Community: Heroic Origins

“I call it the Crazy Quilt of Destiny, mostly because the Loom of Fate was already taken.”

Abed decides to delve into the group's origins as a graduation present, which backfires when they all turn out to be each other's Uncle Ben's murder.

Community season four is the televisual equivalent of the little girl who had a little curl. When it was bad, it was horrid – and unfortunately the bad both slightly outweighed the good and was really, really, really horrid. (In the interests of completism, I will be covering the season four finale, but – and I’m aware that I’m breaking the rules about talking about future episodes a bit here, but I think it’s worth mentioning since this is the last good episode of the season – after writing up the review I will return to pretending it never happened because it is utterly awful in every way). But when it was good, it was really pretty good, albeit with a slightly weird feeling around the edges sometimes. I have genuinely enjoyed ‘Paranormal Parentage,’ ‘Conventions of Space and Time’ (with reservations), ‘Herstory of Dance’ and ‘Basic Human Anatomy.’ And I really enjoyed ‘Heroic Origins.’

At first, the signs aren’t good. 'Kevin' is still trying to sabotage Greendale, and Abed is once again trying to force everyone’s lives to conform to a pop culture trope, in this case comic book origin stories, in a seriously contrived manner. The episode also has Shirley completely unreasonably blame Jeff for Andre’s cheating on her on the grounds that he defended Andre’s stripper girlfriend Mysti – which is daft, since as Jeff points out, Andre was the one who cheated – only to be slightly if not completely vindicated when Jeff later reveals that he did, in fact, encourage Mysti to pursue an affair with a married man.

But these are minor niggles. I’m a total sucker for flashback episodes and I thought this was a great one, finally creating a visual record for all the things we’ve learned about our characters’ pasts over the years. It doesn’t even fall into the usual trap for flashback episodes of contradicting established continuity for the sake of the current story (the odd minor slip notwithstanding), although it does perhaps try a bit too hard to justify Troy turning out to remember Annie from high school after all.

For the most part, though, these origin stories slot neatly into the group’s established history and feel much less contrived that Jeff and Shirley’s suddenly-discovered connection from season three’s ‘Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism.’ Greendale is a small town, so everyone passing each other at various points and ending up in the same frozen yogurt place isn’t that inconceivable, and although the characters are amazed that this was where they all decided to go to Greendale, we as viewers can see that it was Chang and the Dean giving out Greendale leaflets just at the point everyone needed it that prompted them all to go there. Britta’s purple hair and nose piercing are a great look for anarchist Britta, but they also explain why Jeff failed to recognise her when they met later in class. Oddly enough, I think my favourite reveal of all was the reveal that a bite from Annie’s Boobs might render a person a teensy bit psychotic – an actual, slightly sensible explanation for 'Kevin' that somehow makes It’s storylines seem slightly less ridiculous.

Much of season four tried too hard to pander to the show’s established fan-base and overdid it with disastrous results. But this episode provides fans with a lovely little continuity-fest that uses shout-outs and references and call-backs in a way that produce a genuine smile rather than a grimace. ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ from The Breakfast Club playing over the final scenes in the frozen yogurt place is just perfect, the sort of call-back that will go unnoticed by casual viewers but rewards long-term viewers with good memories, not to mention forming a perfect book-end to the series with the pilot. It even finds a way to include Pierce without Chevy Chase, and I think the amount of Pierce in this episode might be the perfect amount – one well-timed pratfall to make everyone laugh and bring them together. Season five may yet turn out to be utterly brilliant and put everything to rights, but if it doesn’t, this is the episode I’m going to consider to be Community’s swansong, and a sweet little ditty it is.

Bits ‘n’ pieces

 - You know, I just realised I forgot to mention up there – I also found this episode pretty funny. Which is always a good sign on a sitcom.

 - British person confusion: OK, firstly, is stripping illegal in the States? Or is it about where you are when you strip? What charge was Jeff defending Mysti on? And secondly, isn’t the constant insinuation that all Native Americans ever do is set up casinos a little bit racist? Not that we’re not, as a nation, guilty of much the same thing (Frenchmen all sell onions and Welshmen spend all their time mining and singing, or worse). I’m just saying.

 - Abed’s dad is back! I love Abed’s dad. ‘Introduction to Film’ is one of my favourite episodes.

 - I love that Abed noticed the flyer because Troy threw it at him. They were so far apart back then, but their destinies are inter-twined.

Quotes

Abed: Our story begins in the distant mists of a lost era – 2008!

Britta: Is that a sad face?
Abed: I wouldn't know.

Britta: What’s an anarchist to do without her organisation?

Magnitude (observing popping balloons): Pop… pop…

Annie: I had six different reconstructive surgeries. I went through withdrawal!
Troy: I had to smile when I didn’t feel like smiling. That hurts my face!

Troy (to Abed): You were out there somewhere and you weren’t looking for me?

Abed: I tried sawing off Jeff’s arm.
Jeff: Why do you keep saying that?

Dean (looking at Shirley’s discarded lingerie): This better not awaken anything in me.

Britta: Hi! Do you have any vegan fro-yo?
Waitress: Do you know what fro-yo is?

Objectively, the professional reviewer in me says this is probably worth three pots of non-vegan frozen yogurt, maybe three and a half. But you know what? Maybe it’s my fondness for flashback episodes, maybe it’s the loving attention to continuity, maybe it’s the swift and relatively painless resolution of It’s storyline, maybe it’s just the fact that frozen yogurt has never been that big over here and so always sounds quite exotic and foreign – but I’m gonna go ahead and give this four out of four psychotic monkey bites. I don’t know what season five will bring, but I do know that so far, I prefer this episode as an ending to the series to either of the potential series finales that have actually closed out seasons three and four.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.

4 comments:

sunbunny said...

I'm glad you liked this one too! I might not have loved it, but it was one of my top two episodes of the season.

My favorite part was, like you, the revelation that Annie's Boobs was rescued from a lab by Britta and has driven Chang insane. Also like you, my least favorite part was Annie and Troy being smushed together and the somewhat lame excuse they made for disrupting the continuity (Troy lied? for what reason?).

I think Dan Harmon probably could've done better, but it was at least more Community-ish than others this season.

Juliette said...

Watching it back, I think this was probably my favourite episode - this one just feels like real Community in a way the others don't. And I love the fro yo place, and Don't You Forget About Me. And seeing the Dean in a suit and Chang being vaguely sane(r). I also like Paranormal Parentage a lot, and Herstory of Dance, but on second viewing I think this one is my favourite of the season.

a.m. said...

"Much of season four tried too hard to pander to the show’s established fan-base and overdid it with disastrous results"

It might have been said before, but I think this description is the best one I've seen that explains why season 4 didn't work. They were trying too hard to be Community...

I do remember enjoying this episode, though it's been a while since I saw it, but like you, I enjoy a good flashback and this one had plenty of those.

ChrisB said...

I agree that this was a fun and well done. I especially like the bit at the end with Chang. Abed is so reserved emotionally, it is lovely that he is the one who reaches out.

Although I am pleased that we are getting another season, this would have been a nice way to go out.