Community: History 101

"Abed's Happy Community College Show is filmed before a live audience inside of my head."

Finally, the long, dark winter has come to an end. October 19th is here and summer has come at last. But is it the true summer we have prayed for, or the false summer we've been dreading? Right now, I'd say it is too early to tell.

It is really hard to judge from just one episode what this season is going to be like. Even when Dan Harmon was in charge, Community season openers were never really that great. The difference between this episode and those is that they never had anything to prove. Previous season openers tended to be more low key affairs (or as low key as this show gets) that focused more on the characters. Just look at the opener for season three. Take away the musical number and the 2001 parodies, and it is essentially a character piece for Jeff.

But this episodes does have something to prove. We have some new writers in charge this season and they have a lot of hard work ahead of then. First of all, they have to appease an angry fandom that is living in fear that Community just won't be Community without its creator around, that without Dan Harmon to guide the ship, the series will crash on the rocks of studio interference, leaving the crew stranded on the island of mediocrity.

'History 101' was not one of Community's finest half-hours. Nor was it one of its worst. If I had to stick a pin on what it was about this episode that didn't work for me, I'd say it was obvious that the new showrunners were trying a little too hard to reassure us that everything would be business as usual at Greendale Community College. One of the things Community is most famous for is its exceptional, high concept parodies, and that is kinda what the new bosses tried to give us. Alas, they Britta'd it. In theory a Hunger Games parody sounds like a good idea. But as a target for mockery it is a little too obvious. Guys, this is Community, not Saturday Night Live. I could've let that slide if it had actually been funny, but it fell completely flat, even if it did give us the sight of Jeff tangoing with the Dean.

The threat of cancellation spectre of graduation hung over this episode. This is the gang's last year at Greendale and they all reacted to it in different ways. With the finishing line finally within sight, Jeff decided now was not the time to be slacking off. He took some online classes and is now one history credit away from being a lawyer again. Normally Annie, and the others, would be proud of him, but instead she is angry because he kept all this from them. They saw this as Jeff being selfish, I saw it as Jeff Winger finally showing some initiative for once. If he'd been like this from the start, he'd have graduated ages ago.



While Jeff was fighting tooth and nail for his future, Abed was running away from it in a familiar way. Taking Britta's very bad advice, he retreated into a safe fantasy so he didn't have to deal with reality. This was the new showrunners' way of addressing all the fears about what type of show Community would become under their leadership. Abed's Happy Community College Show is the show we all feared Community would become this season; a lousy traditional sitcom with a laughter track, lame jokes and Fred Willard as Pierce (actually that was definite improvement) and contrived scenarios to ensure nothing ever changed.

These interludes into Abed's happy place were fun but not hilarious. The joke ran itself out very quickly. Then it made a fantastic comeback by going extra meta by having Sitcom Abed go to his happy place. So we had a character in the show imagining himself as a character in a TV show imagining himself as a character in an animated TV show. And not just any animated TV show but Greendale Babies, a note perfect parody of Muppet Babies that warmed my heart and made me all nostalgic. Maybe there is hope for the new showrunners yet.

Notes and Quotes

--The side plots with the rest of the group felt undercooked. There were a few good laughs, but they didn't really go anywhere. And the less said about what was going on with Pierce the better.

--With her time at Greendale coming to an end, Annie is starting to question whether or not she's really wants to be a hospital administrator. Abed suggested she take forensics, probably so they can do a CSI parody latter this season.

--Just when you think it is gone for good, it returned at the end, naked and claiming it had...no, I don't want to even say it. Will no one rid us of this meddlesome character?

--Troy and Britta are now officially a couple. It is not clear how far they are into this relationship. They are clearly at the holding hands in public stage.

--I loved the little pop-up ads in Abed's mind. I missed them at first because I've conditioned myself to annoying pop-up ads.

--Annie is worse at pranks than Britta. And yet her's actually seem to work.

--Dean Pelton has always walked that fine line between loveable weirdo and creepy stalker. Now he seems to have crossed it. I don't like where that is going. Although, it is a good way of keeping the Dean around if they ever do decide to show life after Greendale.

--Baby Britta was smashing a toy police car. Love it.

--Much to everyone's surprise, this episode performed very well in the ratings. If those numbers hold up, and NBC's new comedies continue to tank, season five may just be a possibility.

Britta: "I can believe there is a class called History of Ice Cream."
--Did she just forget what school she goes to?

Jeff: "Like an ice cream cone melting in the sun, our time here can't last forever. That was part of the speech I was writing!"

Britta: "Here's the deal, Jessical Biel."

Troy: "Trying out the hipster look. It's cool, but...also not."

Annie: "I've decided I'm going to do Senioritis this year. You know, just hangin' out, blowin' off classes, playin' pranks, not sayin' my G's."

Leonard: "When they were Incepting I got their balls."

A flawed start to the new season, but I still have hope the show can be great again without Dan Harmon. Two out of four Hipster glasses.
---
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.

9 comments:

celticmarc said...

The first post-Harmon Community. Mixed feelings. Great review Mark. I guess you didn't have an easy time.

Totally with you on that : too early to say for the upcoming season. And I bet that we won't find any polar bears "on the island of mediocrity." (sorry, I'm obsessed with these furry creatures)

LOL at the usual Chang hatred. Quoting you : "season five may just be a possibility." Oh dear God ! And then the sixth and the movie ????? Oh, so skeptical here LOL.

Yup, Harmon gone, big shoes to fill.....

sunbunny said...

I liked Abed's Happy Community College Show and I'm oh so grateful it wasn't a full episode. The little interludes were just enough.

I miss Muppet Babies.

You are totally right that the new writers were trying to prove something and took it a little too far. But it was NOT the disaster it might have been, so I shall remain hopeful.

celticmarc said...

With you sunbunny,

Hope anytime, hope always.

(And faithfulness, 'cos I'm a Libra and I stayed with a few shows even though they started to drop in quality.)

ChrisB said...

Great review, Mark. I was thinking exactly the same thing while the show was running -- they're trying too hard. But, I think it was overall a success, although not a huge one. Am interested in seeing where they go from here.

Kathy said...

That's awesome that everyone was thinking that the show was trying too hard, because that was mine as well. My immediate reaction was that they were trying so hard to prove that Community is quirky that the new showrunners forgot to bring very much funny. There were moments that I loved (I now really wish that Fred Willard had been cast as Pierce!), and I badly want a DVD of the Muppet Babies and curse the powers that be because those don't exist.

But, I'm not going to quit Community. Still my favorite show currently airing.

Kat

Juliette said...

Agreed that they were trying to hard and the Hunger Games thing didn't really work. I also found the Dean moving in next to Jeff too creepy - and very standard sitcom-y. Community (like my current favourite show, New Girl) usually takes a sitcom staple and twists it, but this looks very meh. Still, I thought season 3 was going a bit far away from reality too, so I don't know that it's a complete disaster, just a slippery slope the show has been on for a while.

celticmarc said...

Juliette

You might enjoy Suburgatory. Love the slightly surreal and sarcastic tone of the show. Less incisive than Arrested Development, but some interesting moments.

Juliette said...

I love Suburgatory, especially anything involving the Shays, Malik or Dahlia!

Ben said...

Every review I've read, one of the big problems is that they "didn't land the Hunger Games parody". Maybe it's just me, but that complaint seems off base, because there was no Hunger Games parody in this episode at all. It was a name-drop that really just came up once, a fairly in character joke for the Dean, who of course would like a young adult novel generally associated with teenage girls, and put "Dean" into the title. The actual competition bore no real relation to the Hunger Games, nor did it seem to be trying to. It was just a bunch of wacky challenges. Certainly not aiming at the easy target of the Hunger Games particularly hard.

I mean, maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me people heard "the Hunger Deans" and immediately assumed they were going for some kind of high-end parody when it was just a one-off gag. And then of course it was a disappointing parody--you were waiting for what wasn't there, and it didn't happen. I suppose then the complaint could be that they -should- have shot for something a little higher than "just a bunch of wacky challenges", but that's a different complaint than the parody not landing, and it's not one most people seem to be making.