough. The first episode of the season tipped their hats to the fans that feared the show losing its soul post-Harmon, with a running gag of switching to an alternate reality where the show was filled with cheesy one-liners, canned laughter, and a lack of Chevy Chase. It was a good first effort and showed the series was fully aware of what its fans are afraid of the show becoming, and from that standpoint was pretty admirable. Similar things can be said for the following episode, which not only maintained the overall feel of each cast member, but also planted hints of further development in later episodes, which is rarely done for characters of any sitcom.

It’s the third episode of this season that started giving me doubts on the show’s direction.

The general premise of the episode revolves around the Community gang attending “InspectiCon,” a convention based on the show Inspector Spacetime (which in turn is based on the real world TV show Dr. Who). The episode itself didn’t suffer from the premise, which I feel could have been solid. Rather, the problem comes in its execution. While the episode focuses on the characters being at this convention, there was little to no payoff for the characters actually being in said setting rather than in their standard study room at Greendale. In past episodes, when there would be a change of setting, it always felt like an event. Whether it be a paintball war zone, a blanket fort chase scene, or videogame sprites, Community always went the extra mile when it came to establishing a set that went above and beyond the expectations of a weekly television series and in turn resulted in a script that was dense with humor that built off the energy the sets created (You’d think a convention setting would result in heaps of humor relevant to that subculture). Not so much with this episode.

But of course, sets are only secondary to story and cast performance, which can more than make up for a lackluster setting. Yeah, about that…

Another aspect of Community that really sets it apart from other sitcoms is its subtle approach at character development. While the series can be watched from an episodic standpoint, there does exist a progression in character for each member in the cast. Most notable is the friendship progression between characters Troy and Abed, whose bromance started off as childishly simplistic, but by the end of season three began to develop a layer of complexity, as addressed in the “Pillows and Blankets” episode.

dmncap00016Season four, however, seems to forget said conflict ever happened in favor of introducing another in Troy dating other main character Britta. Again, while the idea had promise, it ultimately suffered from poor execution. Britta coming between Troy and Abed only results in re-establishing the duo as an unbreakable bromance, which it has already proven not to be. And in terms of Britta’s character, she seems to have digressed from a lovably obnoxious contrarian with nothing better to do to just another obstacle established for the sake of plot. Other cast members don’t seem to fare so well this episode either, with characters like Annie obsessively pining over Jeff, even though it has been established that the two work best as friends, and the older characters Pierce and Shirley being set off to the side for the sake of a gag meant to poke fun at American show adaptations only to fall flat upon final delivery.

The third episode of season four Community just felt like an odd alternate reality of sorts, where the densely packed humor and quirky character interactions were done away with. Perhaps I gave the benefit of the doubt with the previous two episodes, but this time around, the faults were too prominent to overlook. Hopefully this episode was just a hiccup in the adjustment period for the now Harmon-less show writers.

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About daemoncorps
Gabe (daemoncorps) has been writing about anime and the like since 2005, but has been babysat by it for much longer. He primarily spends his days distracting himself on twitter or writing for Fandom Post until he realizes he has a weekly webcomic (tapastic.com/series/scramblebouquet) to work on. He also just finished writing his first full-length graphic novel about unemployment (https://tapastic.com/episode/293804).

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