Community’s Season 4 premiere wasn’t necessarily bad television, just bad Community
If you know one thing about me, it’s probably that I love Community. I’ve watched the show in its entirety numerous times, rewatch my favorite episodes frequently, and I’m watching it again right now because I love it so much.
It became clear as I watched the show that while many were involved in its production, the final product was mainly the result of Dan Harmon’s psyche. It was HIS show, and I and many others thought Community could not exist without him. Around May last year he was forced to step down as showrunner and was replaced by David Guarascio and Moses Port, who were previously producers on Happy Endings. Let’s just say this news… distressed me.
When this was announced, I hadn’t (and still have not) seen enough of Happy Endings to form an actual opinion, but from the outside it looked like a normal sitcom in the vein of Friends, and some of the people responsible for it would be guiding Community through what would very likely be its final season. This really worried me, as I never describe Community as a ‘sitcom’ but as something completely different, and far better. Community fits into superficial genre definitions, but it’s so varied as to make that label misleading.
The show’s fourth season premiere, however, simply felt like a sitcom that was trying really hard to emulate Community.
The premiere picks up after the Season 3 finale (which was written to act as a series finale should the show not make it to a fourth season) with the Study Group returning from summer break to begin their final semester. Abed goes nuts because he can’t deal with the idea of being away from his friends, Annie tries to pull a prank in an attempt to become a laid-back senior, and Jeff competes in the Hunger Deans to get seats for a history class so he can graduate early.
This sounds like a good setup for an episode of Community, but, along with simply not having the density of jokes throughout its runtime of an episode in the prior seasons, it breaks the continuity and fiction in a number of ways.
Characters mention summer break in this episode, but in the season 3 finale, Jeff points out how the Study Group spent all summer retaking biology after their expulsion from Greendale. Jeff’s character development in that finale also made it seem like he wanted to spend more time at Greendale with the Study Group, but in this episode decides he wants to graduate early. The idea of a senior year at Greendale is unheard of. Pierce’s ENTIRE JOKE is built around the fact that Pierce finds gay jokes hysterical, but in that finale, he tells Alan not to use gay as a derogatory term (“Booyah! Good person!”).
In shows as detail-oriented as this, these inconsistencies are nigh on a sin. It makes rewatches (something that Community is practically built for) frustrating rather than joyous and even more hysterical. The fact that this episode fails to get genuine laughs frequently might be even worse.
Every joke is done to hell. The Hunger Deans, what would normally be the central pop culture parody of the episode, is given maybe 4 minutes of screen time, while Abed’s psychoses as demonstrated through AbedTV are the crux of the episode. Scenes from AbedTV feel like they outnumber those from the ordinary continuity, and even though it’s supposed to act as a clever nod to fans who think the show will become an ordinary, laugh-track sitcom, the fact that the rest of it feels no funnier than the shows it’s supposedly making fun of robs the sequence of its humor and value. In addition, the idea that AbedTV is Abed’s ‘happy place’ when he often discusses how he can’t stand that style of show came across as absurd to me.
The episode isn’t offensively bad, mind you. It’s just bad for Community. My face frequently aches from laughter and smiling after watching an episode from the previous seasons, and this episode failed to elicit that same sense of joy. It’s a show that I hold to certain standard, and while I struggle to cease judging the entirety of season 4 by its first episode, it remains a weak return for the series. I remain extremely, cautiously optimistic about the coming episodes.