Community Season Four
It's over, now. The last episode was shown last night, and opinions are divided. No one thinks the finale lives up to the standards of previous Community
seasons, but compared to the rest of this
season, some think it's decent, some think it's terrible, and I happen to think that it was great.
But rather than going in-depth about this one episode, I want to talk about Season Four as a whole. Regardless of which individual episodes a person happens to like/dislike, no one can deny that the new creative team in charge of Community
delivered a product that is markedly worse than what came before. I'd like to take a look at why that is.
Massive spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk.
I'm tempted to say that anyone who wants to keep watching Community
after Season Three should just watch the first and last episodes of Season Four. Nothing that happens between is particularly memorable, or as good as it will be in one's imagination. Except... maybe
it's worth it to watch "Basic Human Anatomy," and if we're gonna throw that one in we might as well go for "Herstory of Dance" while we're at it. (Note: "Herstory of Dance" comes before "Basic Human Anatomy" so it should be viewed first... oh, who am I kidding, there are no consequences to anything in Season Four so the order doesn't make a bit of difference.) But let's say you didn't listen to my advice and watch only a select few episodes of this season. Let's suppose you, like me, watched every
episode of this season. What was that experience like?
The season started out auspiciously enough. "History 101" was a decent episode, different and not as brilliant as Community
past, but with its own charms and merits. It sets up the season arc of Jeff's graduation (which, really, could've been handled fine and felt more in-character if it was just everybody's graduation, but that particular story arc was harmless enough that I won't waste time criticizing it), it had some fun with Abed and went meta, and it gave us "American Sword Cooks" and "Greendale Babies."
The next episode, "Paranormal Parentage," was mediocre. There were some problems, and a few good moments, but when you've had Halloween episodes where everyone turned into zombies and everyone tried to one-up everyone else with scary stories, it's going to be hard to do a Halloween episode that stands out. Hell, I barely remember the Halloween episode from Season One, and that was a perfectly fine episode, it just got overshadowed.
"Conventions of Space and Time" is the first episode of the season that I think illustrates the disconnect between the showrunners and the substance that made Community
what it was for three years. My opinion of this one is not as harsh as some others'. There's stuff in this episode that I like. The main problem is that nothing big or important happened. It was fun seeing an Inspector Spacetime convention, and there were a couple of interesting plots, but nothing amounted to much. And, damningly, it was all forgotten by the next episode.
My biggest problem with Season Four is that NOTHING HAS ANY CONSEQUENCES.
I actually like "Alternate History of the German Invasion" quite a lot. It's one that I've read mixed opinions on, and I have some problems with it (everything is resolved at the end of the episode and it's like "Well, we can forget that lesson now!" so again there are NO CONSEQUENCES) but I enjoyed seeing the self-centeredness of the study group acknowledged. This episode illustrated what a crazy place Greendale is, with the group getting so caught up in the bizarre shenanigans associated with their college that they forgot the ordinary business of going to classes and taking tests. It was a bit awkwardly structured, but I thought it had things to offer.
I've already written
about "Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations" at length, so I won't bother rehashing my analysis. Suffice to say: Worst. Episode. Ever.
Until the last scene, I thought "Advanced Documentary Filmmaking" was okay. It's not great, and if anyone lambastes it I won't argue, but I didn't have any major problems with it... up until that last scene, which I already acknowledged in that post about "Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations." Basically, if the story hadn't committed at that point to Chang still being Chang, and had left the audience wondering, it would have been much, much better.
"Economics of Marine Biology" was terrible. Not only were there no consequences to anything, there was never any reason to expect that there would be any consequences to anything. None of the main characters had any reason to care about the main conflict of the episode, and it was clearly just a minor issue that would be forgotten next week, and it wasn't very entertaining and there was nothing about it that was surprising or unusual. It was a sitcom formula episode and nothing more. If you only skip one episode this season, make it "Economics of Marine Biology." It's not as bad as "Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations" but it's also not as worth watching.
still had brilliant leadership, "Herstory of Dance" would have been magnificent. All the elements were there to make a great episode, they just didn't come together. But I liked it anyway. The A plot was mostly forgettable, but the B plot, with Abed trying to pull off the two-dates-in-one-night trope and enlisting the help of a woman who of course
is perfect for him and whom he of course
fails to take notice of until of course
he messes things up with her and of course
he makes a romantic gesture at the last moment and she comes back to him... that was wonderful. Even in the hands of an inadequate creative team, I couldn't help but love that story. And again, the main problem is that there are NO CONSEQUENCES -- this woman never shows up again! Never! What's the deal with her and Abed? Are they dating? Do they just forget about each other? Do they become friends, even if they don't wind up working out as boyfriend/girlfriend? It's never addressed! ARGH, way to drop my favorite potential storyline of the season, guys.
When if comes to "Intro to Felt Surrogacy," I think I'm just about the only one who actively dislikes it. And I get why people might overlook its flaws. There are puppets! Everyone's singing! But... oh god this one feels hollow to me. There are puppets, but there's no reason
for the puppets. The episode doesn't work any better because there are puppets than it would work without the puppets. As I was watching it I kept thinking of "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas," where the stop-motion animation was an integral part of the story and the story would not have worked without it. And then I thought about John Oliver, who is awesome, and who played recurring character Ian Duncan in the first two seasons of Community
, and how much better the show was back then. And then Jeff said something like "We haven't seen Professor Duncan in a while" and I thought "Dammit Community
why are you ACTIVELY REMINDING ME of your current shortcomings?!" Another point against this one is how awkwardly the Pierce issue was written around, because Chevy Chase had left and wasn't around for filming this one. But his puppet was there, and then he wasn't there, and it was all confusing and weird. (I basically didn't at all enjoy any of the ways they handled Pierce not being around. There were better ways to deal with it.)
I pretty much have nothing to say about "Intro to Knots." At that point I was numb to the mediocrity of new Community
. This one is totally skippable, but there's nothing terribly wrong with it I guess.
"Basic Human Anatomy" gets an A for effort. I didn't really enjoy the first part of the episode, but when it got to the emotional heart of the story, with Troy being unable to express himself when he knows it will hurt those around him and using Abed as a means of not fighting his own emotional battles, it was strong. I love Troy and Abed, and I love that their connection is so strong that one of them can exactly gauge the others needs and fears. This episode is one of the strongest of the season. It has lots of problems, but the idea at its core stands tall.
I don't like "Heroic Origins," though from what I've heard most people do. By the time I saw it I was so set against new Community
that I couldn't see the good things because I was so focused on finding the bad. Going into the characters' history and tying everything together really bothered me. It struck me as odd that Britta would change her hairstyle so radically and get rid of her nose piercing before starting community college. It seems like these people would have recognized each other if they'd all gotten frozen yogurt in the same place at the same time and then a few weeks later they formed a Spanish study group. (I say this secure in the knowledge that I
wouldn't recognize someone in that situation, but aside from Abed none of these characters have prosopagnosia.) This episode felt forced and uncomfortable to me, but I acknowledge that this might not be a fair assessment.
"Advanced Introduction to Finality," as I've already acknowledged, is divisive. I loved it, a lot of people hated it. I can definitely understand why people have problems with this one. The most common complaint, though, is one that I have a hard time sympathizing with. People seem upset by the revelation that it was all a dream... which is bullshit, because there's NO WAY the events of this episode could possibly NOT be a dream. Things like this don't happen in the world of Community
. From the first appearance of Evil Jeff, the whole thing is clearly all just a dream. (Or more accurately, all just an imagining.) So if the revelation that it's a dream were to suck the enjoyment out of this episode, then the enjoyment would be sucked out of this episode from the word "Go." This was not as good as Jeff's graduation should have been, but it was better than almost everything that had come earlier in Season Four, because it was different
. And yes, it was pandering to the fans, but come on, if they can't give me good, compelling and challenging stories, the least they can do is pander to me.
There's one thing I haven't mentioned except in the one episode where it was the focus: The Chang story arc. The thing with the Chang story arc is that it went NOWHERE. I mean it. Chang barely appears in "Advanced Introduction to Finality." And this is really confusing, because in the previous episode he was plotting with the Dean of City College and they were clearly nearing the final stages of a plan to destroy Greendale. And I don't actually want
a story about Chang and the City College Dean destroying Greendale, but I also really don't want to be told a story in which characters say they're going to do something and then they just never get around to doing that thing.
I really think that the showrunners had a story planned out with Chang's evil plan, and then they just abandoned it halfway through production, but then they never removed all the material from that story in the episodes that were already written/filmed/whatever stage of production they were in. This is almost, but not quite, as bad as the remake of The Stepford Wives
when it's revealed that actually the women aren't
robots but that doesn't make any sense because how can a biological woman be an ATM and why are there so many actual robots in Stepford?
This season would have been improved by removing Chang altogether, because his character was used almost exclusively to set up plot developments that never actually happened.
I'll admit that I laughed my ass off at "Hello my name is Kevin, I have Changnesia" at the end of "History 101," but aside from that one moment of hilarity, Chang was completely wasted this season. My complaints about making the season revolve around Chang were unfounded, it turns out, because Change was completely superfluous to the season.
Yet again, NOTHING HAD ANY CONSEQUENCES! I keep coming back to that because it keeps bothering me. I want events to matter. Characters' actions and decisions need to make a difference in their lives. People change and grow and past mistakes come back to haunt them and past kindnesses come back to help them and things that they've forgotten about still make a difference in their lives and Community
used to be so good at that but now we can have an evil plan at the end of one episode and then it never comes to fruition or is even mentioned again even though the next episode is the season finale.
has been renewed for a fifth season. I pretty much wish it hadn't, because I'm pretty sure it's just going to keep getting worse but I can't imagine not watching it. I'm just standing by as the decaying zombie corpse of my best friend slowly decays and tries to keep doing the things it used to do and it's the saddest display I've ever seen but I can't bring myself to look away.
There is one way that Season Five could be saved, and it's not going to happen: Dan Harmon would have to come back. If Dan Harmon took over the show again, then all would be right with the world. Chevy Chase isn't around to have fights with him anymore. He could take the show in the direction it needs to go in, whatever that is.
And, Dan Harmon: If you did take over Community
again and if you started Season Five with Jeff or Abed or Shirley waking up and saying "What a weird dream" before going to the study room to meet the others and it turns out Season Four never really happened at all... Let me just say that, as terrible a plot device as that is, I would forgive you. Because as much as consequences matter to me, Community
is probably best served if Season Four is completely written off and forgotten.
Never have I been so angry about knowing there will be another season of one of my favorite TV shows.